Get Adobe Flash player

Write On

Telling the Difference

post it note with "Serenity now" written on it.Writers have a reputation for being heavy drinkers, which is handy, because if there’s one bit of prayer-shaped wisdom writers should bear in mind, it’s the Serenity Prayer. This came to mind during a recent family vacation in Florida, not because of the ready availability of rum-based drinks, but because of something my niece said. I was being typically, if not charmingly, irascible—complaining about something relating to my current writing project, and she said, “Is it something you can change?” I said “Not really,” and she responded, “Then don’t worry about it.”

Normally this is the point at which I’d mutter “G’way kid. You bother me,” and shove her into the nearest canal. Because, really, what do 16-year-olds know about anything, other than irritating text-message abbreviations? Yet something made me stay my shoving hand. She had a point. So I returned from vacation with something more than just a truly ugly pair of camouflage water shoes. I returned with a better attitude, and my work was the better for it.

Sure, my improved faculties may have had something to do with shaking off seasonal affective disorder with three concentrated days of sun and physical activity, but I prefer to think of the boost as an act of sheer mental will (because I am self-aggrandizing and borderline delusional—which, coincidentally, is why I feel qualified to pass advice along to you).

The writing world is positively lousy with things you cannot change. Your script may be similar to something that was unsuccessfully pitched before, which poisoned the water. Your script may be similar to something already in production, which you couldn’t have known. It may bear no resemblance to anything that was ever done before, but it contains the word “orangutan” which triggers a traumatic memory of Every Which Way but Loose in a primate-phobic development exec. Maybe you wrote your query using Times New Roman, but the president has decided that, “Font-wize, we’re not looking at anything Times New Roman this year.” And maybe, just maybe, your script is brilliant and they simply don’t get it.

Focus on the stuff you can control—foremost being your writing. If you do your due diligence there—work through your concept, identify and correct the flaws, hammer out your structure, write and rewrite and get some notes and then rewrite some more—you’ll be covered.

You may still get rejected. You probably WILL still get rejected. But if you’ve focused all of your energy on your end of the process, at least then you can say, “Well, it just wasn’t for them,” and it won’t be just an excuse. When it’s an excuse, you’ll know it, deep down. It’ll make you sick, and your writing won’t improve, and meanwhile you’ll drive yourself nuts worrying about whether the agent you met with liked your socks (she didn’t). However, if you stick to the stuff you can change, your writing will be better, you’ll be happier, and eventually someone will take notice.

This is the last of my posts for the WGAE blog, and I’d like to thank the guild for having me. Once I got over the absurdity of letting a not-very-successful member of a guild full of amazing, award-winning writers pontificate about writing, I found that I enjoyed pretending to know what I’m talking about. And, judging from the positive responses I’ve gotten, I’m a little like Alice from Alice in Wonderland—I generally give very good advice (though I very seldom follow it). And now that it’s over, I can get back to my MOST important Internet writing job: spouting terrible puns on Twitter. Thanks for listening.

4 Responses to “Telling the Difference”

  • Seriously, thanks for the great posts! The advise here is a good reminder even for folks outside the industry (like me).

  • Lisa Smith:

    I’m new to the WGAe website and I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed your blogs. I Looked forward to your next one – I even wrote a few of your quotes in my goal book! Thanks for the great advise and great humor for us scriptwriters.

  • Jenny:

    Thanks Dan for the advice.

  • Thanks to the guild for being kind (foolish?) enough to give me this forum, and thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply