When I was an agent I would wait and wait and wait for the next new client that would be a breakthrough hit. I signed in at the Writers Guild to let them know I would read new writers, I told my clients to refer their friends, I told development people and producers that I was always open to new writers. Everyday there was an abundance of query letters falling into my mail slot. I would read all the queries, I would read all of the scripts where the writers were referred to me. I read at night, in the early mornings, at lunch time and on my weekends. I searched and searched for that hidden treasure of a talented writer. I kept asking myself; “Where the hell are they?”
After reading hundreds and hundreds of scripts that ran from mediocre to terrible, I came to understand that most people only think they can become writers. They don’t take the time or the energy to actually pursue the craft of writing. A huge mistake is, of course, writing one script and thinking it’s great. Then there is the error of not taking screenwriting classes and/or reading good books on how to write. The next big dumb move comes when new writers give their material to friends and family who read them and tell them that the material is great.
When I left agenting to become a script and novel consultant, my dream was, and still is, to help newbies become wonderful and accomplished writers. I want my clients to be pursued by agents and managers. I want my clients to have Hollywood knocking at their doors. I want to stand there grinning and applauding my clients’ success. “Here”, I thought, “will be my new calling. A place where I can use all of my years as an agent and all of my experience and knowledge to help mold raw talent into polished professionals who will thank me when they receive their Oscars”. Well, do you want to know what really happens? It ain’t pretty.
For the most part, new writers hire a consultant, get their critiques and then run under their beds to hide. No one likes to be criticized because it hurts their feelings. No one likes to hear that their choices may have been wrong or that they need to re-think and rewrite, when they proudly thought they had written the perfect piece. I know it and I feel your pain. Okay, that’s enough hiding. Get up and read those notes again. If you hired a professional consultant with a good background and reputation, then it behooves you to listen to their advice. Follow as much of the notes as you can then send the rewrite back to them to see if you’ve fixed the problems. Then do it all again, until you learn and grow as a writer.
Recently I worked on a script that had so many syntax and grammar errors that I couldn’t even figure out whether the story worked or not. Then I’ve also read scripts where the story is so convoluted that I didn’t care about the characters. I’ve read so many scripts that are extremely limited in their appeal to any particular audience. There are scripts with little or no proper three-act structure and some where the dialogue is so boring I can’t recall who said what. These are very common problems. They are often fixable. Get yourselves back to that computer and rewrite. You will find that you will grow as a writer and perhaps even make it to the big time. Wouldn’t that be great?
My point is simple. You have a choice. You can give up or you can work your butt off to fulfill your dreams. Writers complain bitterly that no one will read their work. They blame the industry for ignoring them. They don’t realize that there are tons of people who are looking for new talent in the writing field. When I present my seminars I often say; “If you are really good, we will find you and send a car for you.”
If you are being ignored, there’s a reason for it. I once received a query letter that began: “I have wrote a script.” It went downhill from there. Would you have asked that writer to send their project? Not a chance.
To become a good writer you are lucky enough to have so many things available to you. It doesn’t matter if you live in Duluth or Nairobi. It doesn’t matter if you finished college or have been an engineer or a stay-at-home mom. There are webinars for writing classes and there are great books. There are creative consultants to whom you can mail or email your projects. The world has become so small. You can start a writing group with people from all over the globe or just in your home town.
My advice is to do all of the above as well as reading screenwriting books and screenplays and seeing lots of old and new movies. Learn, learn, and learn.
Then... keep writing.
- Michele Wallerstein's Business of Screenwriting Column
- Alt Script: You Are Not Tarantino or Kevin Smith
- Screenwriters Ryan Belenzon and Jeffrey Gelber Sell ‘Endangered’ to Lionsgate
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.