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BALLS OF STEEL™: What Makes a Writer Fail?

Perhaps it's easier to answer "What makes a writer fail?" than "What makes a writer succeed?" Editor of ScriptMag shares her thoughts on screenwriting careers.

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Writers connect with films, scripts and their characters, but we often forget to connect with each other. Isolation is one guaranteed answer to what makes a writer fail, but there are many more.

what makes a writer fail

We are placed on this earth to experience life in a way only human beings can. Unlike animals, we laugh, cry, hate, love, fill our hearts with envy, jealousy and anxiety. We don’t just project those emotions onto other people; we torture ourselves with self-loathing, insecurities and disappointment.

In a nutshell, people are messed up. Maybe artists, the most of all.

Let’s play a game of “what if?”

Many writers, myself included, set a character up in a situation and ask, “What if… I made her talk to that person in this scene? What if… I had her plane nosedive? What if… her ex-husband walked in and pointed a gun at her?

We’re all familiar with asking that question in our writing, but what if we asked it in our lives?

What if… you believed in yourself?

Sit with that thought for a moment. Close your eyes and visualize experiencing life fully committed to believing in yourself and your ability to succeed. That is a powerful intention. One I wish I had when I was in college, full of insecurities and pushing away my writing professor who begged me to leave Cornell’s Hotel School and major in Creative Writing.

A few years ago, I got to go back to college and crawl into the mind of my 19-year-old self.

Hendrix College’s Filmmakers Club generously invited me to lecture on Navigating the Industry Outside of Hollywood. As I flew into Little Rock, Arkansas, I prepared myself to answer all of their aspiring filmmaker questions. I told tales of my adventures, gave tips on building relationships by paying it forward, and shared my social mediaaddiction prowess, proving how I have crafted a legitimate career from my country home in New York State. As I wrapped up, I asked if they at least got one helpful nugget of advice and what that golden bit was.

One student enthusiastically said, “Hope,” to which many voices echoed with heads nodding in agreement.

Mission accomplished.

After my talk, several students joined us to continue the discussion, their hungry minds picking my brain. Talking shop with these bright students made me envious of them. At their young age, they knew what their passion was and were going after it.

They gave me hope.

But it also made me wonder how many students of Hendrix secretly wanted to be filmmakers but didn’t come to the event or stay after to have a deeper conversation with me?

How many people are sidestepping their dreams because they don’t believe in themselves?

 Dr. Rod Miller and Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

Dr. Rod Miller and Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

The next day, I went to Dr. Rod Miller’s Intro to Screenwriting class. The subject of the day was a chapter on ‘Problems and Solutions’ in Robert McKee’s famous book, Story. During the class, all the students got an opportunity to toss out a problem in their script they were wrestling with. It was a writer’s Think Tank.

The problems ranged from taking a courtroom drama outside of the courtroom, crafting a compelling and unpredictable climax for a Rom Com, getting bored with the hero in Act II, to having too many characters muddling up the story. The students enthusiastically brainstormed ways to combat each obstacle, and of course, I threw in my two cents.

The energy was amazing. How lucky they were, and I’m not sure they even knew it. The irony is, while they looked at me with envy, I regarded them the same way.

As a writer who works from home, isolated and unshowered, I crave the kind of contact and brainstorming these students are able to do on a daily basis. Every conversation lead to an ah-ha moment. I could see it in their faces as their brains burst with ideas.

It was a beautiful sight. I was in awe.

On my flights home, I pondered the future of these students. Would they find success in this crazy industry? Which ones would stick it out? Which would find another path?

The reality is, unlike most careers taught in college, there is absolutely nothing logical about this industry. Not one thing. I couldn’t map out a strategy for success that was guaranteed. Hard work, talent and determination aren’t necessarily going to get you produced. What a strange vocation to pursue.

Maybe it’s more effective for me to give advice on what definitely makes a writer fail since there are no absolutes about what makes one succeed:

  • You will fail if you don’t write every day.
  • You will fail if you don’t take feedback well.
  • You will fail if you’re selfish.
  • You will fail if you ruin your reputation by acting desperate.
  • You will fail if you don't learn to love rewriting.
  • You will fail if you just talk about finishing a project but don’t actually take the time to do it.
  • You will fail if you don’t step outside of your comfort zone and push yourself.
  • You will fail if you don’t love what you’re doing.
  • You will fail if you can’t learn lessons from your mistakes.
  • You will fail… if you don’t believe in yourself.

Now I ask a question only you can answer, “What if… you failed as a writer?”

Please think about that. In fact, take the day off from writing today and make a list of what life would be like if you didn’t put words on a page. Can you even imagine it?

Now ask yourself, “What if… I gave it my all?”

Just the thought of you typing your fingers to the bone to succeed makes me smile.

Part of giving it your all isn’t just working hard, isolated in a writer cave. You need people to help you. Let them. Put yourself out there, put your words out there, even if only on a blog, and let people experience the way you can move them with your prose. Draw them in.

Believe in yourself so they will believe in you too.

All it takes is finding that one person to believe in you who can help you launch your career. One person. One yes. It’s the difference between aspiring and achieving.

I’ve written before about Hope vs. Faith, and if you are one of those who isn’t committed to believing in yourself, please read it.

Finally, a huge thank you to my new Hendrix family: Travis Peeples, Dr. Rod Miller, Michelle Polacinski, Rane Peerson, Lance St. Laurent, and all of those great students who I had the honor of spending the day with.

I believe in you.

P.S. That means to those of you who are dragging your feet in writing your papers, doing your thesis, and creating your short films for the Red Brick Film Festival, get off your asses and get the job done! You can thank Travis for that message.

Jeanne’s webinar for The Writers Store on Breaking in Outside of Hollywood is available on demand. 

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. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.


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