Why should I put all this time and energy into writing this screenplay if I can’t get it produced?
I used to have this thought.
Why would you put all of your energy into a project if you could only see that one outcome as inevitable? That would be an excruciatingly painful experience.
If you can’t come up with a good enough reason to continue and are attached to that all-or-nothing outcome, you may want to let that project go.
But I’d like to offer the idea of starting with a better question.
What are ALL the reasons you chose to begin this project? And, do you like those reasons?
If you dig deeper and find out that some of your reasons are that you love learning the craft and want to work toward mastery of it, you desire to build relationships with other writers or practice marketing your projects, you want to find out what works and what doesn’t work, you enjoy the process and who you are becoming as a writer, and you’re not attached to any particular outcome, then sure, that negative thought might pop up once in a while on a bad day, but you now could just redirect your brain to the real reasons you’re doing this project.
If you come at it from this perspective, you will intuitively know when to put that project to rest and move on to the next one.
I almost gave up screenwriting altogether because I was attached to an all-or-nothing result and was feeling like what’s the point? I am so glad I got coaching on this because I wrestled with it for a good two years and ultimately, it’s one of the reasons I decided to become a coach myself.
Because everyone needs to have the tools to strengthen their creative lives and projects and not destroy them prematurely with unhelpful thoughts.
What I found out was that I was focused on finishing a project because I was afraid of what others would think if I didn’t stick with it or finish it.
It’s always your choice and your decision to spend your time and energy on something.
When I really got that and allowed myself to have my own back, I was able to decide whether or not to quit or continue on a project with ease because my why was finally coming from a place of honesty. What I then discovered when it came to screenwriting is that I fell more in love with the process and I became completely unattached to the outcome. I’m learning to apply this to all areas of my life, and it serves me well!
I now know that if I make my efforts based only on getting a specific outcome, I end up falling into a lot of doubt and graspy, anxious behavior, and it shows up in my work, my communication and I have a lot more difficulty working through any obstacles or making progress on my projects.
Being attached to a specific outcome is a form of fear of failure. And we have to remember that it’s not failure we’re afraid of – it’s what we make that failure mean.
An email I read this morning had a quote in it from someone who was responding to the question, “What’s the worst decision you ever made?” She said she couldn’t think of an answer because in her words… “To repeatedly fail at something over 15 years of my life shaped so much of who I am and my success today.”
What if this were true about whatever project you decided to take on? That you were not guaranteed the specific outcome and you went into it thinking, “It’s possible I might fail; it’s possible I might not, but either way, I’m going to consider it a success.” What if you instead lived in the thought of “What is possible? What else is possible for me if I do this project?” Consider the possibilities of what you might learn, who you might meet, the inspiration or new idea that might come out of it, or where the path might take you instead…would this project be worth your time and energy then?
Only you can answer that. The answer may be no, and that’s okay.
Another thing you can do is look at the outcome you want and ask yourself what you think that outcome will produce for you. What feeling are you trying to get from it? The reason we do anything is for the feeling we think the outcome will bring.
Once you identify those feelings, ask yourself how you can create those feelings right now in your life because it’s never the outcome that makes you feel a certain way. It’s what you think about the outcome that gives you the feeling.
Using the example we started with, if the outcome I want from writing a screenplay is to get it made, how do I think I will feel when I get that screenplay made?
For me, it would be a deep sense of pride and accomplishment; it would feel thrilling to see it on the big screen. These are the feelings I think I would experience.
How can I create and experience the feelings of pride, accomplishment, and a sense of being thrilled right now as part of the process of creating that screenplay and in other areas of my life?
Why wait for the outcome to experience the feelings you want to be having? And why depress yourself with the thought that it probably won’t ever happen, so what’s the point? Why not just live in the possibility and let that fuel you instead of thinking it’s impossible? You don’t know what is going to happen.
If you approach writing your screenplay through the filter of What’s the point? I’m probably wasting my time and you are probably right. How creative and engaging do you think your writing is going to be if you’re creating from that energy?
On the other hand, if you’re thinking about what’s possible and about all the things you’re learning, all the fun you’re having writing, problem-solving, researching, sharing your work, making connections with people, gathering more idea seeds, and believing that there are people out there who will be interested in what you’re working on, your writing is going to be much more creative and entertaining to read.
You get to choose the success of any project. You may not get the exact outcome you thought you wanted, but you can still have it be a success if you allow that success to come to you through the infinite number of channels of what’s possible.
Most of all, make room for what matters. That might mean embracing a project or letting it go. The real waste of time is sitting in the middle with a question that is not useful like, “What’s the point if no one will produce it?”
The decision to continue a project or not is always yours. You are the only one who needs to like your reason for quitting or staying with it.
I want to end with a couple of quotes from the book Mastery by George Leonard.
“Perhaps we’ll never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal but the path itself.”
And one more:
“Ultimately, nothing in this life is ‘commonplace,’ nothing is ‘in between.’ The threads that join your every act, your every thought, are infinite. All paths of mastery eventually merge.”
If you need some creativity coaching on this topic, I can help. I know how painful it is to be in this place, and I’d love nothing more than to see you get back on the playing field. Quit your suffering and schedule a free consult here!
When I first started getting feedback on my scripts, I focused on self-validation. It never occurred to me to focus on anything else. I was either a good writer or a bad one.
One fellow writer swooned about my writing and asked if I had written a lot of scripts. My characters were amazing, the dialogue was phenomenal…I felt like a screenwriting prodigy.
Later that same day, I received feedback from another writer, pages and pages of it, about what was not working in my screenplay. This person warned me not to send it to producers, that it was not anywhere near ready, that it was basically a hot mess.
I was devastated. I made that negative feedback mean everything about who I was as a person and my ability to write. I shut down that project at that moment. In my mind, I completely canceled out the good feedback I had gotten prior to that.
I used to blame the person who gave me that feedback for being the reason I never finished the script or continued to market it. Fast forward 15 years; I see now it was me who shut that project down. Not because of the feedback, but because I was not willing to learn anything new about what I had written.
I’ve seen my demise replayed over and over through other writers. Writers, or any creative, can be their own worst enemy on every level. I finally said, “Someone needs to stop this madness!” and that is why I became a creative coach.
So, I’m going to share with you four tips for receiving and processing feedback on your creative projects.
Get Into the Right Emotion
You want to get yourself into an emotion that allows you to be open to a new perspective, to see things differently so that you can create new and elevated results with the feedback you do get.
That is the purpose of getting the feedback.
Some great emotional spaces to get yourself into before processing or receiving feedback are curiosity, commitment, or desire to learn as much as you can so that you can elevate your project and become more skilled.
Spaces to avoid are feeling rushed, angry, defensive, resentful, self-righteous, desperate, frustrated, or bitter. Feeling the need to explain your every decision is a sign you’re not open to receiving the learning aspect of feedback or coaching.
These emotions close you off to learning and finding solutions. If you find yourself feeling any of the above emotions when reviewing feedback, it’s a good idea to check in with yourself and see if those emotions are serving you.
It’s normal to have these emotions; just be aware of them when you’re having them and decide you’re going to put the feedback away until you can receive or respond from a better state of emotion. Allow yourself to feel the crappy emotions, but also decide you’re not going to stay there. If you find yourself continuing to indulge in these crappy emotions but have enough awareness to realize that they are keeping you from moving forward, you can get coaching on that. Maybe you just don’t know how to process everything, and coaching can help you learn how to do this so you’re not getting hung up on constructive criticism in the feedback you receive.
Commit to Elevating and Finding Solutions
Before receiving feedback on your project, remind yourself that you are seeking to elevate your project first and foremost. Yes, it’s nice to get validation but it’s not the reason you should be getting feedback.
This is the best way to get into a good emotional state and something to remind yourself of when those other undesirable emotions start creeping in. You want to think about different perspectives, you want to find solutions for any trouble spots, you want to make your project the best it can possibly be. So, just notice if you find yourself getting defensive about proposed solutions or suggestions, or upset because there is a lack of validation – the entire point is to get help.
Have Your Own Back
Be careful to not take feedback personally. It means nothing about your worthiness as a human being. There is the feedback that someone gives and there is what you make that feedback mean. You have complete control over that. You don’t have control over what someone thinks or how they perceive something.
Getting tough feedback doesn’t mean you’re bad at what you do, it just means you have a chance to elevate your project, your skillset, and your ability to receive feedback so that it becomes a tool instead of an obstacle. Feedback, when you ask for it, is 99% of the time not a personal attack on you.
Often people will interpret feedback through the filter of how they speak to themselves about their own project. So, make sure you are giving yourself critiques from a place of wanting to find solutions and improve upon your project. Give yourself feedback the way you would like to receive feedback. Treat yourself with respect and kindness, even when you’re having a tough time or struggling with elevating your project or when you’re experiencing negative emotions about it. You will be much more likely to show up for yourself and your project regardless of what kind of feedback or critique you get when you have your own back.
Remind yourself that the person giving you feedback or coaching you is on the same side. They want to see you elevate your work and are usually honored that you trust their opinion. At least I know I am when people come to me for coaching or feedback. Of course, there are people who are going to be bad at giving feedback, but this is why it’s really important to have your own back, all of the time.
Create a Strong Critique Circle
Find your circle of people you go to for feedback – those who are going to be the best at helping you elevate your project – and stick with them.
You should be able to have around five or six people in your circle: maybe a couple of writing peers, a coach, a script consultant, and some friends whose opinions you value. I also like to include giving it to someone who is not in the industry. My daughter is excellent at giving feedback on query letters and synopses.
I end with this Twitter post I saw from James Clear on handling rejection and success.
The Ideal Feedback Processing Mindset
How to handle rejection:
-Learn from the experience
-Keep your ego in check
-Say “thank you”
How to handle success:
-Learn from the experience
-Keep your ego in check
-Say “thank you”
It’s what we could all aspire to as creatives putting our work out into the world where it belongs.
Don’t miss the February I Heart Writers Special! Rewrite Coaching + Coverage. Get it here.
One of my clients asked me to address on a Tiny Talk how much time writers should be spending on social media or networking on platforms like Stage 32 or other online forums and Facebook groups.
Of course, this will be different for everyone and you really have to look at your current lifestyle and career goals to come up with the answer that is going to best work for you. That being said, I do have some thoughts and suggestions on this topic.
I first want to echo what you have probably heard a thousand times before – relationships are everything. If you don’t have them, you are going to really struggle to get the inspiration, motivation, and support to move your projects forward and get them out there once you have completed them.
So, it’s very important to spend time building relationships.
This is something I have to work on all the time because I’ve always considered myself very introverted and, on top of that, I’m an empath, which is someone who easily picks up emotional energy from others. I was also very self-conscious around people who were gregarious or outgoing and I almost felt like maybe there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t be like that, which I know is total BS.
I can also remember being scared to death to build relationships because I was afraid of attracting “emotional vampires.” But for the most part, through lots of coaching, I’ve been able to drop the drama about being an introvert and an empath by deciding to use those traits pro-actively. I did this by becoming a screenwriter, starting my own business, and becoming a creative coach. All of these require meeting lots of people, building relationships, and holding space for whatever emotions come my way, be it from others or from within myself.
I tell you that story to illustrate how it’s possible for anyone to learn to build relationships and enjoy the process, no matter your personality traits.
I got a little off track there. In my opinion, if you want a writing career, or any creative career that you want to build, particularly if that career depends on the mastery of a craft, you need to only focus on these three things:
- Creating and developing your skills and projects
- Building relationships
- Sharing and marketing your skills and projects
This is not something you ever do just once. It is a way of life, so you have to be unattached to any sort of quicky microwave result. You just focus on these three things and eventually you will succeed.
Back to the “How much time should I spend?”
I would start by asking yourself some questions about the amount of time you are currently spending in each of these three areas, if any:
- Which one feels like it could use more attention?
- Which of these three are you avoiding altogether and why?
- Which one do you love doing the most?
This will give you the big picture of where you currently are in your efforts to pursue your long-term creative goals.
The next step would be to figure out how much time you can create, and then you can start prioritizing the three things. This is going to look very different for each individual, taking into consideration any regular job you hold, kids or elders you care for, or health matters you may be dealing with.
Once you have an honest assessment of how much time you have to pursue your creative goals, you can then use this formula, which I think is kind of magical when you put it to use. It’s called the 80/20 rule.
You spend 80% of your time on one of the three:
- Creating and developing projects and mastering your craft
- Building relationships
- Sharing and marketing your skills and projects
Divide the other 20% of your time on the other two.
Set a time to evaluate how the process is working for you in a week or two, then if needed switch things up depending on where you are in your career goals.
For example, maybe your goal is to get a manager and you only have one unfinished screenplay. You might consider spending 80% on creating and developing projects and mastering your craft and spend the other 20% on building relationships.
On the flip side, if your goal is to become a staff writer on a TV show or get writing assignments and you have lots of writing samples, I would spend 80% of my time marketing and the other 20% building relationships.
So, allotting some time for creating even more projects or mastering some skill sets would be time well spent. We always want to be creating, right? It’s a muscle we always have to be building.
If you have 3-5 scripts that are unfinished and you would be embarrassed to send them to a potential manager or producer, I would spend 80% of my time working on completing those projects and 20% on building relationships.
Isn’t that just the coolest formula? You can use it forever.
That’s it for this Tiny Talk. If this struck a chord and you really want some help developing a process or system that helps you move your creative goals forward, I’m accepting clients for my one-on-one coaching program. You can visit my coaching page on my website for more information there.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to work with a writing partner or enlist people to help you make a film, you will love this week’s Tiny Talk. I talk with my good friend, Linda Palmer, about the art of collaboration.
Linda is a writer, producer, and director. Her production company is Runaway Productions and she also has a Patreon page where she shares weekly filmmaking and writing tips. Her generosity and the knowledge she shares with her Patreon supporters are 10X in value. I highly recommend hanging out with her.
It’s February already! Ready to get on the playing field? As a creativity coach and screenwriter, I can help you take your idea from concept to final draft so you can finally get your work out into the world where it belongs. Book a free consultation and find out how we can work together.
“Know thy story,” and your story is the answer to these eight questions
If you’ve ever finished the first draft of your screenplay and then received feedback suggesting that your character is boring, unlikeable, not driving the story, or that the supporting characters are more impressive than your protagonist; or you find that people just don’t get it; or you yourself draw a blank when someone asks you what your story is about, answering the eight questions in this article will take care of all of that plus help you…
- Write faster
- Create a protagonist who drives the story
- Write a powerful antagonist or antagonistic force
- Not paint yourself into a corner
- Write scenes that almost write themselves
- Create a touchstone for when you get derailed or stuck
- Brainstorm settings, scenes, dialogue
- Create powerful turning points
- Find the best inciting incident
- Eliminate the overwhelm of approaching a first draft or rewrite
- Make writing your marketing content easy
Most of us have all seen the questions I’m about to share. We may have answered them at various times with zero commitment so that we can just get on with the writing.
Sometimes when I give clients an exercise to answer these questions they will say, I’ve seen those before, let me look through my past documents and see if I can find the answers. This defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.
If you can’t answer these questions right now, before you write, or rewrite your story, or before you market your story then that means you may not know your story.
What happens when we gloss over these questions is that we discard the most powerful tool we have in writing. And that tool is knowing your story.
Knowing the answers to these questions will prevent you from ever having to look like a deer caught in the headlights when someone asks what your story is about.
The questions are essential to writing or rewriting a script that is going to deliver powerfully.
Eight Questions to Know Thy Story
This is your story profile. Fill it out and keep it next to you every time you sit down to write or ponder your next move. (You’ll want to do one for each main character where applicable.)
- Who is the main character or characters?
- What do they want?
- Why do they want it?
- How do they go about getting it?
- What are the central conflicts or what stops them?
- What are the stakes or consequences?
- What is the tone?
- What is the main theme?
The example below was from a webinar by Netflix Creative Development Executive Christopher Mack. As you study this example, imagine how valuable this information would be if you were sitting down to write an episode of Breaking Bad, write a logline, create a powerful short pitch, outline a structure for a pilot or feature, or brainstorm possible scenes, settings, or dialogue. Think of all the time, mental energy, and overwhelm you would save.
Who is Walter White?
A down-on-his-luck high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer.
What does he want?
Internal: To be “awake”
Why does he want it?
External: To provide for his family before he dies
Internal: To make up for his past
How does he go about getting it?
Cooking and selling the highest quality meth in New Mexico.
What are the central conflicts?
Family, drug dealers, the law
What are the stakes?
Death, jail, family
What is the theme?
Good people can turn bad
Tone: Black comedy, gritty
Enjoy getting to know your story!
P.S. If you need rewrite coverage or rewrite coaching, I’m here to help. And, if you sign up already having the above questions answered, you get 25% off as a bonus! How’s that for a little incentive.