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Never Give Up – Except When You KNOW You Should

This post is for mega Bang2writer Helen Bang, who loves me so much she’s even changed her SURNAME (100% true story) and for the lovely Andrew Tibbs, who have both asked me this question:

When do you give up (on a particular script) – how do you know when you’re flogging a dead horse?

My general rule is thus: if YOU think you are flogging a dead horse, then you *probably* are. Sending the same spec out, year in, year out and getting the same “meh” response back is usually indicative of whether people “out there” are ready for your masterpiece, for whatever reason. If on top of that you start to lose enthusiasm for the project too, there is your answer.

But note I say, YOU – no one else should make this decision. If you BELIEVE in your spec *no matter* what anyone says, then KEEP ON KEEPING ON. Don’t make any decisions when you’re still stinging from your latest rejection. Put your script in a drawer for a few weeks (or in a file on your desk top) and PONDER:

Do I still love this story?

Do I still want to share it with the world?

Do I have the strength to be met with yet more rejection for it?

If the answer to any of the above is “yes” – there is your answer. DING DING, next round – you need to keep on keeping on, whatever any other person says (and yes, even if they are more experienced than you).

If the answer to any of the above is “No” – think carefully: are you saying this because you feel DOWN about your chances of getting you or the script noticed, or because the script is no longer your main interest? If the former, pick yourself up and dust yourself down: you need to go back in for round 2, 10, 38, whatever.

If the latter, though? Now is the time to MOVE ON:

Because it’s the natural thing to do. There is no shame in junking a script or concept and moving on to the next one. This is what writers do. When we first start writing, we’re amazed by the fact we get words on paper and our first scripts seem REALLY IMPORTANT to us. Yet as the years go by, they become less and less important. Why? Because your writing gets better with experience and what was once the very BEST you could do is now eclipsed by your latest piece. Life doesn’t stand still – and nor does your writing ability. I wrote a script four years ago that got me my first agent and my first influx of “real” meetings. Do I send it out now? Hardly ever. Why? Because I can do better now. So move on!

Because your script not always as good as you think it is. Sometimes your idea – the one you think at the moment is “brilliant” – is actually crap. Recognising this is a skill in itself – as is letting go. I attempted to write a drama series idea two years ago that had plenty going for it – at a rehearsed reading, the actors said they loved the dialogue and the characters, for example – but its central concept stank. It fell back on cliche for starters and what I was trying to say with it? Even now I’m not entirely sure. So I junked it. I’ve never regretted it. Doing so has allowed me to move on to other ideas and revisit old ones and resurrect them… And one day, I will take that good dialogue and those good characters out of that old stinky drama series idea and put them in another script, I’m sure.

Because the world is not ready for it… yet. Other times, you come up with a story or concept that no one wants. Not because it isn’t good, but because it isn’t market-ready. Like anything, the writing world follows “fashion” if you like and at the moment, the genre film is king (especially thriller and comedy) and TV likes supernatural concepts. That means your kitchen sink, gritty realist drama, however good it is, probably isn’t going to get a look in right now. I had a meeting about my own gritty realist drama at the beginning of this year that went like this:

PRODUCER: I loved it. The characters really came alive for me, I really wanted to know whether they’d get together in the end… and when they did, I actually cried a little bit.

ME: Great! That was what I was going for.

PRODUCER: But I can’t do anything with it. Distributors don’t touch this stuff with a barge pole at the moment.

ME: Oh.

But those are the key words – “at the moment”. Once upon a time, not so long ago, gritty realist drama was king… And it will be again at some point. I can revisit my own script THEN. So move on!

DON’T beat yourself up. Sometimes it’s not about YOU or even your writing as such – just *that particular script* you’re currently hawking around. I have one script that was so rubbish in its early incarnations about two or three years ago I am filled with SHAME at the thought of my fellow feedbackers and bloggers having read it, but also know that as my fellow writers, they appreciate you can’t judge someone by a SINGLE DRAFT (or sometimes three or four – LOL). I also remember some of their disbelief that I continued with it, no matter what they said to the contrary, which varied from “friendly advice” along the lines of, “Stop doing this to yourself” to “STOP WRITING THIS CRAP SCRIPT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!” But I kept going. Why? BECAUSE I HAD TO, I BELIEVED IN IT.

And I still do. If no one ever makes that bloody script, *I* will! And that’s a promise.

So never give up. Unless YOU decide to.

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2 thoughts on “Never Give Up – Except When You KNOW You Should”

  1. That said, just because a script hasn't been picked up doesn't mean you should drop it. Seven Spires still gets me meetings, and that script's five years old now.

  2. Definitely – just as it takes as long as it takes, a spec script lasts as long as it lasts. Sometimes that's years – sometimes not… In contrast to my supernatural thriller feature I mention in this post, my children's spec must be 4-5 years old now, easily and like yours Oli still gets me through doors.

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