When I was a little kid, I decided that I wanted to become a screenwriter. Little Me would just look at the television screen and think that every picture, every word, everyone was simply astounding. What was even more astounding was knowing that it all began in someone’s head. A person was out there in the world writing my next adventure. I thought to myself, “I can do that, too!”
After all these years, I still want to be a screenwriter. Since elementary school, I’ve practiced writing, competed in writing events, and even lectured my own teachers on narrative techniques. I remember that I’d spend long hours after school just writing my school essays, not even paying much heed to my other assignments. I believed so much that I needed to become a screenwriter. However, at some point, I realized a very haunting question, one that would keep me up at night. It would only be after talking with one of Austin’s local screenwriters that I would realize that this same question has come across various other screenwriters. “What if I’m wrong?” It’s a chilling, existential idea that asks a screenwriter if any of the hard work is even worth it, if they’re even good at it. I remember again that I’d spend long hours after school just writing my schools essays, just the essays. Should I quit?
Throughout my studies of the film and television industry, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is an epidemic amongst aspiring screenwriters: They stopped being aspiring screenwriters. One day they’d start on their next big idea. The next they don’t even finish. Why? Here’s the top reasons I’ve found for screenwriters becoming discouraged from writing.
#1 - Rejection
“But the producer had That Voice. Any experienced writer knows That Voice. Because That Voice means one thing: The network passed. “Hey,” the producer said, “we fought for it till the end. We’ll find something else.” I agreed. And that was that.”
~ Justin Marks, The Hollywood Reports, My Life as a Screenwriter You’ve Never Heard Of
Count the number of movies and television shows that get made every year. If you’re surprised by how many of those there are, then you’d be even more surprised by the larger number of screenwriters. It’s a competition to be produced, which means that there’s a good chance that your idea may not be picked. Most of the screenplays of most screenwriters go straight to the garbage bin. The producers and studios may not have the time, money, or heart to carry on with a project. Every seed sadly does not get to flower. It’s the writer’s response to shrug off the rejection and move on to the next project. However, most people are not prepared for an arguably toxic lifestyle. It’s difficult to justify this much emotional sacrifice with the high risk and minimal reward for a screenwriter. Considering that a huge motivation behind writing is validation and profit, it’s easy to see how the lack of those two may discourage a person. It’s not worth it if most of the ideas aren’t worth it.
#2 - Exhaustion
Remember when you were little and so excited about the world. You’d love to speak as soon as you learned how to talk. You’d love to run around as soon as you started to walk. You’d love to one up your parents as soon as you found out what DNA meant. In the world of writing, there’s a bit of gap between the realization of an idea and its actualization. Many of the people that want to go into film most likely have this strong assortment of ideas that they just want to get out into the ether as soon as possible. Then, Day One of actually writing happens. Heads up aspiring screenwriters, it takes a lot of steam to write an entire screenplay. Days may be spent on just the treatment or spec, let alone the self-deprecating nightmare of revising and editing. After a while of looking at the same idea over and over again, you may begin to doubt yourself and rewrite the entire thing. In the life of a screenwriter, sleep has been replaced with: “Wait! What about this?” Looking at the clock and the very possible amount of nothing accomplished, an individual may just stop writing.
#3 - Nothing
Do you know what most of the average screenwriter’s life entails? It probably hangs around the hinges of laundry, sleeping, TV, shopping, video games, and even another job (if Rejection is really holding you down). You see the word “procrastination” hang around a lot when you are a kid; but when you’re a screenwriter, procrastination just becomes a part of your process. There’s really not much else to do considering that one doesn’t write all the time and that there’s not really a professional setting in which to write in. You just wait it out until your next big fit of inspiration. Seeing how incidental work actually is, a person may start to believe that they’re not really accomplishing anything. In which case, they may stop their nothing and try to find a more encouraging line of work.
#4 - Censorship and Compromise
The afterthought of any writer is whether their idea is “good enough.” In many cases, they’re told they’re not. Media censorship has existed in some shape or form within the U.S. for decades. As the contemporary demands of the viewers become more vocal, developers tend to narrow more and more their scope of interests. This leads to an oversight of various projects but also begs even the most independent filmmaker to compromise. Many screenwriters, to remain contemporary, are prone to self-censorship, in which they dilute the content of their works to be better associated with the views of the developers or general audiences.
Long ago, I was taught that more books were written from a writer’s need to write than a reader’s need to read. It’s a form of self-expression. When one is asked to compromise their work, they may feel as if their own values have been compromised. This challenge to the base human values is enough to discourage anyone.
There's Still Hope
Aside from all the negativity, there’s still a lot you can do to keep on writing and not be discouraged. You can persevere and keep on writing. You can meet up with other filmmakers to help and share the experience. What all of the above says is that screenwriters are becoming discouraged. They're not exactly being forced away but just feel that their expectations of the industry have been disillusioned or betrayed.
It's important to remember that writing for a film or show is a job, like any other, and that entails some pitfalls. But, all the power is still in you. Just know that it’s important to walk down the road and look ahead. Right before you is the other side of the screen, a chance to walk through your own head. For those that stay, there’s nothing that can beat that view, even through all the failure, silence, and technicality. Just keep telling yourself, "I can do it, too!"