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There’s No Excuse For Being Talentless

“Right then. Let’s review class activity, shall we? Well, well, well… What a sorry lot you are. I don’t know why I waste my time, not one of you will amount to much, NOT ONE!

Sorry… What was that? You “tried your best” – well that’s not good enough! And who was that squeaking at the back anyway? Stand up straight. Tuck your shirt in. If you dedicated more time to screenwriting and less time to chatting on the internet, perhaps one of you urchins will advance forward in some kind of contest…

Oh you placed in the last one everyone in the Blogosphere entered? Well you didn’t win, did you? Everyone knows that’s the most important thing! Ridiculous girl. And who’s muttering on now…

…You boy! What did you say? There were 2100 entries in the last contest? So? If you were truly fabulous, you still could have made it through and you didn’t, did you? How many people made it through anyway? Everyone knows that’s the most important thing… At least until the actual result is published and the rest of the people who place are exposed as the losers they *really* are.

Now open your dictation books: write as I say it. The only thing that matters is winning screenwriting contests. Everything else is secondary–“

–Er, excuse me.

Shut it Teacher.

If you don’t get through on contests, that’s cool – you’re in good company, plenty of others don’t either.

If you do get through on contests though, again you’re in good company: lots of people do!

Sometimes a good script will end up bottom of the pile when shit floats to the top; that is true. Other times there are good reasons your script didn’t make it. Sometimes a script can even place in one contest and not even make a dent in another.

There are loads of contests, basically. Some will get you places. Others won’t.

If nothing else, a contest can give you a deadline and an opportunity to practice. Your time honing your craft is never wasted.

So: stop obsessing about how many people enter.

Stop telling yourself you’re a bad writer when you’re rejected.

And get on with it: writing, that is.

Here endeth today’s lesson.

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41 thoughts on “There’s No Excuse For Being Talentless”

  1. By that same token SK–

    by the law of averages, if you enter everything, even if you’re the worst writer in the world you’ll still place, win or get commissioned on SOMETHING — so how do you “find out” you’re a good one?!

  2. What IS good?

    Or bad?

    All getting a little philosophical for me. Oh no that’s right, I live with you, I have to listen to this every night… Love you really. What’s for dinner sweetheart?

    D x

  3. Um… is the answer to not look at any one result/commission in isolation, because it could be a fluke, but to run lots of experiments and see where you lie on the spectrum between no being a winner/runner-up, and getting no commissions (bad) and winning/ being a runner-up in lots of competitions and being repreatedly commissioned (good)?

  4. Possibly SK… But it’s not exactly scientific. Some of my Bang2writers have had SHOCKING luck with what I consider very good scripts not getting commissioned or near-misses with commissions, contracts and whatnot; does that make them bad writers?

    Some of my professional clients say their best works are yet unmade and quite possibly will never be made — does that mean they’re horribly mistaken about the quality of those scripts?

    I’ve seen some shocking scripts get picked up and I’ve seen some wicked scripts get stuck in development hell.

    There is just no way of sticking a definitive judgement on whether you’re “good” or not. Better not to try.

    I think it’s best instead to figure out why you (as in “one” btw, not you personally) does this screenwriting malarkey – if the reason is *solely* for success or people/contests saying you’re good, a career change might be in order IMHO since you might be disappointed in the long term.

  5. Dead on, Lucy.

    The more punches you throw the more likely it becomes that one of them is going to make contact.

    Keep slugging away, roll with the punches and look for the opportunity to knock someone out with a blinder.

    Not sure where the boxing analogy came from, sorry.


  6. Don’t be sorry, I was getting into it!

    Writers so often seek to tell themselves they’re rubbish. There are plenty of people out there to tell you that, just get on with it – take the knockbacks on the chin but equally enjoy your moments of success. The balance will always go in rejection’s favour, even if you “make it” – lots of professional writers out there whose every keyboard strike DOESN’T turn into gold, so enjoy what you can get, when you can get it is my motto.

  7. As a newby I’d get a rejection and crawl into that nice dark, damp place for a few days. And I’d only send out one at a time.

    After a few shortlisted’s it’s more sod it at least the portfolio’s got bigger. Even more to send out even next time.

    Now does this mean I’m getting better or just more delusional?

  8. I think we’re all delusional Rach… Else we would write about stuff that doesn’t exist!

    Really though, confidence is good, beating yourself up is bad. And as for this, “If I don’t get something by whenever I’m giving up as it means I must be bad…” What’s the point in starting?

    If you enjoy yourself writing, do it. If you don’t, don’t. That’s the simple part, worry about the complicated stuff of contracts, wins etc if it happens.

  9. I would never tell you what to do SK – it’s absolutely your right to beat yourself up SK and tell yourself you’re shit because you didn’t get through and good luck to you. But please don’t cast aspersions on other people’s entries when none of us have any idea why some got through and others didn’t. If only it WAS as simple as “we were shit”. Some of us might have been, but not all of us – and guess what, we don’t even know which is which anyway. So we’re moving along and not dwelling on it. Better for the psyche in my view.

  10. “But please don’t cast aspersions on other people’s entries when none of us have any idea why some got through and others didn’t.”

    I think I missed something somewhere- sounds a bit specific.

    As the great Prophet Bono said ‘Be all that you can be’.

    Except I think he swiped it from the US army. And by the same token we’re all ‘mild and green and squeaky clean’!

    In all seriousness, surely it’s better to keep trying to be as good as you can be and if this wins then it wins; if it doesn’t then it doesn’t. But it’s all practice and all experience and that’s what counts.

    (Did that come across as ‘fortune cookie-esque’ as it seemed?)

  11. Oh, ok… This original thread element between SK and I started on Danny’s blog Jon when he inferred that 90% of any slush pile was shit in reaction to my comment that we were just in the 90% that have not advanced.

  12. D’oh! I even read it and commented! Apparently there must be a little man who lives in my head and steals little bits of my knowledge. To cook. On toast. Like pilchards.

    And you’re right: we have no way of knowing what other people have done… prepare for more wisdom from the fortune cookie: I prefer to think I was beaten rather than lost…

  13. Well this is the good thing about being a script reader… You see some decisions being made on stuff like this (funding and whatnot) and you realise it sometimes goes beyond what’s on the page. I’m not saying this is what happened at Red Planet, but if we take something like METLAB for instance, 4 script places were up for grabs and John was very complimentary about the standard of entries there – and I saw the top 12 and those were especially good, but unfortunately those peeps had a 1/3 chance and then on top of that, John wanted four different genres… Of the top 12, 3 were comedies. Says it all, really.

  14. *Sigh* I didn’t, I just looked at the top 12 when he was done with them and already made his decision… bloody hell, tough crowd today!

  15. Okay, I should leave this alone. Parting shot: It’s not about beating oneself up, and it’s not about this particular competition either: it’s about the fact that most people are not good enough, and will never be good enough, and thinking that far from being encouraging it’s actually quite cruel to keep encouraging them to chase dreams that can never come true.

    I have no doubt that a lot of the people who didn’t get to the second round of this particular competition are good enough, and will get through to the finals of other competitions, and will eventually have stuff published or staged or produced. But even more of them aren’t and won’t.

    And I just don’t like this Sesame Street go-getter believe in yourself do what makes you happy follow your heart you only fail when you stop trying rah-rah stuff. It feels American and saccharine and, well, it’s decidedly un-British, is what it is.

    A lot of the people reading this will never be good enough to make it and that’s the truth.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I am sure that I just saw my tail float past.

  16. “it’s actually quite cruel to keep encouraging them to chase dreams that can never come true.”

    Dreams are not always about destinations SK, the journey counts too. And if people want to have that dream, who are you to make such judgements? Especially considering you have no idea who most of these people are or even if you do, why they may have not got through.

    People enjoy writing – let them get on with it. Let them pursue their dream, does it hurt you? It’s the ones who prod them with “you’ll never make it” who are cruel in my view.

  17. If I allowed all those thoughts of ‘it’s all meaningless’. ‘I’ll never make it’ and ‘aren’t I shit’ to overwhelm me… I doubt I’d be able to get up in the morning. Who would? Sometimes you’ve got to use your delusion. 😉

    (I think that was a joke in there… somewhere!)

  18. Use your delusion… Wasn’t that Guns N’ Roses? 😛

    What I like about you Lucy is the fact that you don’t offer false hopes… You don’t say “This is the best script I’ve ever read and you’re definitely going to sell it”, but you don’t say “this is the worst script in the world” either. You pick out bits you like or think worked and THEN say what you think needs work in further drafts, what a writer might want to do to improve chances of getting past certain stuff (like 10 page tests), that kinda thing. You always address the fact that nothing is for certain and anything can happen, especially on the blog.

  19. A few random observations from across the pond:

    -First of all, thanks for this blog. It provides much needed perspective on the RPP.

    -It all boils down to the quality of writing vs. the business of writing, and getting the twain to meet (unless your name is Mark) is the hard part.

    -As someone who’s spent too much time doing what I didn’t like just to make a living, I prefer to be doing what makes me happy, as Lucy put it, which happens to be doing something for which I do have a demonstrable talent, (although this sentence is definitely not proving my case.)

    -If you do not follow your dream, your dream will never be realized. If you do not build it, they will not come. They may not come anyway – and you may have to guide them, draw a road map, build a bridge – and even if they get there, they might not like what they see -but nothing will happen at all if you don’t keep building.

    -And, SK, as someone who resides in America, I resemble that remark!

  20. Just to ‘chip’ in here (geddit?!) and also to echo what Lucy said in her post, I’m one of the lucky four who has been selected for METLAB – rather than thinking that this is ‘validation’ or whatever you want to call it, I’m sure a great deal is to do with ‘right place, right time’. I just happen to have written a broadly generic script, which is apparently the sort of thing METLAB was looking for this year. That’s not to say it’s perfect, not by a long stretch – the same script got an absolute kicking in Blue Cat this year, and was KO’d in the first round of Red Planet. There’s more to it than whether your script is any good, as Lucy rightly points out – there are a lot of variables that need to come together before someone somewhere says ‘yes’. I’ve just happened to luck out this time round for METLAB, nothing more.

    Oh, and lay off Sesame Street (it rocks)!

  21. Mart – Love Winston, he has the best quotes – especially like the one where some Aristocrat lady says to him, “Sir, if you were my husband, I should put poison in your coffee” to which he says, “Madam, if I was your husband, I would drink it.” BOOM BOOM!

    Anon – glad you’re liking the blog and damn right on building and building and even allowing for those who get lost and drive deliberately out of your way. THEY WILL COME IF KILLS THEM.

    Ooo-er, quiet at the back. Naughty.

  22. Oooooh Chip, great minds. There’s lots I like about your script and its potential is huge, but who’s to say what would have had happened had John had a plethora of horror instead of comedy? Who knows… Budget too plays a big part in Metlab’s remit. Remember folks for next year – the business model John is interested in developing is for films that can be achieved on budgets of £300,000 – £800,000 and crucially, look good, not cheap (no punk ass cult-style S/FX basically). This means period drama is out, as are big lasers, explosions and other *big* set pieces, lots of make up effects and animation sequences. You may think “well, obviously”, but all of those turned up this year in John’s pile apparently…

  23. [Blazing Saddles mode ON] Ra-ra! [Blazing Saddles mode OFF]

    And, SK, it’s neither un-British or saccharine to be realistic about the fact that in this sort of contest we are dealing with *opinion*.

    After 20+ years in publishing, and having been on the other side, I know that “not winning” has very little to do with actual quality.

    It’s easy to eliminate the actual cr*p but from then on it’s opinion.

  24. I think if there had a plethora of horror scripts in METLAB this year, I would have been ‘out on my ass’ – and that would have been fine.

    That said, I’m going to have to re-write that big laser set piece now – a couple of torches and a sparkler should do the trick…

  25. Oi, no one talks about anyone’s ass on this blog except me.

    And “who knows” what would have happened means NO ONE KNOWS Chip, don’t make automatic assumptions you’re not good enough please, you’ll bring our party DOWN! ; )

    And Steve – Blazing Saddles Mode?! Didn’t know you had it in you, sir. That virtual cowboy hat looks particularly fetching.

  26. Hey, it’s my ass (well, it was last time I checked, corporate takeovers notwithstanding), which I think gives me the necessary authority to talk about it. So there!

    And sorry, wasn’t attempting to bring the party down, your highness – in an effort to lift the mood, I’ve put that Russ Abbott song on, which of course guarantees that a good time will be had by all 😉

  27. Isn’t it about being realistic? So much about getting a script gig is about luck. Being in the right place at the right time, having made a contact with someone who’s suddenly in a position to give you a break. The chances of you making it through a competition are quite slim. Literally two thousand to one in the case of red plant and no one should bank on that. But, on a broader note, writing for writings sake is no bad thing. If you can be honest, express what you actually feel, understand youself better for it, then surely that’s worth something in itself.
    After all the best writing is not going to come out of a burning ambition to get your work on screen. it’s going to happen cos you’ve worked out what you want to say.


  28. Anonymous in America …

    Thanks for taking note of my post, Lucy. You are quite the moderator. And just to beat this metaphor to death, as long as ‘they’ don’t wind up in a ditch when ‘they’are lost or offroading — unless you are at the bottom of it with your script! And speaking of THEM, take a look at what the the fuss is all about over here:

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