Forging a Career as a Screenwriter
Hello Writers All,
Often I’m asked “Eric, how can I find a career as a professional screenwriter?”
A fair question. And it deserves a straight answer. So here’s my take.
Forging a career as a pro screenwriter is quite simple, actually. There are only three steps required.
FIRST, you must find within a smoldering passion to tell stories. Not just a longing for the big bucks, or the glitter, or seeing your name emblazoned on the screen – but a deep true love for the storyteller’s art. A genuine belief that movie stories can touch people in ways that matter. You need to possess not merely the wish to write those screen myths that speak to our age, but an overwhelming need to write them. It has been said that true screenwriters write because it hurts more not to.
SECOND, having found the fire within, new screenwriters must gather up all the talent they possess and train it. Many skills need to be honed: structure, character development, powerful dialogue. A command of scenes. Genre. Effective rising action-lines. Foreshadowing. The power of subtext. And more. A writer finds out which of these they have a knack for and polishes those gifts, then confronts their dramatic writing weaknesses and works extra hard to plug those holes. Screenwriting is the most difficult form of storytelling to do well and it takes years to master the craft, if it can be said that anyone ever truly masters it. Ask the best writers about conquering this art and they will tell you that real mastery isn’t something you achieve, it’s something you quest after for a lifetime. Still, attaining a high degree of competence in the use of all component parts of screenwriting is essential.
THIRD, once a script is written, and rewritten, and rewritten until it grabs a reader by the throat, the writer must set out to market both their work and themselves. The upstart writer must find an agent and establish a working relationship with that agent. The writer must then convince those steely Hollywood executives that they are reliable, pleasant to work with, good under pressure, that they can survive story conferences with enough good grace and humor to not kill anyone, all while engendering respect and being viewed as an eminently reasonable person who can take and give criticism well. Then, occasionally, there’s the part about being fired from your own script and getting rewritten.
Not asking much, are they.
Given the introverted nature of many writers, step three can often feel even more daunting than step two. Heaven knows it did for me. But trust me. If I can do it, so can you. Many producers and directors rather like eccentric, reserved or just plain weird people. They think we’re mysterious. So you’ll fit right in.
Screenwriters are self-selecting. No one orders us to charge into that battlefield. We volunteer.
Just never forget step number one: it hurts more not to.
There’s room in Hollywood storytelling for all types of writers, all kinds of personalities with talent. Moviemakers are eager to discover your scripts. Their own careers depend on it. Because they can’t make movies or TV shows without you.
I’m just pointing out here that a career in screenwriting is not for the faint of heart. And the husbands and wives and significant-others of neophyte screenwriters are in for quite a ride, too. Just ask my family.
So Eric, what about the good stuff in screenwriting? Gotta be some, right?
Oh my. You bet. Tons of it. But a lot of the good stuff stays hidden from public view.
No one can completely “get” why a screenwriter does what they do except another writer. Most of the rewards are deeply personal. And occasionally even profound.
Many of our happiest hours are spent lost inside the worlds of those stories we create. Joy, pain, wonder, terror and passion experienced while living inside the skins of those fictional people we birth and love.
Screenwriters get to be detectives, spies, fiery heroines on crusades, presidents, clowns, tortured evildoers, rappers, everyday people who rise to heroism, damsels in distress. Screenwriters breathe it all. Feel it all. We don’t just live one life – we live hundreds.
To reveal the simple truth at last: even with all the challenges… a screenwriter lives the fullest life imaginable.
So get going on this art we love. Learn it well. Keep those pages turning. Eventually your great stories will be discovered.
The key is perseverance. And as you persevere, your work will get better. And better. Each draft, better. The professionals are the ones who can stick with a story through eight drafts. Academy Award winner Akiva Goldsman said, “I wasn’t the most talented young screenwriter I knew, I just wanted it more.”
Screenwriters don’t find careers.
We do what our hearts demand, and the career finds us.
My deepest good wishes to you all.
About The Story Solution: Eric Edson’s The Story Solution provides screenwriting tips for those interested in screenplay writing. Seen as one of the best books on screenwriting and currently #1 in its category on China Amazon, Edson outlines 23 actions used to create three dimensional heroes. Visit the website at https://www.thestorysolution.com to learn about writing a movie script. “Like” the Facebook page to receive tips on scriptwriting. Call (818) 677-7808 for information about writing a movie script.