Muhammad Ali wasn’t just a boxer. He was a social activist, larger than life personality, and a cultural icon. Regarded as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century, Ali won an Olympic gold medalist in 1960 and went on to win the world heavyweight boxing champion by 1964. Muhammad Ali was an exceptional competitor who reached the pinnacle of his field.
And even though he never wrote a screenplay, he has some surprisingly good advice for any writers who might be struggling to finish their next script. Here are fifteen quotes from Muhammad Ali that will inspire your screenwriting.
1. “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
If you want to succeed as a screenwriter, you can’t play it safe. You have to take risks. LINK It takes courage to swim against the current of Hollywood. Pundits, gurus, and industry insiders will tell you that you have to play by the rules, go with the Hollywood flow, and do your best to take advantage of current trends, needs, and wants. But incredible things can happen when you find your own voice.
What they don’t understand is your perspective as an unknown screenwriter. It takes years to get your scripts read by decision-makers. By then, those trends, needs, and wants have changed.
In essence, you have to give Hollywood what they didn’t know they needed. LINK And the only way that you can accomplish that is by taking risks.
2. “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
Ali was the ultimate bragger. He exuded confidence. It was all part of his process. And it worked because he could back up his words with great skill, strength, and stamina.
Screenwriting isn’t about bragging or over-promoting yourself — especially as a novice screenwriter. Confidence is great. LINK You need to make sure that you avoid outright ego and arrogance because film is a collaborative medium LINK and you need to prove that you can work well with others. But confidence is a necessity because they need to know that you can do your part.
The best thing that you can do is hone your craft before you submit any scripts. It’s worth taking a few years it takes to get your writing to the point where you have a few solid scripts. Then you have to be able to back your words up.
3. “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out — it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
The little details matter. LINK They can trip up an otherwise good screenplay. Do your best to pay attention to every last detail of your script. Make sure the plot is tight and the characters are consistent.
And by all means, proofread your scripts.
Read ScreenCraft’s 7 Things to Do Before You Submit Your Screenplay to Anyone!
4. “I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”
Don’t wait to see what you’re capable of in your screenwriting journey. Don’t wait to see what you’re great at. You need to have a vision. You need to take a long look in the mirror and figure out where you want to be five to ten years from now as a screenwriter. And you need to do that with confidence.
5. “I never thought of losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right… we all have to take defeats in life.”
Rejection is part of the screenwriting journey. There’s no escaping it. The best thing that you can do is embrace it. Learn from it. Take the notes and feedback with an appreciative smile and go write a better script — or move onto the next prospect.
6. “Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Becoming a screenwriter is going to seem impossible. You’re not going to believe that anyone in Hollywood is going to be interested in your scripts or in your writing. You’re not going to believe that your name can be up on that big screen one day.
Impossible is temporary. It’s nothing. It only seems like something because self-preservation is in your DNA. You see screenwriters fail. You know thousands upon thousands try, but only a few make it each year. Don’t let your instincts sway you from the truth. Anything is possible.
7. “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”
Let’s keep it real, here. You’re not going to sell a script right away. You’re not going to get a studio assignment right away. It’s going to take a long while before you and your writing are ready. On average, most successful screenwriters struggled for upwards of a decade before they finally got paid to write screenplays.
Focus on making each day count. Hone your craft. Work hard. Write, write, write. The rest will come once you’ve put in the work.
8. “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”
Being an athlete is a great metaphor for being a screenwriter — you have to train to become good at what you undertake. You have to train even harder to be great at it. A screenwriter’s training is writing.
You write scripts and learn from your mistakes. Then you go back and write more scripts. And the more you train, the better you’ll become. The harder you train, the more skillset and ability you’ll attain. Don’t take a year to write a script and then focus on trying to sell it. Keep writing. Finish one script and begin another. That’s how screenwriters train.
9. “Live every day as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”
Stop pushing those seemingly difficult concepts back as you focus on what you believe are more marketable or acceptable ideas and screenplays. You need to write like your final days are coming — because with each day, week, month, and year that passes, they are.
10. “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
You don’t become successful in screenwriting when you get the big assignment or sell a script. You win or lose in the coffee shops, your writing space at home, or whatever corner of the world you write in. That’s where your journey succeeds or fails — the amount of work you put into it.
The more you hone your skills as a screenwriter, the more you’re winning the battle. Getting the assignment or selling the script is just icing on the cake. Those goals that are met don’t define your worth as a writer. The work you do that got you there does.
11. “What you are thinking is what you are becoming.”
If you believe that you’re failing as a screenwriter, you’ll fail. If you believe that you aren’t up to the task, you won’t be. And when you blame everyone but yourself for your failure, you become a complainer — instead of a screenwriter.
12. “What keeps me going is goals.”
And goals are nothing without a plan backed by action.
Read ScreenCraft’s THE Motivational Quote to Make Your Screenwriting Dreams Come True!
13. “Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.”
This is a perfect quote for when you’re dealing with Hollywood. If you’re in a meeting and trying to break story, don’t try to BS your way through the conversation. If you don’t have a good answer to the questions being posed, write the question down and tell them you’ll take a deeper look and figure it out.
14. “Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams — they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do — they all contain truths.”
We put this quote into a screenwriting context by replacing “religions” with screenwriting formulas and guru doctrine. No single ones are right or wrong. They all contain truths. Study them all and take what sticks with you and your writing.
15. “If my mind can conceive it, if my heart can believe it — then I can achieve it.”
Dreams come true every day. You have to believe that this screenwriting dream can come true.
Remember that every single paid and working screenwriter today started where you are right now — as an unknown. They struggled for years to hone their craft. They had to suffer through rejection after rejection. It’s the rite of passage that all screenwriters and filmmakers need to go through.
It’s possible. Do the work. Learn from your mistakes and the rejection you face. And keep writing.
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