If you leave a tooth under your pillow or beside your bed, the tooth fairy will leave you money. If you behave all year and resist being naughty, you will get more presents from Santa. And if you write a brilliant script, then the agents, the producers, the deal makers and the money will all come flooding to you. Right?
Sorry. This is a myth. It’s as true as the Easter Bunny’s existence (sorry kids). And yet it’s a myth that’s been repeated to many aspiring screenwriters.
Yes, you can find testimonials from people who claim this has happened to them. So, okay, it’s not inconceivable. But it has also been known for fish to randomly fall from the sky. That doesn’t mean you should stand outside with a basket instead of going to the supermarket for dinner tonight.
Why isn’t great writing enough?
Have you ever checked your local job guide for a regular 9-5 office position as a screenwriter? No? Why not? Because you know there won’t be one.
The truth is, as a screenwriter, you are effectively running your own sole-trader business. You’re not looking for an employer, you’re looking for clients to buy your goods and services. And, like any other sole-trader business, it doesn’t matter how good you are if people don’t know you’re there.
A lot of people go into freelance photography. They are talented and produce amazing photographs. Sadly, not many of them survive in the trade – not because of their work, but they just don’t manage to draw enough business to survive.
It’s the same for screenwriting. It is a great craft, but if you want to get noticed and want your work to be produced, you have to start thinking like a sole trader. If you want the clients to come to you, you need more than a great product or service – you have to start marketing yourself.
Believe it or not, there are people out there who really want to read your work. However, there are a lot of people out there writing great scripts who are also trying to get their work read. Most of them are also predictably entering the same contests and pitch events as everyone else, hoping to somehow beat the odds and get noticed.
So, is writing something great enough? Sadly, no. Quite possibly, writing something great and entering it in contests and events isn’t going to be enough either.
But here’s the good news.
Writing great scripts is essential, but it’s only the beginning. It’s time to not only write something great (and contests and pitch-fests are a great way to assess just how great it may be) but to start applying your wonderful creativity to how you are going to get that great script read.
There are many tips out there on how to get read. The most common would be contests, networking and query letters. However, I dare you to think beyond this. Start with looking at you, who you are and what you have. Your writing is unique, your writing voice is unique, and your perspective and understanding of the world is unique. Start thinking beyond your writing, and start considering your strengths, skills, relationships, experiences, philosophies and anything else that sets you apart.
Writing great scripts is essential, but it’s only the beginning.
Nobody ever made anything great of themselves by following the common path. I bet if you look at your personal heroes, none of them got to where they are by doing the norm. Tarantino made his own movies while working in a video store. Diablo Cody’s voice was first heard as a blogger. We shouldn’t be inspired to mimic their path, but rather mimic their determination to be heard in whatever capacity they could find.
I think the myth of ‘writing something great is enough’ is popular because many writers wish it was true. It’s a bold step to venture out from the comfort of one’s study or preferred coffee nook. It’s even scarier to step out and announce ‘I am a great writer and I’ve written something great!’ but unless you do, your writing will never be anything more than a hobby. For many writers, this is enough. But if you want more, then you’re going to have to do more.
So, you might find the perfect contest, or pitch-fest, or industry connection that suits your script. If so, then go for it. But don’t stop there – keep daring to explore and create new and innovative ways to be heard. You’ve written something great, so keep writing, keep sharing, keep exploring and keep enjoying the journey.