So, I didn’t make it to the next round of judging in one of the competitions I entered. It really sucks, but I’d rather write about it here than pretend that a) nothing is wrong and b) I’m both far removed and successful in this industry. I’m not. I write with advice that I’ve gleaned from experience, time and the education I’ve received but I’m far from an expert.
I’m in the same writing boat all of you are. This is a hard profession. This is a low point but one day there’ll be a high point. It seems silly to not document all the ups and downs this screenwriting journey is taking me on. In fact I think it’s a privilege to share each bit with all of you, warts and all. I’ll be sad for a little bit and that’s part of the process.
I didn’t make it to the next round of judging. It sucks. I’m bummed out. But tomorrow’s another day and the small feedback I received is enough to help me keep going.
If you have been writing for any amount of time, and doing any amount of research the chances are high that you’ve come across the term, ‘voice’ or ‘voices’. There are lots of things about having a unique voice in the industry – the abstract ‘voice’ – and making sure your voice doesn’t get in the way of the story – the more concrete ‘voice’.
It’s weird. Hell, I’ve written the word, ‘voice,’ multiple times already and I’m already at that point where it stops looking like a real word at all. It’s only my second paragraph.
The truth of the matter is that your writing will reflect you as a person; sometimes your voice will be so unique it becomes a character unto itself, and a signature that follows you in your writing career.
So let’s break it down, and then look at some super unique voices that you probably know and love from movies and television.
In the past few years, I’ve had a myriad of jobs; service-oriented, administrative and editorial, and a few weird things in-between. Working full-time (while also balancing depression, anxiety, and PCOS, ugh) made the idea of coming home from work and writing seem utterly ludicrous. I imagine it’s the same for many of you.
Balancing life and a passion for writing is so freaking hard.
As I reflect on my past, working full time and writing, I’m surprised by how much I was able to get done. (Right now I’m living at home and not working and feel like I’m getting nothing done! Thanks, Covid-19 angst!). I had a whole slew of projects and was pretty productive on all of them. I realized that I had worked out a few little systems to balance my writing life with my work life. Again, it was hard; I wasn’t having the best time, but I knew I had to keep going up that mountain.
Here are some things I’ve learned that make the climb a little easier;
Write 100 Words (or 3-5 screenplay pages) before work.
(or after work, it’s your life)
Every day, sit down and try and write 100 words. It’s that simple. Usually, by the time you hit 100 words, you’re on a roll and can keep going until you lose steam. It’s not a lot of words, I get that. In fact, it’s a downright negligible amount of words if you’re trying to write a novel. Even then, sometimes 100 words can feel like pulling teeth. If that’s the case, hit your 100 and walk away; you’re still 100 words richer. (And if you’re one of my screenplay audience, 100 words is comparable to 3-5 pages of screenplay. If you can get 3 pages of screenplay done a day, you’ll have a 90-page screenplay in a month.)
It doesn’t have to be good either. Just getting the words on the page is an accomplishment. You can edit later
(And look, this section was about 130-ish words! See? it’s not that bad!)
There’s a slew of books and lists of books about how to write screenplays, and they’re all fine, but let me tell you, it’s the weird and unexpected books that really added to my writing chops. Read on for a list of books you need on your shelves to up your writing game, and your life!
(This article contains affiliate links from bookshop.org! Buying through these links gives me a small commission and supports independent bookstores! I’ve also included my regular amazon affiliate links for you as well if that’s easier.)
If you’re my age or older you may remember when this book, (along with a handful of offshoots and sequel books), came out. I bought my copy from the now-defunct Border’s to give you an idea of the time period (ah the early to mid-aughts. What a time to be alive).
This may not seem like the kind of book that would help with writing at all, but it is in fact a gold mine of plots, solutions, and tips for living in a dangerous world. If you’re writing an action movie, this is your bible! Not only does it outline what to do in weird, worst-case, situations (which actually eases my anxiety a lot) but it’s a trove of inspiration. Put your characters in these predicaments and see how they react. The best part, your characters probably don’t know the ‘right’ way to react in the situations in the book; these worst-case scenarios can get even wilder!
Reflecting on an average American school shooting through screenplay.
Working Log Line; In the immediate wake of a school shooting, the community of Foothills Christian High and first responders struggle to contain the situation and understand what has happened.
(I’m not above admitting this log line is awful… it’s a work in progress)
A school shooting is an impossible subject to wrap one’s head around if you’ve never experienced it. I’m one of the lucky 99.999% who got to go through my school years safely. That being said, I’m also part of the generation raised on lockdowns and active shooter drills. Columbine was almost twenty-one years ago; I was nine when it happened. Millions of people in my demographic had lock-down drills and lived with that weird, intangible tickle in the back of our minds that, while probably nothing will happen, something could.
It was always there.
Starting my research, I came to realize more and more how affected I actually was by the events of Columbine, and all the subsequent shootings. Mainly because it didn’t affect me. School shootings were both mundane and terrible. It seemed like the norm, even though I think we all knew deep down it couldn’t be. I imagine it’s even worse for students who were born post-Columbine (and even more heartbreakingly, post-Sandy Hook), as shootings have become nearly normalized. I, and so many other children, absorbed the stories about shootings the way a child absorbs everything else.
But there was that thread of fear, mostly unconscious, that I absorbed as well. Sometimes it was comparable to my fear of quick sand or the Bermuda Triangle, sometimes evolving into the more real fear every Californian has of a massive earthquake, sometimes as present as a car accident, a mugging or a heart attack.
I’m struggling a lot with what I want to write for my Nicholl Fellowship screenplay. I don’t feel confident enough in my old stuff to work from those, but I literally am having no ideas as to what to write for something new.
The early submission date is in 32 days. (I can wait longer and do regular or late submission, but it costs more).
As of right now, my brain is bouncing three subpar ideas around in my head;
A gay bull rider on the rodeo circuit trapped in the closet.
A young woman with control issues has to go to europe to collect her dead twin’s body after he commits suicide.
A school shooting.
That’s it. I don’t hate any of them, but they’re not giving me the passion I once had with writing, ya know? But maybe I just don’t have that passion anymore because I’m older and wiser and jaded. And I’m feeling a little gun-shy because the response I got back from my AFF coverage, while good, said it wasn’t the most original story. So now I’m wracking my brains trying to come up with something original.
Either way, writing is still hard. To win the Nicholl Fellowship would be a huge deal, and the fact is the story idea itself needs to be original, plus the dialogue and writing needs to be perfect. Even then it’s a long shot. I don’t anticipate this is going to be my year, but I want to submit nonetheless — this is my career, this is what I’d have to do to get noticed in my field.