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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Giving Up

In response to Alice's last comment (that is correct: I am too lazy to cut and paste it here), the upshot of which is she's done gambling on this crazy screenwriting thing:

The death knell of a writer is always something that makes me sad. But you know what that means for other aspiring writers? One less competitor. As we say at The Script Department, we hold this truth to be self-evident; the difference between a writer who makes it in Hollywood and one who doesn't is that the one who made it never gave up.

It is a gamble. It is insanity. Is talent number four? Some would disagree and say it's number one. Or number two. Or fifth. But persistence - that has to be number one for you, the writer. Developing your talent is also hugely important. I say aim high and write brilliance; just don't be surprised if less brilliant writers than you make it because luck, connections and persistence sell a script first. It happens every day. Why? Nobody knows for sure. But it is a fact.

Some writers should throw in the towel - if you don't have the stomach for this, it's definitely not for you. Like being a NASCAR driver, astronaut or game show contestant. But if every "no" fuels your fire, if you are obsessed with writing stories, if when you watch movies you are ignited with passion, if you do not take rejection personally - you're in the right business. It is a kind of insanity; we are all dreamers, schemers, liars and thieves. If you can't run with us or lose the appetite for it, there's no shame in that. There are plenty of nobler pursuits that are more suitable for the saner types. I am a writer. I can't not write. If and when someday I make a different choice, it will be the perfect choice for me at the time.

Tony Gayton, screenwriter of one of the most entertaining scripts I have ever read - The Salton Sea - gave up for many years. He just threw in the towel, moved and became a high school teacher. Then one day, the urge to write a story came back to him like a virus. And he said screw it and wrote the script. The movie was a little checkered though highly entertaining, with great performances - but the script - it was brilliant. And there are lots of anecdotal stories like that; of writers who threw in the towel for a time but were lured back by the siren song of a great story. And there are a lot of writers who quit trying very early on. Fine. Less competition. You have to do what is right for you.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

I will never give up but...

If I focus more on corporate full time financial job, I would make tons of money.

If I work for 20 more years -deligently, 9am to 7pm for 6.5 days a week, I would make more money than in screenwriting.

But I will never do that.


Julie Gray said...

That's a really grounded response. Being in screenwriting for the money is a little foolhardy; jobs come and go, writers go through dry really has to be for the love of it. And if money flows from that, well good. Keep up the hard work and I love your attitude!

PJ McIlvaine said...

We all want to give up at some point. I know I have. But even when I say it, I know deep down that I don't mean it.

I'm a writer. I write. I can't do anything else.

kahapeterson said...

Selling a script is a "complex" sale. Its not like selling a shoe or a car or even a house. It has a long sales cycle, many variables, and a lot of subjectivity.

Furthermore, in any observed phenomenon with a normal distribution, its difficult to draw a meaningful conclusion on less than about 40 samples. So if you've written 40 scripts (= 20 years?) and haven't made a sale, it might be time to give up.

Most people would give up well before then - say after 3 or 4 scripts.

The irony is, with each script, you should be getting better, thereby improving your chances of a sale.

An A list producer once advised a friend of mine: "Write your first five screenplays, then send me your best one, and I'll tell you if you have what it takes."

PJ McIlvaine said...

Ah, but that 41st script...that might have been your masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie and PJ and Kahapeterson

This is how I will never give up.

When I am 99 years old I will buy computer program (or use the one by Microsoft) that will market all my scripts by email.

I will prepay a web company for another 100 years to send my query letters and enter my scripts in all the top contests.

I will never give up.


Kirkland said...

This is a funny time for this post to be written. For the past two weeks or so I've be contemplating quitting the game (I've an okay career, but haven't had a nibble on any of my scripts for nearly five years. in fact, my agent quit just before the strike and moved back east someplace. Over the course of the strike I got re-acquainted with an old friend who also thought about throwing in the towel. We got to talking and said let's do something together, just for fun. And we did. The strike ended and we pitched the idea to his agent at CAA, who then gave us "the talk." Blah, blah, blah...script isn't commercially viable...blah, blah, blah.

Flash forward to Monday, late I the day I get a call from my writer friend who says that he has a meeting with his guy at CAA today, a general "Where do you see your career going" kind of thing since and I should could along. So I do.

Jump to today. halfway through the meeting (which ended up being five hours) we get a call from the original studio where we pitched our joint screenplay. There's been so shakeups, this guy is out, this guy has been replace and now reports to this new guy...blah, blah, blah.

Great, okay I'm ready to quit now.

The CAA guy hangs up the phone, says, "The contracts will be done by the end of the month. We're a go--it's a deal.

So, the long and the short of it is this: don't ever give up. I got a deal and a new agent all in one day. It can happen to you.

Julie Gray said...

Congratulations, Kirkland! That is a GREAT story, thank you so much for sharing it!

Kirkland said...

Thanks, Julie.

I just wanted to add this comment to the person who said maybe after 40 scripts and non-sales you should probably quit.

My first sale was my 17th script (not counting false starts--of which there were many). The others? some I merged into other scripts, some I tossed. But the first one sold after I had sold my fifth script (and in between script-for-hire stuff).

I did no re-writes on that first script, not even after having it ripped to shreds by not only my first agent (I'm on my third as of today) but by just about every studio and production head in town.

My point? Simple. That script wasn't bad, it just hadn't found its right time. Hanging around long enough to find your time is the key to any success, not just in this business, but any field of work.

All you have to have success is be patient enough for your time to find you.

PJ McIlvaine said...

Amen, Kirkland!

Michael Scherer said...


Before you quit, ask yourself this quesion: Why do I write?

If you write for fame, money, or ego, then by all means quit.

If you write because it's in your DNA, because you can't NOT write, then never give up.

I hope you are the later... never give up and...

Keep Writing.


Alice U. said...

Wow, okay, that's a lot of attention for a couple of posts.

Don't anyone get too excited that I gave up. Believe me, for every person that gives up, there's another person who just decided to try to break in.

And all this talk of all you need is patience to be successful...... There are a hundred thousand people trying for a thousand jobs. For every kirkland, there are 99 people whose number never comes up.

Good luck to you all.

Emily Blake said...

Well said.

Screenwriter Shep said...

I'm fine with people giving up as long as they don't use luck as an excuse.

Luck has very very little to do with success.

You either do it, or you don't. Action or inaction. Those are the options, take 'em or leave 'em.

If you have the skills and the persistence you'll be successful. It's pretty cut and dry.

Anonymous said...

Aren't these two different issues we are talking about here? 1) Writing and 2)Selling. I know I will never stop writing, even if it is just sitting in my room filling up journal after journal. I'd love to have time to finish that play, novel or book of poems so I will always be writing. Screenplays are just one form of expression.

Selling, however, is really not in my nature and requires an incredible amount of energy to try to figure out. I think the artists who succeed, especially in the U.S. in this day and age, have to learn to be sales people and that takes a real toll on some of us introverts. When Alice talks of giving up, I don't think she means writing, perhaps she's talking about the soul destroying effect (for her) of trying to become something she is not - a marketing whiz.


Alice U. said...

No, not giving up writing. Screenwriting, yes.

I know, it means I'll never sell a script. But I've got to say, this is all sounding like an ad for the lottery. "You can't win if you don't play!"

Yes. True.

But buying tickets isn't a guarantee of a victory, either.

Take care, all. Time to go find a novel writing blog. :)

Anonymous said...

And there's the difference between writing full time every day with no other job and working a full time job for pay (and with any luck finding a way to still write. That's the scary part). The former is what I've been up to and now I'm moving toward the later. At the end of the day, I'm too old to be dinking around writing all day without getting paid for it. I have additional skills. Guess I'd better use those. I don't want to. I just have to right now with gas costing so much, etc. But even though it's sensible and practical, it really honestly feels like I'm giving up. And it's hard.

Christopher said...

i don't think the lottery analogy really holds in the case of screenwriting. unlike the lottery, where you buy a ticket (or even a lot of tickets) and your odds are what the odds are, with screenwriting you can constantly work to improve the odds that your script is the winning ticket.

first, write great. sounds simple but be honest about just how great your writing actually is. assuming you do write great, a great script that consistently blows readers away will get noticed. even if it still doesn't sell, it can do the next best thing . . .

open doors to the writer that further increase their odds that something they write or have written will sell. maybe they love the script but it's not the right fit for their company. but they have this other idea and would the writer mind pitching their take on it? or would the writer mind sending them something else they have??

and the odds can be further increased, even for someone not living and swimming in the Hollywood pool, through events like the Expo and Great American Pitchfest. are you likely to sell your script there? no. are you likely to make contacts who, if you cultivate them, will eventually be in a position somewhere to say "yes" to you at some point?? very possibly.

and the only difference, that i've seen, between the people who live out here and the people who don't is that we have a slight (emphasis on slight) advantage to the extent that the people who can say "yes" are in closer proximity to us. we still have to do everything above: write a killer script and constantly work the contacts to market it. having the contacts close is only a slight improvement of the odds for L.A. residents.

personally, if there was a lottery where i could improve my odds of winning substantially through hard work and hustling, i'd play all the time.