When we talk about success, we tend to simply focus on the final achievement, the goal obtained, or the objective reached. This makes sense, of course, because it’s the last thing we remember: that winning touchdown pass, melting off the post-pregnancy weight, or being sworn into political office. It’s just as important, however, to acknowledge the setbacks along the way: the three interceptions prior to that final pass, the diet plans that fell to the wayside, and the elections lost before finally taking that oath.
Rarely does a person reach the pinnacle of success the first time through; triumph occurs when you overcome the obstacles along the way. And when it comes to screenwriting, there are a lot of obstacles. Creating complex characters, developing engaging stories, and implementing screenplay structure can be a University education alone. And then comes mastering the rules of screenplay form and using an original voice to connect with the reader. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor is becoming a successful screenwriter a speedy process. It takes ten years to have overnight success because you must practice the craft: write, and write, and write… and then rewrite. Whether you agree with journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s more cynical outlook that “The first eight drafts are terrible” or concur with “The first draft of anything is shit,” as Ernest Hemingway so poetically put it, the reality is that all good writing demands a lot of work as you do your best to navigate the many mistakes you make along the way.
The screenplay/writer relationship – and it IS a relationship – evolves because writing teaches writing. You just have to do it. But soldiering through the process is no picnic; you’ll be angry, frustrated, confused, and at times you may even want to give up. But quitting is easy; working through the tough times is hard. Don’t expect your first few scripts to be any good. They’re supposed to be bad; that’s how you learn.
Maybe Churchill said it best: “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” So stick to it, and never lose the fire to put words on the page, because it’s worth it. Your passion will endure.