A Fear of Screenwriting



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  • A Fear of Screenwriting

    I'm the head writer and managing editor of my university's satirical newspaper. Most everyone enjoys my work, as its constantly receiving positive feedback, and genuine laughs. Entertaining my peers through written word is one of the most enjoyable and gratifying experiences I've ever known.

    I'm addicted to it.

    However, lately I've found myself discontented with writing spoofed news reports. I crave to write something more meaningful, and stylistically less restrictive. You can only take so many creative liberties with a 750 word limit in AP style.

    I'd like to write screenplays. I unhealthily obsess over it. Over the last month, I've done nothing but inundate myself with books, columns, and articles about screenwriting. I've taken to studying movies, rather than watching them. I've studied dozens of scripts. I commandeered the screenwriting shelf at the university library. I even purchased some used screenwriting software.

    I feel now, that I know enough about the industry and the craft itself to begin outlining and writing. But, I've yet to start doing so.

    Why? An insecure fear of failure.

    My psyche is defective. I'd like to exchange it for a new, more confident one. Slap an RMA sticker on my forehead and send me back to the OEM, whoever that may be (god?).

    I'm a pansie! I'm afraid that I'll only display to myself that my peers were right all along. Despite all the praises I receive for my satirical reports, I'm constantly bombarded with discouraging commentary regarding this new ambition.

    "You're no artist. I don't think writing is the best contribution you could make to Hollywood," said my best friend, in a drunken admittance of doubt. Alcohol is an elixir of truth; he would have never intended to reveal this when sober.

    "You want to go into film? That doesn't seem to suit you, but you'd make a great reporter," said a family friend. She doesn't seem to understand that the reports I write are pulled from the depths of my ass. There's no journalism involved. I make it all up. Should I try my hand at reporting, I would become the next Jason Blair in a matter of days.

    A complete stranger and film student mocked my ignorance of the film industry at a keg party. "You want to write a screenplay and you don't know who Robert Rodriguez is?!?" he said, laughing hysterically.

    Since being called out on that last one, I read Rodriguez's autobiography. His dedication is inspiring, to say the least.

    He didn't aimlessly wonder into film making. He devised a plan, and a brilliant one at that, which would catapult him into Hollywood as the next independent hot-shot. He stuck to that plan, and sacrificed his own blood to achieve it (he sold his body to medicine to finance his first films).

    He wasn't afraid. He didn't worry about failure. In fact, he never considered it. He enveloped himself completely in his craft, striving to improve each and every day, learning by experience. He knew that his dedication would pull him through. This dauntless psyche made him the successful film-maker he has become. It's as though he willed it to happen, so it did. Without the ruthless dedication, he would have wallowed in insecurity and doubt just as I am doing now.

    So, I'm left wondering why I've yet to display a similar devotion to my writing. I can't stop fantasizing about screenwriting, or studying it for that matter. Every day I devote a hours to studying scripts, film and books. But, I've yet to actually draft something.

    I want so badly to succeed in this craft, that I know the minute that I begin I will devote my entire being to its cause. The prospect of failure in the face of such devotion is potentially devastating. It's that devastation which is now preventing me from taking the plunge.

    Did many of you experience a similar roadblock in writing your first script? How did you overcome it?

  • #2
    Don't be so hard on yourself! You're already taking the first steps - especially reading real screenplays. Some beginners don't even do this. You sound like you're giving it lots of serious thought (maybe too much....) and not just treating it as a lark.

    if you're at a university, why not take a writing class? Do you have a film department? It's always hard to start out on your own. Find others who share your interest, and an instructor who can help you learn the craft.

    Good luck!


    • #3
      Write a script! More than likely, your 4th or 5th script will be waaay better than your first. But...you will be immensely proud of your first one because it's the most difficult one to write. Yeah, on reflection, it'll probably blow...but it's that "reflection" that will make you a better writer.


      • #4
        See any of numerous threads on PROCRASTINATION. I can relate to what you're saying. I tend to be a perfectionist, entirely capable of devoting ungodly amounts of time to setting up and preparing for this or that endeavor, only to realize I don't know where or how to start. It's perfectly common. I often remind myself of the character in Steinbeck's Cannery Row who was forever at work on his sailboat (on dry land) in anticipation of the one day it would be ready for water. The day never came, of course, because it "couldn't" come. Once it hit water, his project, his journey would be over. Of course we know that a new journey would then begin. But that's part of human nature and the conflict between the intellect and emotion (fear, in this case). We may KNOW that it won't be over, but deep down there's this irrational fear that it will be.

        My advice, which may sound astoundingly trite in the wake of the Nike ad campaign, is "just do it." And though it may mean the world to you and you take it very seriously, try to just have fun with it. Write some scripts the best you can, toss them into the ring when ready, and see what comes of it. [Note: This advice would not apply if you're seeking to pursue screenwriting as your livelihood and your family's welfare depends on it. In that case, listen to someone other than me. There are plenty of full-time professional writers around here.]

        Just my two cents.


        • #5
          You think you've got problems!

          Check this out:


          Then THANK THE GODS ABOVE that you've got it so easy. Infinite vistas of creative potential are open to you, but YOU have to take the initiative to march across them. Nobody can make you take that journey except yourself.

          Also, read THE WAR of ART by Steven Pressfield.

          Writers write. I wish you infinite vistas. Go. Explore. Now.


          • #6
            I started writing in college, taking creative writing classes. I didn't get serious about it -- meaning, actually trying to sell something -- for several years afterwards. I was afraid to submit anything. What if I got rejected? Finally, I started reading a mystery magazine, and decided to try. I gritted my teeth and wrote a really terrible, awful, horrible (in retrospect) story, and mailed it off... and got rejected. That's what you have to do. You have to grit your teeth and get rejected. And keep trying and trying. (Eventually, I sold a story, and then a book, and now I'm desperately desperately desperately trying to sell a screenplay...) Just do it!


            • #7
              I'm curious to know what it is that constitutes failure in your mind. How many years, how many screenplays without getting an option, a sale or a production credit? There was an article in GQ not too far back, about screenwriters in LA making tons of money, but not having a credit for a produced film. Would that be a success or a failure? What if you are writing scripts, living in Austin, making indie films, living on meagre profits and your girlfriends job as a waitress? Would that be a success or a failure? What if you're work on several films of the years, get paid very well, get screen credit, but the films suck and perhaps drive a studio into bankruptcy? Success or failure?

              You're no artist. I don't think writing is the best contribution you could make to Hollywood
              HW is filled with creative people, some more so than others. Maybe you'll find a day job in catering. Maybe that is where your true craft lies.

              You want to write a screenplay and you don't know who Robert Rodriguez is?!?
              I think the only people required to know who Robert Rodriguez is, are pretentious film students. I've always the best way to defeat these annoying idiots is to have a reservoir of obscure knowledge. Learn something about German filmakers in the 1910's and 1920's.

              'Course, my pop-poker-table-psychology leads me to ask if it is really screenwriting that you are afraid of? Once you're done with school, life starts for real.


              • #8
                I'm afraid that I'll only display to myself that my peers were right all along.
                Ok...so...here's the thing...fvck your peers. You are who you are and you do what you do. It's a calling, you need to pick up the phone and answer. Haha, okay, I'm done with that sorta crap, but I think that you should do what you want to do. It's a no-brainer. Make yourself happy above all. I'm guessing you are considerably young (university still) so you have plenty of time to screw up your life and get it back on track again. ( I know I have a knack for motivating.) It seems to me you spoke with conviction, which I believe is rare these days. If you follow your heart you can't go wrong, really. The best thing about screenwriting is it can be done like a hobby. It will not completely interrupt your plans.

                And as far as knowing who Robert Rodriguez is, you're learning. Never listen to a film student anyways, they're annoying. I used to be one, trust me, I annoyed myself. My theory is that nobody really knows everything, just bits and pieces but you hear them talk about random things and then you feel like ''why don't I know that.'' It will seem overwhelming, but you learn as you go. You pick up different things that you will end up spouting out and someone else will think you're brilliant. You don't always know what others perceive you as.

                Anyways, I can definitely relate to your 'problem' though. I have more scripts started than finished. It is almost pysically impossible for me to get to the point to write ''fade out." What will that make me when I'm done? I'm not a writer anymore, cause I'm not writing then, then I'm selling. Ha. I don't know if this will make any sense to you. I don't think it makes sense to me. My point is that you will be a failure automatically if you never give it an equal chance. I love that you posted, made me feel better.

                I became a screenwriter on the suggestion of my mum. I had no direction and she sorta just made it clear for me. I knew I was good at writing but had no clue it was possible for me to have a career with it. So I moved to LA the month after I graduated high school, and I haven't made much progress in the business end, but it's the best thing I could have ever done. (It hasn't been a whole year yet, so that's acceptable) I'm not gonna die a never-has-been, it's just not gonna happen. Luckily, I am surrounded by supportive people so I know that whatever I choose to persue I will be backed. I don't think you care, but I think it's important that you don't let other people hold you back. It's just not worth it.

                Well, regardless if you or anyone gained anything from this, it made me feel a little better sorta a thinking out loud type thing.

                "You see us as you wanna see us, in the simplest terms and most convenient definitions."


                • #9
                  Thank You, Strangers From the E-Beyond.

                  God, I love the internet.

                  I know of no other venue where one divulge his insecurities to complete strangers and receive meaningful feedback, all while maintaining a degree of anonymity.

                  Your words are encouraging, and your differing perspectives of the writing endeavor intriguing. Tonight I begin the formal outlining process of my first feature script.

                  This morning I dusted off an old cork board, upon which I will post storyboarding index cards to aid in the outlining process. I didn't expect it to be an emotional occasion. It's only a cork board.

                  The cork board had hibernated beneath my couch for god knows how long. It was adorned with a scrapy collage of high school photographs: friends and girlfriends, some of whom I miss, and many of whom I do not. Long dormant memories surfaced in quick succession. They lingered only as long as it took me to remove their essence from the board.

                  With the board clear, I took my first index card, and wrote upon it with sharpe, in thick block letters "Carry On." I tacked it to cork, and hung the board next to my desk.

                  It's a lame, cliche title, I know. I'm sure a better one will hit me as I flesh out the details of the story I am about to tell.

                  Tonight, I begin populating this board with dozens of cards - each representing scenes, plot points, and character arcs. I'm excited. We'll see what I've got to offer.


                  • #10
                    Re: Thank You, Strangers From the E-Beyond.

                    Congrats on your new journey, incred. Good luck, have fun, and hope to hear how it's going.


                    • #11
                      I can totally relate

                      Thank you for posting this subject and opening up! When you do so, it gives others permission to do likewise and this is a really good topic. I can totally relate and while I don't have any Hollywood success (yet), here's my 2 cents:

                      I had started many, many scripts...just re-wrote the first 35-45 pages and then couldn't go anywhere. I had never outlined (formally) so while I thought I could just keep it all in my head, once I got to a place where my first 40 pages were perfect enough for me (I'm a hard-core perfectionist), I didn't know where to go with the story, got bored, and quit.

                      Like you, I dreamt and fantasized about screenwriting and the life I wanted from it for (in my case) years, while never moving toward it.

                      So was it fear of success, or fear of failure? Both, really. Might be for you too.

                      Anyway, after celebrating a "big" birthday, I decided that life's too short...and so are my screenplays! So I finished one...and another one...and another one. I just got really economical about it, and after re-writing the first 37 pages of my first completed script, I decided to just plow through to the end, with very little re-writing. Not even reading from beginning to point of leaving off for the most part! And I put a scene list right in the script to keep me on task.

                      Once you finish your first - I mean, type "FADE TO BLACK" and "THE END" right there - you will feel so empowered! It was such a source of pride for me when I finally finished one, I can't tell you. Oh, and you know how long it took me to write that first one? Two weeks. (Keep in mind, that's just the first draft, but once you see the story laid out completely, the re-writes become a labor of love.)

                      So my long-winded point is: if I (the non-finisher) can do it, anyone can. It really doesn't take as long as you might think. Hope this helps you and good luck.


                      • #12
                        Re: I can totally relate

                        Two Weeks!?!?!?!?! That's incredibly encouraging. I know it will take me longer, but it has lowered one of the barriers that was in my brain. And in my case it's a fear of success, which I do not understand but okay. It's like, if you once hit a certain level you can never again fail to be that good, or you've lost everything. Maybe this has roots in the school system, with its inexorable "progress". All I know is when a counsellor friend told me my problem was Fear of Success I skidded backwards away from her in my chair for about fifteen feet and made the sign of the cross, and I'm not even Catholic! So I guess she hit the nail on the head there.

                        Fear of Blogging


                        • #13
                          RE: WORRIES!

                          Stop dreaming... stop worrying and start writing ... and the critics be damned!

                          Self actualization only comes through self mobilization!

                          Never depend on, or pin your own dreams, onto the actions (or) reactions of others!


                          • #14
                            Re: RE: WORRIES!

                            Thanks, Incrediculous, for starting this thread. The bad news: I recognise your problem. The good news: I overcame a similar block - and it only happened last week!

                            And I can confirm the enormous 'high' that you get from actually starting to write. My friends have even been commenting on my 'elated state of being' :eek

                            So here's my (lengthy) story.

                            Two years ago, I quit my consulting job after 6 years. After a brief stint at a PR agency, I became an independent journalist and consultant. People have always been positive about my writing (in Dutch - English is a 2nd language for me) and I had neglected that talent, so I went back to it. Like you, I was writing in student magazines while at university.

                            Writing as a journalist and copywriter changed my life in a very positive way. So I went ahead and started taking up other old interests as well. I'm now in a drama class, I'm doing impro and want to try my hand at directing actors on stage. I'm having a blast!!

                            I had been looking into writing screenplays for years. I'm probably a bit like you in the sense that I inundate myself with DVD's, books and articles when something really interests me. And screenwriting interests me tremendously. My favorites list now has 30 good websites on the subject. I like the 'Script Pages' section on this site, and I really enjoy reading columns by Charles Deemer, Terry Rossio & Ted Elliott and of course Bill Martell.

                            At first, I was a bit put off by all the attention to brads, paper and format. Isn't a good story what it's all about? So I started thinking, but didn't get anywhere. All these storylines from existing scripts kept popping into my head. I couldn't find an original premise, let alone a plot or a turning point. So I started to write down fragments, ideas... bits and pieces really. The application of choice being Notepad of course.

                            Then I started looking at the newsgroup (misc.writing.screenplays). Big mistake. The fighting, bickering and whining in there put me off screenwriting completely. And the acting took off, so I got absorbed by that.

                            But every time I went to the movies and saw an intelligent thriller or a moving drama, I could feel it in my gut: I want to do this! And every time I went to England and walked into a bookstore, I went straight to the scriptwriting section. I kept on buying books. And eventually, all of that paid off.

                            Three books did it for me: ; 'Making Movies' by Sidney Lumet, 'Buy + Sell The Hot Screenplay' by Elliot Grove and especially 'On Directing Film' by David Mamet.

                            All of these books contain practical information, but they are especially good for motivation. Lumet simply takes you through the whole process of making a movie. Grove is very British and down to earth. Mamet is just wonderful. These books got my creative juices flowing again. It sounds strange, but I could feel a sort of build-up happening. I wanted to do a screenplay!

                            But I had never ever written a single line in all these years. Even though I had a shareware application installed that worked fine. Somehow, I couldn't get myself to sit down and start using it.

                            And then it happened.

                            Last Sunday, I saw on the web that the British Short Screenplay Competition 2004 hadn't closed yet. Short stories. Maximum of 15 pages. Any genre. And A4 paper was no problem... It would close on Friday, June 11th.

                            Showtime! I opened up my Notepad archives. Read all my old ideas. Had some new ones. Saw images in my mind. And it happened! I could feel it taking hold -- a story was forming!

                            I started scribbling, still in Notepad, and kept at it for 4 hours. The result was sort of a synopsis.

                            On Monday, I fired up the screenwriting software. Let's go and do this!

                            So I hardly slept last week. I cancelled appointments. The experience was unbelievable. I'd get these images in my head, and all I had to do was describe them in proper screenplay format!

                            And because of all the books and columns, I know I should try and put 'verticality' in my writing, do readable action sequences and use exclamation marks a la Martell. I know about short character descriptions. About little asides to the reader. It took me a whole week to do 15 pages.

                            Unfortunately, that was too long. The first rewrite was ready on Friday. It should've been in the mail on Thursday. But I had created something -- and that would have to be its own reward, right? So I opened my browser, to have a last look at the competition's website.

                            Lo and behold: THE DEADLINE HAD BEEN EXTENDED until today! Because of Reagan's funeral... Thank you, Mister President!!

                            So I dashed to the post office and away it went. I've been in a happy state of shock ever since. Registered the piece with the WGA today. Hey, you never know! 8)

                            So that's it. I am now officially 'hooked'. And I've just created my first 15-page screenplay. Maybe it was arrogant to send it out, but I don't care. I will always remember the BSSC 2004 for getting me started.

                            We'll see. What's life like in LA? :rollin

                            Best of luck, Incrediculous. Keep in touch.

                            -- Nooz


                            • #15
                              Re: RE: WORRIES!

                              Good luck with your writing! People will always criticize you in all aspects of work and creativity. If you don't write to your own standards and just rely on the encouragement or lack thereof friends and family, you'll be nowhere. And who knows what creative gifts you hold?

                              They say I can't do it. I say watch me.