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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Evolution of a Writer

I expected to get a hailstorm of outraged, indignant comments yesterday and did not. In fact, I did hear that my list of patterns made the rounds among a large group of studio readers who, bless their hearts, cheered those observations on as they have noticed the same thing themselves. Studio readers and assistants are dear to my heart; I consider them the funniest, hardest working, most plugged in group of young people in Hollywood. They are where I get the skinny; the latest scripts being shopped, the insider gossip, the black list and spec sales. They are a direct pipeline to what is going on. They keep me in the loop.

If you found yourself described anywhere (or all over) on that list of patterns, do not be ashamed, outraged or hopeless. It is the way it has to be - for now. As with anything in life, you will evolve. How do Wavers think the Wave-inatrix is able to pass on so much information on what NOT to do? Because I have done it. My first script was a thinly veiled, biographical, wish-fulfillment piece of crap that I thought was utter brilliance. I thought I could break into the business with that script, make a sale and move to Barbados. I have made every mistake humanly possible to mistake. And I'm still standing and I'm still writing. As a wise friend once said to me - you can't go around it, you can't go over it, you have to go through it.

If it's true, for instance, that your first, second and most likely third scripts will suck, why write them? Why not just start with script four? You can't go around it, you can't go over it, you have to go through it. You have to enter 29 contests with that bad script and not place in a one and wonder why. You have to get a "manager" in Georgia with a yapping dog in the background and wonder why you don't get meetings or work. You have to buy every book and dvd and go to every conference or event before you realize you're out five grand and now you need to just write a good script. You have to get over your sense of entitlement and just write. It's unglamorous, it's slow and it's often painful. The only way to become a good writer is to be a bad writer first. But awareness is your friend. Be one with your own evolution. As you buy every single book every published you will find that only one or two really speak to you. As you take class after class and go to screenwriting events, you will stumble upon that one teacher or workshop that is pivotal for you, that gives you that aha moment.

There are variations on what your experience might be, but the experience is necessary. Nobody just magically breaks in to this business. There is no overnight success. Period. So be kind to yourself. Are you a fan boy writing imitative comic strip scripts? Are you an over-40 woman writing sappy romantic wish-fulfillment scripts that wish they were THE NOTEBOOK? That's okay. Write a few of those. Get it out of your system. You have to do it.

Would you be who you are today were it not for the mistakes and humiliations you suffered in high school? If it weren't for the messed up job interviews? If it weren't for getting married too young to the wrong guy for the wrong reasons? If it weren't for that jackass guy with serious mental problems that you thought you were in love with even though he was so much younger and what was going to happen was written all over the wall in ten foot high letters??!!

But I digress.

For me, personally, as some of you may have wondered from time to time, I have written ten scripts, some solo, some with a (brilliant) partner. I have had three managers. I have had two options. I have read every book, taken every class and graduated from The Writer's Boot Camp. I have placed in competitions, I have had a script in development at Fox. And I still haven't made a sale. But time is my friend. I'm a good writer, I have great connections and I love to write. I got nuthin' but time, joy and enthusiasm. Will I ever make a sale? Maybe. Would that make you respect or enjoy the Rouge Wave more? Would that make me happier? I don't know. I love my life and I think that's evident. I love the mini-W, I love writing, I love the Rouge Wave, I love The Script Department, I love writers and I'm really damn good at what I do. So if I make a sale, I won't be any more validated. Only a little richer. And I stress a little.

But back to you, Wavers. One day, a light bulb will come on over your head and you'll see BLEEP it and you'll write something straight from your heart. And it will be the best thing you've ever written. And it still might not get anywhere. That's okay. Do it again. Go to conferences, meet other people. Take classes. Read books, blogs and for heaven's sake - screenplays. Lots of them. And see movies. All the time. After some time, you will find your voice, your genre and your particular methodology when it comes to outlining and writing. Your super powers will grow. Every journey starts with a single step. You don't have to know how or when or even if you're going to break into this business, you just have to know that you have to write more than you have to breathe. You just have to know that you believe. Cupcakes for every single Waver today. Breathe, believe, receive.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

You scared me.

What is the "black list" in this article? What does it mean?

Hope I'm not on it! LOL
Sounds awful.

And how does one get on this list?

I don't think I should ever want to be on that list. I'm I right?

Is this a controversial list? Is it a negative list?

What is exactly a "black list"?

Thanks dude,

Julie Gray said...

Oh! I love it when guys call me dude! You like me, you really like me!

The black list is a VERY good thing. This is one (ironically named) list that you want to be on. It's a list, generated annually, of scripts that executives and assistants most enjoyed reading. Some say the list is hype, some say it is sincere. Doesn't matter. You want to be on this list. Your phone will ring off the hook; you can get repped and you can get gigs. Josh Zetumer was on the list and look at him now.

meg said...

Well, istead of cupcakes I'm making a carrot cake right now. Then it's back to writing.

I'm so loving your blog. I'm glad I found it. It makes my day.

PJ McIlvaine said...

I made blueberry muffins today. :)

E.C. Henry said...

Julie, I can make cranberry orange scones--if I follow the instructions off the box, and they taste great. Does that make me hip and cool like you and PJ? If not, what must I do? (Please for the sake of my kitchen don't make the task TOO DAUNTING as I am just a man)

Julie, this is your space, you should feel free to write about whatever you want without fear of reprocussion. The people who visit come because they like you. Though I must admit some of us might like you even more IF you had a nurse outfit...

Thanks for the heart of glass honesty exposing your life journey. I've seen SO MUCH heartbreak since I started educating myself on the path of a sreenwriting student. I think so many people miss the real joy of writing, and that's the moment you write something truely spectacular that suprises yourself. Being a writer is like going on a dark tunnel rollercoaster ride--only the attraction you're on is your own imagination.

I love being a writer. Writing alows me to live a life greater than what the 9-to-5 has to offer. An enhanced reality, where I actually matter. Paid or not, if you're a good writer, you can take yourself away and give yourself a better life that the hand you were dealt. Something to think about...

Anyway, Julie you rock. If you were my teacher I would probably be the stary-eyed student with pinky in mouth, who sat quietly at my desk and stared at you while you taught at the podium. Keep rockin'!

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Julie Gray said...

Awww....thank you, EC. And if you were my student, I would be Mrs. Robin- oh wait - that's another blog.

Sadly, nobody is as cool as PJ and I. But you can try! :)