Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Monday, October 05, 2009

Confessions of a Newbie Writer

I know I'm a bit behind the times with the, well, timeliness of this post... but I'm just getting around to catching up on my blog-reading proper... so, yeah.

That said, I read I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script with a pit forming in my stomach. The kind of pit that comes from realizing an article is talking directly to you.

And not in a good way.

You see, I've BEEN that guy -- and no, not the affable but put-upon screenwriter.

I read that blog post and it hurt, man. Oh boy, did it ever.

It's not me anymore, but I felt my gut twist all the same.

It was like a gawddamn checklist.

I was amazed at how close to home Mr. Olsen hit... and that's when I realized: There's a whole bunch of people out there who're still doing some of the dumb-ass things I did when I first started out.

So, in the efforts to raise everyone's game (and try to keep my fellow newbs from making the same mistakes I've made) I'm putting this out there into the ether.

Take from it what you will but know that mistakes are there to be learned from. As long as you DO learn from them, then people are generally more forgiving. It's those who refuse to learn, who refuse to listen to the advice (SO MUCH ADVICE) that is freely offered, that earn the giant asterisk on their forehead.

That said, I've fucked up my fair share.

Let me re-phrase that, I've Fuuuuuucked up.

But at every turn I've done my damned-est to make sure I don't do it again.

For what it's worth, a bit of history: I spent 2-ish years writing alone in my basement, learning scriptwriting and formatting et al from reading old Buffy the Vampire Slayer script books.

I'd never even met another writer, let alone a professional one - and what I craved, more than anything, was feedback. Feedback from anyone who didn't have a vested interest in me; who would tell me if I was wasting my time.

I had no idea of the business, I had no idea of how to write a good script, I had no idea how busy a professional scriptwriter's life actually is.

So when I somehow managed to get a writer to agree to look at my work - man, I was... yeah... 'excited' doesn't do it justice.

The hours would go by - unfolding into days - and I'd stew. I had no idea how long it takes for someone to read a script and write back. 'Do I?... Don't I? How DO I write back and ask if they've read it? Should I?'

Somehow I'd had this belief that -- like myself -- they'd open the email, read it and get back to me right away. You know, by the end of the day.

See, less than 'no respect' I had no concept of what a real writer's life was like. I'd just figured that hey, they were writers, they'd have all sorts of free time at the end of the day to read it. What I didn't know was that most writers are entrepreneurs. Freelancers.

And as my dad so lovingly related: "Being your own boss is great, you get to work whatever 18 hours a day you want".

But I didn't know that then. I didn't understand that then.

So I waited... for like a whole day... and then I emailed.

Then the polite reply came, patiently explaining that they're busy right now but they'd try to get to it this weekend.

And, of course, I wrote back, trying to be just as nice and understanding about it ('understanding'... *sigh* I was dumb) as I could.

So I'd wait. And wait.

The weekend came and went, then the next weekend. In the meantime, I went to war against my own mind.

Maybe they were busy. Yeah, they were just busy. But that small voice in the back of my head would say 'They're not writing back because they're too afraid to tell you that you suck... which, you do. Or, you know, maybe they're stealing your idea! Yeah! That's why they're not writing back. They're running off to the bank with your idea!!'

Oh boy, my mind went to work on me. Gave me the whole kit 'n kaboodle.

I've since learned that writers are a skittish bunch -- even those who've managed to develop a thick skin about it all.

I was new and neurotic and bare... and in the throes of newbie panic.

I made an ass out of myself.

Almost every single one of those situations played out as my emotions grabbed hold and swung me left and right and all over hell's half-acres. I wondered aloud -- at first to friends and later in wondrous passive-aggressive-email-form -- if I'd offended them somehow. I continued to work on my script and sent along 'updates' thinking it wouldn't be hard for them to just keep reading from where they were at (not realizing that it only gummed up the works MORE).

It finally took the writer taking the time to write a very terse (yet still, admirably, patient) letter to explain to me that, no, I was not the center of their universe. That they were busy, that life and work were time consuming in and of themselves and that if I couldn't understand that then I could go get bent.

Sadly, my response was... amateur-ish. All my excitement to finally get what I wanted crashed and burned as the realization came that, yes, I'd gotten exactly what I'd wanted.

Real Feedback.

They critiqued my script as if it were a real work. And, yeah, holy shit. I don't think I knew what I was expecting, but damn. And, looking back on it, they were being nice.

I, however, cried. An ugly cry too. One of those ugly cries where you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and it shocks you into crying even more.

It was bad.

But I laughed out loud when I read Mr. Olsen's bit about 'wanting a few tough notes'. I look back on it now and I realize how bad I'd wanted that 'pat on the head'; That someone to recognize my 'brilliance', to say to me "you're on the fast track, kid. No years of slogging through the trenches like everyone else, you get to skip to the head of the line".

Yeah... no.

What I got was a wake-up call.

Which did, in fact, wake me up.

It didn't happen overnight, it wasn't like flipping on a switch or anything.

But I woke up.

And so that's why this entry exists, folks: Please, learn from my mistakes.

Life is yours to screw up. So, don't. Take the time, read, learn.

Or better yet, get off your ass.

What really helped me raise my game -- outside of reading scripts and books about screenwriting -- was that I found a community. I found other writers and I gave my free time to interact with them and ask questions and learn from them. I didn't lurk from the shadows, I didn't put on any airs, I simply stepped out and said 'Hi, I know absolutely nothing about this, but I think I'm a writer'.

I got involved and I made friends and learned about issues that affect all writers (not just myself). I learned that in giving of myself freely (from an honest place), I earned people's respect instead of having to screech and moan that 'no one cares'.

And guess what? I found out that people WANTED to read my work. Professional writers, now friends, emailing me to ask when my next (yes, NEXT... you have more than one script in you) script would be ready.

Asking me if I needed help.

Help which I gladly accepted, help which led to the helpful, honest feedback I'd always wanted (and had gotten originally... but was too much of a douche to see it for what it was).

Over the last few years I've come to understand that I am a good writer and that I have the potential to be a great writer (maybe, one day, a fantastic writer...) if I keep working at it.

But I have to keep working.

In closing, if there's any 'wisdom' I've learned that I can impart to newbies, hell to anyone, it's simply this:

The biggest mistake we can make is to refuse to learn.

The moment we roll our eyes, or slip on that cocky smile or listen to that little voice that says 'yeah, whatever'... we've hurt ourselves in ways we can't even begin to imagine.

Because anything -- anything -- we receive as feedback, positive or negative is given only because someone gave a damn enough to tell us.

And it's up to us to figure out how to grow from it.



kdubb said...

awesome sauce. the perfect reflection of the other side of the looking glass, bravo. expertly articulated from a point of view fresher than Most 'pros'.

Tiggy said...

'Hi, I know absolutely nothing about this, but I think I'm a writer'.

I'm going to write that down. Great post! ;)