"Oh come, on. Stop whining. You kids are soft. You lack discipline. Well, I've got news for you, you are mine now! You belong to me! You're not going to have your mommy's run behind you anymore and wipe your tushies! Oh no! It's time now to turn this mush into muscles. No more complaining. No more, 'Mr. Kimble I have to go to the bathroom'... nothing. There is no bathroom!"
I've been a screenwriter now for 17 years, the count starting from the day I took my first (and only) screenwriting class and started to pursue it more through reading every screenwriting book out there (The good and the bad), studying movies more closely, reading produced screenplays, and yes, starting to write.
I've been a professional screenwriter for 7 years now, starting from the moment I signed with my manager and then invited to Universal, Dreamworks, Sony, Warner Brothers, and Disney to discuss their interest in my work. 6 years if you want to count from my first official paid gig after I signed my first deal at Lionsgate.
I sat on the board for 4 years as President of the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum, which, despite its moniker, is an international support group for screenwriters. During my term, I worked with screenwriters on educating them in the guidelines and expectations of the film industry, hoping to get past all of the bulls*** out there and get them on their right path, avoiding the many pitfalls and dead ends I experienced on my journey.
I even taught screenwriting courses for 2 years at the University of Wisconsin.
All this time, I have seen one constant
that resonated with my own work, as well as those I've supported: Discipline
A screenwriter can hone their craft to the point that they have the ability to write engaging and compelling screenplays with high concepts and wonderful characters
. Those italicized abilities represent the pinnacle of a screenwriter's craft.
They can also have great connections and networking talents within the film and television industries.
Those italicized attributes represent the pinnacle of a screenwriter's business plans.
But none, NONE, of those will matter if a screenwriter doesn't have discipline.
Without discipline, either given by yourself or by a deadline that a producer/director/studio/
representation stipulates, your writing will flounder and eventually fail.
Discipline, or lack there of, is the most common problem I have seen in all of those years mentioned above.
First off, I see it in myself. Despite the many years I've logged in this industry, I still can struggle with discipline in my writing. And every time I see that struggle, I realize that my writing and career has suffered because of it.
Secondly, I see it even moreso in screenwriters that are trying to realize their dreams of becoming a screenwriter. Screenwriters need to hone their craft. They need to write, write, and then write some more. When I see people writing the same script over the span of a year or more, there's nothing I can do for them. No matter what I, or anyone else, have shared, in regards to experience and knowledge of the film industry and screenwriting trade, none of it matters unless a screenwriter is ready to look in the mirror and understand that they have to approach this dream, this career, with the most ultimate of discipline. "Stop Whining... No more Complaining..."
Life happens. Life is always present. We find ourselves trying to realize this dream amongst the seemingly endless hurdles that life puts before us. We have to pay the bills. We have to feed our families. We have to nurture our children. We have demanding day jobs that demand our attention. We're sick. We're tired. We're overwhelmed. We don't have the time. Etc.
With the utmost of respect, STOP WHINING.
This is something I, your proverbial "Mr. Kimble", has to tell you and it's something I have to tell myself each and every day.
Stop whining. You are no different than anyone else. Everyone has something or some things standing in the way of their dreams. We have those life responsibilities and they are understandable and worthy of attention, but at some point, you're going to have to make that choice at those crossroads of life and decide on whether or not you want and/or can pursue your dream.
"I don't have time." "I need to put all my attention on...." "I'm so tired." "Why bother? The odds are against me anyway." Stop whining.
We all have those moments. We all have hurdles. We all realize that the odds are against us. Be it for screenwriting for for any dream anyone is pursuing. But until we get past those, until we tell ourselves to "Stop Whining", those hurdles, those odds, those responsibilities, will do nothing but deflect us from our dream with each and every attempt. "You kids are soft... "
No more playing the victim. No more whining now. Now its time to toughen you up. Now it's time to turn that mush into muscles.
What you need to do is leap into your craft. You need to do the leg work. You need to pound the ground of the screenwriting craft and trade.
"You're not going to have your mommy's run behind you anymore and wipe your tushies!
- Immerse yourself into film. Watch movies and study them. Study their structures. Study why certain films succeed and certain films fail. It's all there for you. An almost endless library that you can find in movie theaters, at your local rental store (What are those?), at Netflix, at iTunes, at Amazon, at Best Buy, etc. You're education is staring you in the face day in and day out.
- Find your ideas. One idea isn't good enough. No different than the fact that one script isn't good enough to launch a career in screenwriting. Before you attempt to truly write a single screenplay, you need to sit down and come up with a dozen or so great concepts that you want to explore. How you do that is ripe for another blog post here, but you can start by exploring the many questions that start with "What If..." and then you can move onto exploring your own greatest fears, your greatest dreams, your greatest ambitions, etc. Find those ideas. The film industry is an idea and concept driven industry, thus it's the necessary place to start.
- Read screenplays. My job as a script reader for Sony Pictures made me the writer I am today. Now, I know it's tough to get such a position, but that can't stop you from reading screenplays. They are everywhere online. I'd strongly suggest you read PDF scripts only. There is a great database I created here... Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum " Scripts . Also, join a writer's group. They can be found locally or online. Reading amatuer screenplays can also help you because, as is the case with reading producer scripts, you can quickly learn what to do and what NOT to do. The WSF has some great programs (Hopefully still implemented since I left) where you can read and write coverage on fellow member's screenplays. American Zoetrope is a great place too. Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum " Screenplay Feedback Program .
- Let people read your work. You need feedback in the early stages of your journey as you hone your craft. Choose those people wisely. Utilize a writing group. Utilize friends and family, but ONLY those that A) Won't simply love everything you do, and B) Won't simply hate everything you do. Find people you can trust to give you an honest opinion and offer CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. That said, know that such criticism is strictly on a "take it or leave it" basis. Not every one will be right in their feedback.
- Feedback will harden you up a bit. You'll learn to take some hits. You'll learn to defend your work. You'll learn when you shouldn't defend your work and instead take the advice.
- Lastly, and this is moreso when you have scripts and starts marketing them, get your scripts out there. They do nothing for you sitting on the shelf or within your Documents folder on your computer... waiting for yet another rewrite. Get them out to people in the film industry.
With all of that said, you can't depend on others to make this career happen for you. And even when you are a represented screenwriter like me, who has a well connected manager, you can't depend solely on such people. I have to tell myself this every day. I need to market my projects on my own as well. And I can't have all my eggs in that one basket of my manager, or the few baskets I have in my studio contacts.
And while I believe that writing groups are important when a screenwriter is starting out, there is a time when yes, you do have to learn to not depend on them. You'll find that there are too many hands in the cookie jar. And let's be honest, once you may get that coveted studio screenwriting assignment, you're not going to have your writing group there to help you out because the work you will be doing will be seemingly classified and for your and your employers eyes only.
You can't write by committee. You can't depend on others to tell you why your script isn't working... or why it IS working. You need to learn to do all of that for yourself. That's the discipline needed. You have to learn when you write something great and when you write something bad.
Friends, in the end, you'll find yourself alone. Without any support. That's not a bad thing. That's a GREAT thing. Your peers will let you down or exhaust their "worth". Your representatives that you may garner will fail to secure a deal for you or choose not to move forward on a project you've been working on for six months. Your hopes and prayers, will, at one time or another, not be answered.
This is the point where you must have what I call the "F*** you Jobu, I'll do it myself" epiphany. If you don't get the movie reference, go watch the classic baseball comedy Major League. This character was known for worshiping "Jobu", depending upon him to do everything for him and performing endless superstitions to get hits and such. Until...
And finally...Self Discipline
Friends, if you have true self discipline in your craft, in your life, and in the pursuit of your dreams, the sky is the limit!
So how does one attain it?It half attain and half maintain. Attain
You must first realize that without a deadline, you will wander endless. For without a destination (the deadline), there is no place to journey to. Thus, you will have no direction. No heading. No horizon to approach. You need to set your own deadlines.
No different than what will be expected of you if you ever do have a career in screenwriting. Producers, development executives, representation, and studios will require you to do a job in a certain amount of time.
The average contract will give you 8-10 weeks to finish the first draft of your script. You'll get 1-2 weeks after that, to get to a final draft.
So let's say that's 12 weeks. Three months. And let it be known that this is the best case scenario, deadline-wise. Professional screenwriters will often have much less time due to development and production constraints.
So this whole "taking 12 months or more to write my screenplay" thing does you as a writer no good. You're just teaching yourself bad habits. Even six months is a stretch.
And I speak from experience. When I was hired to write a miniseries called Blackout - Sonar Entertainment
, (Which was produced with a name cast and had debuted in foreign territorities but is awaiting U.S. Domestic release), I was given a deadline of 2 weeks
Now, to put that in context, this was a four hour miniseries. We were doing a page one rewrite (Starting from scratch). That's 240 pages. The average feature script is 90-120 pages.
So I needed to do 240 pages in 2 weeks. They needed to fast track the script in order to get it into production. It was presold in foreign territories so those individuals were waiting for it.
Now, I was a stay-at-home dad during the day with one kid in kindergarten but the other still at home. I was running a non-profit. Etc. My days weren't free.
But I had a deadline. I made it work. And the powers that be were VERY pleased with the 240 pages I turned in on the day of my deadline.
So it's possible, friends. You can't tell me, you're proverbial Mr. Kimble right here and right now, that you can't write a feature length script within 3 months. I'll even give you 5 months if you're just starting out. You CAN do it. The question is: WILL you do it?
So you need the self discipline of setting a deadline. And this goes for every aspect of your pursuit of this career.
- Set a deadline for your final draft of each script
- Set a deadline for when you are going to have your logline written, a short synopsis written, etc.
- Set a deadline for when you are going to take the script out to the film industry
- Set a deadline for when you are going to start your next script
That is how you attain self discipline. Set the deadlines and meet them. Be true to yourself and your dedications. Maintain
You do this for every project you take on. You treat it like there is a producer or manager or agent or director or A-List actor or studio breathing down your neck. Because when you think of it, they are and that's what you want. They're sitting out there waiting for your brilliant script and concept. Are you going to have it ready for them, or are you going to let the next screenwriter beat you to it?
And for the day-to-day, you maintain by making sure you make a writing schedule for yourself.
It's not enough to simply say, "I'll write when I can." Bulls***. That's not discipline. You need to look at your schedule and say, "Okay, I've got an hour here. Two hours here. I can have a whole day here..."
And if your parents, your wife, your husband, your girlfriend, your boy friend, your kids, and/or your friends are demanding all of your time? You tell them, "Hey, I need to be away from the house for a few hours this day to write."
Whatever it takes, you find a way to make a schedule.
And remember, writing isn't always done while your fingers tap those keys on the keyboard. In fact, most of my writing is done in my head before I type a single word. You have to see the movie through the mind's eye first, so when you're driving to work, driving the kids around, or even when you're working, when you're on your lunch breaks, whenever... you should be writing in your head. You plant the seed of the concept of your script and let it grow.
That's how you maintain self discipline.
Friends, this applies to all dreams. All goals. Not just screenwriting. If you're an actor or director or novelist. If you're an artist or musician or composer. If you're an athlete. If you're wanting to pursue another career. If you're wanting to learn another skill or hone another talent. Whatever the case may be!
Discipline is what will get you there.
Lack of discipline will keep you from your goals, ambitions, and dreams.
So... "Come, on. Stop whining. You people are soft. You lack discipline!
Well, I've got news for you, you are mine now! You belong to me! You're not going to have your writing groups and whomever run behind you anymore and writing your scripts for you! Oh no! It's time now to turn this mush into muscles. No more complaining. No more, 'Mr. Miyamoto, I have to go to the bathroom'... nothing. There is no bathroom*
So let us all rise up and take our destinies into our own hands, at least that which we can and will control. We will lack discipline no more!*representing any excuses