What is Happy?
I recently had a conversation with an old friend who I haven’t talked with in ages. After years of struggle, she finally landed the job of her dreams. I smiled wide for her and asked, “Are you happy?”
Her response: “Is anyone ever happy? I think you have to just be happy with what you have.”
Long after the conversation was over, her words haunted me.
While my inner Buddhist agrees one should appreciate the little things and be able to find happiness in them, I couldn’t help but feel her answer could have just as easily been, “I decided to settle.”
For me, her logic is backwards. I don’t ever want to settle for what I have unless my life makes me happy. If what I have in life isn’t making me happy, then I need to figure out what will make me happy, and set a new goal.
This holds true in your screenwriting career too.
Will selling a script make you happy? You might think so today, but what if you get to that moment and you realize it wasn’t “all that”? Maybe you had to compromise too much on the story in order to get that sale. Maybe you took less money than you wanted. Maybe you felt bullied by the agent. Maybe… you get the point.
The sale of a script does not guarantee screenwriting career happiness, just like my friend acquiring the job of her dreams didn’t secure her happiness. Every person has a different meter for what makes them happy. Yours is for you to decide.
The Pursuit of Happiness
Since selling a script can and does take years to do, I’ve recently started making smaller goals for myself. I need to see my Happiness Meter rise on a daily basis.
Each morning, I sit at my home office and ask, “What can I do today to make my life happier?”
The answer is often small, as it should be. After all, it’s a goal you need to accomplish in one day. More times than not, my answer is, “WRITE!” But since most of us have day jobs and write our scripts on our off hours, we have very little time to actually live our lives, let alone write the next great screenplay. So if our Happiness Meter is always set on the “SELL YOUR SCREENPLAY” dial, we’re bound to end our lives disappointed.
I now consider 15 minutes of writing in one day enough to make me happy. Seriously. Just 15 minutes. That’s my daily goal, permanently set on my Happiness Meter. Just sitting my ass in the chair to write allows my brain to be processing the story long after the 15-minute ding on the timer. Trust me. It works.
Now think of another small thing.
What can you do to make your own life easier today? Yes, I hear you snickering. Easier? Yeah, right. There’s nothing easy about pursuing your dreams in this crazy industry. But what if, someone was asking you, “What can I do to make your life easier today?” What would you say?
Think about that answer. Really hard. Is it something you can do for yourself instead of waiting for someone else to help you? If it’s to find a producer who wants your work, spend one hour today using resources you have at your fingertips. You don’t need to fly to L.A. to do that. Search the Internet, reach out to your personal network, look on IMDb, or research The Hollywood Screenwriting Directory. Do something to find the person who either wants your script or could be a champion for it.
Happiness is not something another person provides you. It’s not something an industry provides you. It’s something you provide you. Knowing your nurturing yourself and your career is the first step.
Happiness Takes Work
Now ask, “What is my overall screenwriting career goal?”
Write it down, and stare at it.
Have you done anything at all to make that goal happen this week? This month? This year?
Every week I get countless emails from people asking for my advice. A common thread I see in them is a sense of frustration and hopelessness, blaming an industry for their lack of success instead of really looking at what they are doing themselves to advance their own career. Or worse, they just want me to introduce them to a producer who will magically cut them a check.
Um, if I knew a Ms. Magic Producer, she’d be cutting me checks.
As a martial artist, I learned the journey to become a black belt was what mattered, not the moment the belt was placed around my waist. Even after obtaining that challenging goal, my lessons in the dojo had only just begun. What always saddens me is when a junior student (under the age of 18) trains and achieves their black belt… and then they quit. I’ve had 12 years of training and am a third degree rank, and I am still constantly learning and realizing I don’t know anything yet. If I had quit after achieving my 1st degree, what would have been the point?
The same is true for writing.
We need to breathe, flow with the changes in the industry, and not fight them. Find ways to survive the battles and enjoy the process of conquering it. We should not only appreciate the lessons we learn every time someone knocks us out of the ring, but also be grateful for those lessons. Be happy you earned them.
Once you do sell your first script, that’s when you’ll really learn the lessons of what it means to be a professional screenwriter. You’ll learn about managing egos, working with producers, even working and dealing with narcissists… because, trust me, they are everywhere. Even closer than you think. So finding internal happiness will be more important than ever when that day comes, and finding a way to enjoy the journey is paramount.
Part of your journey to becoming a produced screenwriter is finding happiness in all aspects of that road. For me, I don’t only feel fulfilled when I’m writing, but I also find great joy in learning. I try to learn something new every single day. If you pop on Twitter and follow the #scriptchat hashtag, other writers are sharing advice, support and helpful articles. It’s the easiest place to learn for free.
Write, learn, rinse, repeat. But remember to enjoy those small moments too, all while keeping your big-picture goals in mind. Every day ask yourself, “What have I done today to get me one step closer to my goals?” Then celebrate that step, even if only with a smile.
Above all, don’t settle. No winners every settled. No happily married couples ever settled. No Olympic athlete ever settled. They worked at it. They didn’t get an adequate score and say, “Yeah, I’m happy with what I have.” They pushed themselves harder to be better. To do better. To live better.
Today, I’m going to start the novel that’s been churning in my mind for the past year. I’ve paid lip service to writing it, and now it’s time to begin. That will make me happy and bring me one step closer to finishing it. Besides, saying it “out loud” will make me accountable.
Let's go a step further. Brad Johnson and I just made a pact to have our new story outlines done in five weeks. Join us. July 12, 2013 is the deadline. I think I just saw my Happiness Meter rise.
If I can do it, you can do it. Share in the comments below what your goals are and let us all support and push each other so none of us settle for less than we deserve.
What are you going to do today to raise your Happiness Meter?
Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne's advice.
- Balls of Steel: Dear New Screenwriter
- Balls of Steel: Hope vs. Faith
- Balls of Steel: Challenge Yourself to Change
- Get a New Story: Why You Don’t Need Big Blocks of Time to Write
- Balls of Steel: 10 Tips to Prepare for Opportunities When They Knock
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