No as Path to Yes
There’s a fine book about screenwriting called Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories, by Peter Hanson. The book was made into a documentary film by the same title. Both cover a wide range of aspects of the screenwriter’s professional life through the eyes of renowned authors like Frank Darabont, John Carpenter and William Goldman, to name just a few.
An interesting book as it is, I will concentrate here on a particular piece of it, a specific excerpt of the book which I find particularly interesting and unique, as it deals with a key aspect of the writer’s life, and it does it in a very clever, enlightening way.
It’s a segment about rejection.
The piece is about Hollywood, but it applies to the writer’s professional life everywhere.
How screenwriters cope with rejection
Chapter 10 of the book is called “No as a Path to Yes”, and the introduction by the author is as follows:
“Even with the considerable financial/ rewards that screenwriting can offer, having scripts repeatedly rejected, rewritten, and regurgitate it by an unforgiving factory system is enough to challenge the optimism of the most emotionally balanced individual. And since artists are trained to become as emotionally sensitive as possible, the ease with which screenwriters can turn into cynics is immediately apparent.
As writers including John D. Brancato note, a certain degree of cynicism is helpful, because laughing at the preposterous extremes of the movie business is an effective defence mechanism. On a deeper level, learning to separate one’s professional life from one’s creative life is among the most complex growth experiences that any working artist undergoes.
Those who find this delicate balance can retain enthusiasm for their work. Those who do not run the risk of derailing themselves, because few writers can remain creatively viable becoming jaded about their own craft. Leavening cynicism with optimism is just one of the coping strategies that screenwriters employ in order to sustain long careers because each individual wrestles with demons in a different fashion. Some focus on the finish line, viewing rejection as a distraction along the path to acceptance. Some empower themselves by declining lucrative offers in favor of personally fulfilling endeavors. Some, like Shane Black, cling to vestigial traces of the “childish hunger” that drew them to screenwriting in the first place. For many writers, wonderment at being able to make up stories for a living is the greatest balm of all. James L. White reveals that the dream of becoming a screenwriter was so powerful that it helped him defeat an insidious personal hardship.
Perhaps the most brilliantly counterintuitive advice comes from John Carpenter. If the previous chapters have revealed any underlying truth, it is that the writer’s lot in Hollywood is unlikely to change anytime soon. For some, fighting that fact fills them with the strength of righteous indignation. For others, blocking out that fact allows them to remain upbeat. But for Carpenter, simply acknowledging that fact is a means of moving past adversity and focusing on what really matters: the work.”
Keep it up, ok?