What separates winners from losers? Why do some people manage to sell a screenplay, while others don’t? In short, is there anything that we can learn from successful screenwriters that will allow others to achieve success?
Having worked in this business for around ten years now, I’ve certainly had lots of time to ponder this question, and, of course, to try and apply the lessons I have learned to my own career as a screenwriter.
While I don’t profess to have all the answers – if I did I would be luxuriating by the pool in my Hollywood villa rather than writing this article – I believe that they are key habits that you can adopt that will increase your chances of success as a screenwriter:
Persistence: This is the first key habit for a reason – this is not an easy business. If you come into it thinking that you can just whip out a quick draft of the first idea you think of and Hollywood will come knocking at your door you are in for a rude shock.
Many people think that screenwriting is easy – they’ve seen plenty of bad films, and they think “I could easily write something better than that!” And compared to a novel it’s a snip to write a film script – whereas a typical novel weighs in at around 120,000 words, a screenplay is closer to 20,000 words – so how hard can it be to write 20,000 words?
Actually, it’s pretty hard! For while the screenplay format is significantly shorter than a novel, that brevity places its own demands upon you – no thoughts, no space to explain everything – you have to get straight into the story and show everything through what your characters do and say.
The truth is that many people write one screenplay, can’t sell it, then quit – but like anything else, you get better with practice, so your second script will be better than your first, your third better than your second, and so on. Persistence is vital. Because if you keep writing, keep improving, keep networking, keep sending your scripts to people, you will eventually find someone who is interested in what you have written.
Keep Learning: Screenwriting is a skill, and you need to keep on developing and improving your skills. One way to do this is to be open to learning. There are many different ways to learn this skill – you can take a screenwriting class, buy a book on screenwriting, read articles like this, read professional screenplays, and of course be sure to regularly sit down and analyse completed films to see what works and what doesn’t. Learning never ends.
Write From The Heart: Many writers spend time trying to write what is currently popular. Writing what you think people want to see – or, in fact, what you think they might want to see in three years time – is a waste of time. As William Goldman famously said of the movie business, “nobody knows nothing.” The bottom line is that all good writing is about emotion – if you are passionate about your story and your craft, the emotion will show in your story, and readers will respond to that.
Write Regularly: Finally, any writer must commit to writing regularly. The only way to BECOME a writer is to BE a writer. Of course you will have another life – a job, family, hobbies etc – that will make it hard to write every day, but the more often you do, the better your writing will become.
With a few rare exceptions, good writers are made, not born. You can make yourself a good writer by being passionate, persistent, open to learning, and by writing every day. If you write it (and keep writing it) eventually they will come…