By Michele Wallerstein
I’ve been listening to writers complain about being a writer for about a million years now. As an agent I heard how bad their producers were, how little work there was, how cheap the studios were and how stupid the buyers were that didn’t buy their scripts. I always broke my butt trying to get them jobs and trying to get them the best deals possible.
The professional life of a writer is emotionally complicated. They push and push and push to get their first agent. Once they accomplish this feat they plead for jobs. After they get some writing assignments they begin to complain that the deals aren’t big enough. Mind you, the assignment to write one television dramatic episode is more than most people make in a year. The job lasts about 6 weeks and then they are out of work again. The cycle returns. Even the hottest professional writers will be out of work a great deal of the time. That’s just the way the system works. There are no more contract screenwriters sitting in nice offices at the studios. If a writer lands a job on the staff of a television series, they will make a ton of money, work steadily... until the show is cancelled.
Now that I work as a writers consultant, I listen to writers bemoan their inability to secure representation. These writers go to film festivals, pitchfests, enter screenwriting contests by the bushel and stare at me from the audience at my seminars. They truly believe that having an agent will fulfill all of their dreams and make them happy and rich. I see that they want to give over their personal power to an agent or manager who will do all the work. The system doesn’t work that way. You must always be in charge of your career. When you need a job the most, your agent might be out of town. When your agent doesn’t spark to your last two speck scripts, you must find out why and what they want next. When your rep stops returning your calls, you must be prepared to go on the hunt for a better rep.
You must always be actively involved in finding jobs and in getting out more original work. You must always be in charge of your life.
I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe that my life is predetermined by anyone except myself. When you rely on some amorphous plan out there in the universe you are saying “It’s not my fault”. I prefer to think that my actions belong to me, that I am the responsible party in my life. Believe me; I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I wasn’t born with supportive parents who doted on me. I started working after school when I was 15. I mean a real job that paid me an hourly wage to stand on my feet and dish up food to cranky people.
I don’t believe in luck. The idea of luck takes all the juice out of your actions or inactions. It tells you that you are not in charge of anything. That idea is appalling to me. When I hear people whine about not having good luck I want to smack ‘em. I want to yell at them to wake up and stand up to their lives.
I don’t believe that there is straight line to success. Life is circuitous and bumpy. When you decide to draw outside the lines, there will be setbacks. Some failure comes to all who strive for success. Becoming a success is a constant trial and error proposition. It’s a matter of not letting those setbacks stop you from getting up and starting over again.
I don’t believe that you can completely rely on anyone but yourself. You must make the final decisions, you must take the chances, and you must do the job. The good news here is that you can take the credit for you successes.
I don’t believe in kidding yourself or in fairy tales. There is no white knight coming along to save you. You can save yourself. You can look your failures in the eye and analyze what went wrong, then move on.
I don’t believe in retribution. I think many bad people are successes. I don’t like it, but there it is.
I do believe in working hard and working smart.
I believe in seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist if you have serious problems that hold you back.
I believe in constantly learning more about yourself and how you can improve.
I do believe in having a dream and making it come true.
I believe in surrounding yourself with positive and supportive friends, lovers and family. Negative people will suck the life right out of you.
I do believe in choices. They are yours to make and they are yours to change.
I do believe in saying “no” when others want something that you don’t feel is right.
I believe in telling the truth.
I believe in being fair to others.
I believe in integrity.
I believe that my word is my bond. A handshake with me must be as good as a contract.
I believe in second and third chances.
I believe that sometimes you can toot your own horn.
I believe that success is fun and failure is a bummer.
I believe that you can and must train your inner voice to be kinder to you.
Now go out there and kick some butt!
Michele Wallerstein’s book: MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide to Your Writing Success may be purchased via The Writers Store, E-Bay, Amazon.com (in paperback and on Kindle) and local book stores.
- More Business of Screenwriting by Michele Wallerstein
- Reel Story: Why Story Structure Formulas Don't Work
- Do-Over: Advice to My 18-Year-Old Self – Writer/Producer Erik Bork
Tools to Help: