Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories.
This book covers many aspects of the screenwriter’s life through the eyes of renowned authors. It’s a work about screenwriting filled with advice and wisdom from established Hollywood writers.
And it’s a documentary too.
Fine work as it is, I will concentrate here only on one particular aspect of it, a specific excerpt of the book which I find particularly interesting, 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.
No as a Path to Yes
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
A Dose of Cynicism?
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.
The Power of a Dream
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 endeavours. 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?
More about Screenwriting in Best Screenwriting Books: THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING, Best Screenwriting Books: ESSENTIALS OF SCREENWRITING, Best Screenwriting Books: Dmytryk’s ON SCREEN WRITING and For Screenwriters: Endings, amongst many other posts!