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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Writer's Season

Good morning, Wavers! How is everybody doing? For many screenwriters, the focal point of the screenwriting year is competition season - most competitions have deadlines right around May 1st or June 1st and it is during this time that there is a flurry of work to get those scripts turned in for a shot at winning cash, prizes and hopefully, a career boost. TV writers push all year to have a great spec ready for the TV spec season (also happening right now).

But - then what? We know that in general, the rhythm of Hollywood says that "spec season," - i.e., when agents and managers prefer to go out with scripts - is generally between January and August each year. Many production companies start their fiscals year in November but of course we know that November and December are so jam-packed with holidays that that's not a great time - so it really begins in January. So we're still very much in spec season - really up until mid-August or so, buyers are out there reviewing material.

What does your writing season look like? There are two events each year that screenwriters should think about attending - three if you have the budget and time: The Great American Pitch Fest in June, The Creative Screenwriting Expo (October this year) and The Austin Film Festival. That last one is a bonus - again, if you can afford it, you should go. If not, go to the GAPF and the Expo. If you can only go to ONE event, go to the Expo. It's fun, there are a lot of great classes and just about everybody goes so you'll meet a lot of people.

So - when you're not going to festivals or events or tuning up your script to enter it into competitions - what do you do? Write. You should always, always be writing. Yes, there are those key points on the calendar but the writer's season is the longest season of all because you just can't stop. Even during the holidays, when Hollywood virtually shuts down for a couple of months, you want to take advantage and be working on your material for the following spec season. In the fall, after the spec season is over - next year is already queuing up and clicking forward.

Ideally, you should be writing at least two scripts a year. Now, I know - that's not always possible. Some writers write faster than others. Many of us have day jobs and all of us have busy lives filled with family obligations and the various vicissitudes of life. It's ultimately about how badly you want to have a career as a writer. The more you want it, the more you better be writing. Because again, your competition is not the writers who write one script every couple of years, or total beginners who are not at all ready for prime-time. Your competition is writers who are on the cusp of breaking in because their talent is honed, they have some relationships and connections and they continue to create fresh material.

Set goals for yourself. Do not allow yourself to dwell on one script for too long: Don't do rewrite after rewrite that spills into different seasons. Write two to three brand new scripts per year, enter them into competitions, get feedback, write them to the best of your ability and query with them. If nothing happens with those scripts whatsoever, you're already working on more. If your script gets no action, take it out of the ring and make room for new material.

And you should always be generating ideas. Keep a file folder of your crazy ideas - one of those crazy ideas might just click with something else and become the great script you are going to write next year.

You are the general commanding your troops for battle. There are soldiers on the front lines lobbing out queries and making forays into events and opportunities, but if you don't have enough munitions, you're never gonna win the war. Pretty soon there won't be anything new and fresh to query, pitch or otherwise lob out into the fray. You must always be generating new material. And the good news is that every script you start is a fresh chance to nail it this time and have the stars align for you. Every event you go to could introduce you to a person who might change your trajectory in large or small ways.

The writer's season is evergreen, not deciduous. You should always be writing and when you're not writing you should be generating ideas and simultaneous to all of that you should be gearing up for querying or a competition or an event. Hollywood has a rhythm and a season, sort of like school being in session for eight months of the year. Writers go to school year-round.

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