It seems like years since you last looked at a screenplay, let alone wrote one. Cobwebs have built up over your keyboard. You think you may actually have forgotten how to write. And then, out of the blue, inspiration hits you. “I need to start a new writing project!” Excitement bursts through your veins and you run around your room jumping and cheering like a sugar-infused child. You’ve set your goal, and it could be life-changing.
But wait! After reading this blog post from Trello, you might want to hold back before advertising your project to the whole world. It seems like the most natural thing in the world, but that doesn’t mean sharing your screenwriting goals is in your best interest. Here are some things to consider before you go and shout out the good news:
1. You might put too much pressure on yourself.
Look, the Blank Page is horrific enough when you’re the one staring at it and wondering why you don’t have the talent, skills or desire to fill it up. It’s possible that alerting people to your new screenwriting goals will only add imaginary (or real) individuals staring over your shoulder at your lack of progress. Overcoming those soul-destroying moments of fear and freezing up requires one to drop the word “should” from our vocabulary, as in “I should be further on in the story by this point” or “I shouldn’t get stuck if I’m a real writer.” Knowing that others will ask you about your project can grind you to a stop as the pressure mounts up with “shoulds.” Nevertheless, some people thrive on pressure and are able to turn others’ expectations into a positive thing, and more power to them.
2. You might be plagued by self-doubt.
Imagine a huge, helium-filled balloon floating high into the sky. Now imagine a sharp needle popping it instantly, and the slow descent to the ground that follows. This can sometimes represent a discussion with a friend, colleague or family member when you share your screenwriting goals. Replies like “That sounds more like a sketch,” “Would people go see that?” or “Christopher Nolan already did that!” can all lead to automatic deflation. The result? You get filled with self-doubt and don’t even begin your project; you fall at the first hurdle. Of course, if you have a trusted confidant, this risk doesn’t come into it. But how sure can you be that you’ll get the desired response?
The point is that often it’s best that you discover if the movie is more like a sketch, or if audience numbers are important, by developing it. You’re going to want time to sit with it and digest it. This might be a good reason keep your idea to yourself at first.
3. Your ideas might merge with those of others.
If you’ve escaped the perils of negative feedback, you might run into the other peril – positive feedback. Specifically, when the person you’re talking to is so enthusiastic about your project that they start pitching ideas to you. “What if the lead is a robot, and it’s programmed to kill one person but it doesn’t know who it is yet?” After listening to several ideas from several friends, when you next sit down to write you might find that their thoughts and concepts have merged with yours, and you’re not sure where your creative input begins and their input ends. It’s true that many people don’t feel bothered by this process, but you might just regret sharing your goals if you find your original vision has been warped.
4. Your timelines may become distorted.
The beauty of no one knowing that you’re working on a new screenplay is that the deadlines either (a) are whenever you damn well decide, or (b) don’t exist at all. You can shift your deadlines as the project moves into a new direction, if you so desire. Nobody will care the slightest bit. If you choose to share your screenwriting goals, it’s possible that you’ll stick rigidly to what you originally indicated, or perhaps that you’ll alter your deadlines so that they’re more “acceptable,” whatever that means. There is always the chance that allowing yourself to ignore time as a factor is sacrificed for meeting the real or imaginary expectations of those around you.
5. On the other hand…
Once you’re well into your screenplay, many find it invaluable to get feedback, which involves revealing what you’re intending to do. In fact, a great deal of writers thrive on interaction and sharing goals. However, it’s important to be aware of the pitfalls and to make an informed decision rather than just launch into it.
Matt van Onselen is a South African screenwriter living in Los Angeles and a graduate of the UCLA MFA Screenwriting program. He focuses on comedy writing, but will do anything for money.