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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Are You Ready for Success?

So many things have to be in alignment for a screenwriter to step into the ring with reputable rep and really get the work out there in a competitive way.

We've talked about the controversial and provocative subject of talent here on the Rouge Wave. And other elements that are important as well: networking, determination and perseverance, education, practice, timing... But something that is often overlooked is emotional readiness. Are you inviting success into your life as a writer, or are you unwittingly slamming the door?

How you feel about the process and where you are is a great indicator of your readiness to really be in this rarefied and sometimes very frustrating world. It is as common as the day is long for writers to wax and wane in terms of confidence. Some days you're up - other days you come crashing back down. It happens to most everybody - even established writers. I think it was one of the writers of WANTED who said recently that every working screenwriter secretly fears they are about six months away from teaching screenwriting at a community college somewhere. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But the wolves are always at the door - there are no guarantees in this business.

I think it a truism, however, in any walk of life, that when you feel a sense of desperation about whatever your goal is: getting the job, the guy, the loan, the approval of your boss, mom or whomever - the goal recedes from your grasp. If you want something and are coming from a place of a deep-seated, subconscious belief that you really can't get it, you doom the outcome. For some writers this desperation takes the form of victimhood or paranoia. For others, it's hubris and arrogance. But it's the same fear, basically - I can't make it. I deserve to make it but those bastards are against me. The system is set up to exclude me.

And so everything is seen through this filter. The reason I didn't place at X competition is that it wasn't FAIR. The reason I am not getting my calls returned is that those jerks in Hollywood are rude bastards! That consultant or script service ripped me off!

Not everybody who gets older gets wiser. But many do. I have been quite open about the dumb mistakes I have made - one of many examples: send a tv spec script straight to the show runner of that show simply because I could - my cousin by marriage was a powerful ex at Fox. Spec got shut down faster than a gin joint and I burned the connection. Plus it was quite awkward running into my cousin at family events. Dumb. Not the way those things are done.

But you do get wiser, eventually. And you learn. And over time, a sense of peacefulness descends upon you. Nobody is out to get you in Hollywood. Or demean and rob you of your ideas and happiness. If another writer has a success, that does not mean that he/she is a fabulously lucky jerk who doesn't deserve it.

I had lunch the other day with Marc Zicree, a fabulous, genteel, gracious and optimistic man who has made a living in Hollywood for decades now. Marc is one of those people around whom you suddenly feel a great sense of peace. He's been at it for many years, he has reinvented himself, he has continued to do what he loves. He is the ideal of success, in my view. We talked about the predominant belief that Hollywood is a bad, mean, cheating, awful place and how holding a different view of that is controversial. I have actually received, over time, several what I would categorize as "hate" emails whenever I talk about holding a different view of Hollywood. I have never said it is something out of a Barney episode. It's not. It's show BUSINESS. But not everybody is literally out to get you.

No, not everybody is nice in Hollywood. But that is true in every walk of life. But where do you choose to put your focus? On the positive or the negative? And,it doesn't have to be binary; you can recognize that not everything is sunshine and roses while not choosing to dwell on that.

I find that negative attitudes and beliefs usually accompany writers who just aren't ready to be here. If bad notes or an unreturned phone call inflame you and feel terrible, something is out of whack for you. You will always get bad reviews. There are always people who will not act in the way you would prefer. If anything you do in life embitters you - something is wrong. Your emotions are like a GPS system - a warning light is flashing if you feel cheated, unappreciated, shunned, scared or angry.

So are you really ready to be the success you would like to be? Do you have the grace, wisdom and peacefulness necessary to not take things personally? Do you know that subjectivity is nothing more than that? If you choose to instead continue to pursue your cabinetry business, does that feel like a great choice and not a failure?

Check in with yourself, Wavers. Is writing providing you with joy? Do you take your Hollywood interactions and rejections in stride? Are you happy for others when they find success? Do you know, for sure, that choosing a different path is perfection itself and not a failure?

As the great Joseph Campbell said - follow your bliss. That is the only true indicator you have. Positive thinking isn't something cute your mom or 3rd grade teacher encouraged you to do. It is much more powerful than that. Life is all about letting go and letting life take you where it will. You have to let go of the "how" and the "what" and only follow how you feel. Maybe you do have a bright future as a paid entertainment writer. Maybe you really should be a carpenter or IT specialist. There are no guarantees. But if you feel primarily misunderstood, cheated, shunned or overlooked when it comes to your writing - something is out of alignment.

A delightful and brilliant movie, if you haven't seen it, is Ratatouille. The movie is loaded with "follow your bliss", positive thinking:

"In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

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meg said...

Beautiful piece.

It has always seemed to me that if I dwell on the negative that happens to me I leave no room for anything positive to enter. In a negative state I'm closed inward but acknowledging the bad and then moving on keeps me open and I see more opportunities.

I've worked with several people in my business who complained all the time that the higher ups just didn't appreciate them, understand them, etc or that other people were out to "do them wrong". You know they tended to think that way about everything in life--their neighbors, some family member, their kid's coach. That negative attitude doesn't work. You can't complain your way to success.

E.C. Henry said...

I remember Marc Zicree from the Sceenwriting Expo. Yes, he's a peacefull, cool cat. You're blessed to have the opportunity to have lunch with him, Julie. You rock; you know all the cool people!

Wish I had a more healthy mental outlook on "the buisness." Becoming jaded is a REAL THREAT to ANY undiscovered writer. So thanks for the post Julie. Though I didn't get to go on the couch litterally, menally I feel like I was.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Julie Gray said...

I have known people like that too, Meg - the complainers and whiners. No thank you and pass the gravy.

EC - Marc is an amazing man and I'm privileged to know him. Glad you got a therapeutic benefit from the Rouge Wave. Next goal: make the Rouge Wave the equivalent of a shot of whiskey. :)

Anonymous said...

Just what the doctor ordered. I was down and almost out from the "regretfully" letter from Austin, and then I read your blog. Thank you, Julie, for the encouraging words.

Julie Gray said...

Man, Anonymous, if you knew how many "unfortunately" letters I have gotten over time for my short fiction, you'd laugh aloud. I keep them all. When I finally got my very first YES letter I wept with disbelief, relief and joy. And if it makes you feel any better, I know some Austin second rounders and semi-finalists who did not place at all in other competitions. So go figure. It's natural to feel those ups and downs as a writer. The more experienced you get the shorter you stay in the feeling of disappointment. You begin to say hmmm, well, that's a subjective judgment; but I wonder if my script can be improved? Or - hmmm maybe I'll have better luck somewhere else. Mainly, you need to think, hmmm what am I going to spend time working on today? Onwards and upwards!

Springfieldkid said...

I came home after a horrible trip and found a wonderful encouraging email from Ms. Julie and send a email thanking her (and everyone belatedly) for the great news about my script. if this was not good enough, minutes later I recieved another email from Julie, thanking ME for making HER day. Talk about the power of positive thinking. The lesson I am going to take away from this encounter is that I (and we) all have the power to be positive or negative on almost anything. And Life is a great big wheel going round and what is down today can be up tomorrow but we can influence things on how we choose to behave. So I choose good. I choose happy. I choose positive. And one things I try to say to msyelf when something NOt so postive happens is that if that is the worst thing that happens to me today, then it is still a pretty good day. Cheers!

Josten said...

I used to dwell on the negative situations that would happen to me to often. After i seen the secret it all changed. Learning more about the law of attraction changed my life.

Julie Gray said...

Hi Josten! I know a lot of people who work the Law of Attraction like magic every single day. :)