The number one leading cause of death of a screenwriter’s journey is cynicism. It’s both a practice and phenomenon that is destructive and difficult to contain or eradicate. Amidst the constant rejection and seemingly impossible odds of enjoying a career in screenwriting, how can you — the screenwriter — avoid becoming yet another statistic to this dream-killing disease?
Look, we get it. The pursuit of the screenwriting dream is a grind — one that forces you to confront an endless barrage of rejection, hopelessness, and despair.
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You’re navigating through an industry that won’t read your scripts unless you have an agent. And in order to get an agent, you have to have a script that is a hot commodity within the very industry that won’t let you in.
Screenwriting competitions and fellowships can help, but the odds of winning are less than stellar and even if you do, there are no guarantees as far as securing representation and selling that screenplay.
Everyone wants a buck from you. Everyone claims to have all of the answers. And even when you think you’ve finally written a worthy script, how the hell are you supposed to convince the Hollywood gatekeepers — managers, agents, development executives, producers — that you’re a step above the rest of the tens of thousands knocking on their door every waking moment?
So it’s not you, right? It’s the system. It’s the industry. It’s Hollywood nepotism.
Stop. Breathe. We get the frustration but you can’t let these facts of the screenwriter’s life and strife turn into that black and ugly thing called cynicism. The moment you embrace that stance is the moment you truly become a negative statistic.
So here we have seven tips to staying more positive in your screenwriting journey.
1. Be a Realist, Not a Cynic
A cynic is a faultfinding captious critic and one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest.
A realist is one who accepts and deals with things as they really are and is prepared to deal with it all accordingly.
Most cynical screenwriters believe that having a cynical viewpoint in regards to the film and television industry is being a realist and keeping them strong and a step above all others. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A realist screenwriter accepts and understands that yes, there are struggles to making it as a screenwriter, but despite those struggles, they are going to learn from them and adapt in order to gain the edge that plenty of successful screenwriters before them have.
Cynicism isn’t strength and wisdom. It’s a pit of negativity born from one’s own insecurities and survival instincts — for it’s easier to blame “the system” than it is to blame oneself or simply accept the situation and work harder to overcome it.
When you’re a realist, you’re observing the facts of the situation, accepting them without negative finger pointing, and finding a productive way to circumvent or use that system you’re facing. Realism is the practice of objectively viewing a situation and determining the best course of action to achieve the desired outcome.
In short, being a realist is productive while being a cynic is self-destructive. Be a realist, not a cynic.
2. Don’t Cover Your Fear and Disappointments with Defensive Stances
In the end, that’s what cynical screenwriters are doing. They fear the industry before them so they attempt to discredit it. They’re disappointed by their outcomes so they do everything they can to push the blame away from them.
The sad truth is that most screenplays out there aren’t where they need to be — ask any industry reader, development executive, or producer. 95% of the scripts they read are horrible. 4% are average or just above. And maybe 1% are truly amazing.
So the best thing that you as a screenwriter can do is try to ascertain the reasons why your scripts may have been rejected, learn from those mistakes, and better cater to the general guidelines and expectations of the industry without losing your own voice and originality.
And when you’re doing your part in that respect…
3. Know That Sometimes It’s Not You, Sometimes It’s Just Not for Them
This notion is perhaps the most overlooked truth in a screenwriter’s journey. When you reach a certain level, when it’s not your first rodeo, and when you’ve honed your screenwriting and cinematic storytelling skills to the ninth degree, rejection will still come because in the end, the studios, production companies, producers, managers, and agents are looking for a specific thing for any number of specific reasons.
Studios may be looking for the new franchise. Production companies may be looking for something that has the best distribution potential. Producers may be looking for something that hasn’t been done before (Get Out) or a new take on a popular subgenre (A Quiet Place). Managers may be looking for a certain type of writer and/or script that studios and producers are seeking. Agents may be looking for a script that already has some momentum behind it.
When you’re pitching a script at an event or through blind (but hopefully well-researched) queries, the rejection may be due to the script not being what they’re looking for.
When you’ve placed high or won a contest that offers multiple industry phone calls and meetings and no one signs you or picks up your script, the rejection may be less about you and your script and more about both not being what they need then and now.
When you’ve signed with a manager or agent and things just aren’t happening the way you’ve hoped, the rejection may just be about bad market timing and climate.
When that inner-cynic begins to whisper negative thoughts, simply reassure yourself by saying, “It’s just not for them.” And then move onto the next prospect. The moment you push blame and put anyone who has rejected you and your script into a negative light is the moment you leap off of that edge into the pit of cynicism. And it’s very hard to climb your way out once you do.
4. Know That It’s Never Been Easy for Anyone
The success stories you’ve read in headlines or heard about in interviews may seem like pure overnight triumphs, but most of those contracts signed are a direct result of years of rejection and struggle.
Every Oscar-winning screenwriter and seven figures earner were right where you are at some point in their career. And even when they’ve achieved success, know that the rejection doesn’t stop there. Every great and successful screenwriter will still receive more rejection than they will ever receive acceptance and success.
5. Recognize Your Cynicism Before It’s Too Late
You’ve tried so hard, failed so often, and you’ve been hurt so many times. Cynicism can come naturally to screenwriters. It’s a protective mechanism. It’s a survival instinct. But even though it may protect you on the surface, that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
You have to stop and recognize when your inner cynic is taking over. When you begin to blame others, point fingers, and look for exterior excuses to not try harder and not put yourself and your scripts out there, you have to recognize that and hit the brakes. Look in the mirror and see that inner cynic.
It’s okay to vent, cry, or scream in anger, but when you start taking on that cynical perspective, it’s something that is hard to come back from. It poisons your writing process. It poisons your inner hope that is necessary to push you through those difficult times.
Recognize your cynicism and put a stop to it as soon as you can with a little hope, a little faith, and a little pat on the back as you tell yourself to keep pushing onward.
6. Don’t Spread the Disease
While it’s okay to vent, cry, or scream in anger as you process some rejection and frustration, be sure to stay off of that online soapbox.
Cynics embrace the opinionated preaching and snarky sarcasm as a way to cope with their own fears, disappointments, and frustrations. It’s a selfish act in the end because they’re spreading the disease of negative attribution, blame, and finger-pointing. This doesn’t mean you should avoid your emotions. There is no escaping them. And it’s not about being phony and putting forth false truths about the industry. It’s about dealing with those emotions directly and alleviating your own suffering — all while avoiding letting the struggle dictate the way you view the world. And thus, making you feel that you need to dictate that skewed view to others.
Look, we know that the odds are against screenwriters. We know that it’s hard to get a script read. We know that it can be unfair. We know that there are those out there that take advantage of screenwriters. We know Hollywood loves their franchises and superhero flicks.
This is nothing new. Cynical screenwriters aren’t contributing anything when they preach these obvious truths. It’s not productive.
So when you’re feeling frustrated and down on the odds, the industry, and the rejection, do your best to process it on your own time in your own domain. The moment you release that negativity into the public eye is the moment where you cough that deadly virus into the breathing air of others. Negativity can be contagious, bringing down those around you. Don’t spread that disease.
7. Focus On Any and All Positives
If your query led to a script request, but the script was ultimately rejected, at least you got it read.
If your contest win had led to no representation, script sale, or writing assignment, at least you won over the judges of the contest and know that at least some people responded well to your work.
If you’ve received detailed feedback on your script and much of it is negative, at least you have a collection of knowledge and information that you can work from to either make it better or disregard.
If no one is reading your work, know that you’ve done more than most in the world do when it comes to dreams — you’ve actually tried.
Focusing on the positive crowds out energy for negative thoughts and feelings through a positive feedback loop mechanism. Being an optimist is not a form of weakness. It’s an act of wisdom knowing that negative thoughts lead you nowhere. And then the realist in you will take a step back, look at the situation, and figure out a way past any hurdles — without negative thoughts and cynical viewpoints blinding any vision to those solutions.
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It’s not easy being a screenwriter. But if it’s really something you want and need to do, you have to eradicate any negative voices that cloud your thought and reason.
Be a realist instead of a cynic, because at least you’ll be productive. Don’t be defensive when you face your fears and disappointments, because that will stop you from looking inward. Remember that all too often, it’s not about you and your script — it’s just not for them. Take comfort in knowing that even those top one-percenters struggled just like you are today. Learn to recognize your cynicism so you can put a stop to it before it’s too late. Do everyone else a favor and don’t spread that cynical disease when you’re having a bad day, week, month, or year. And finally, remember that filling your body, mind, and soul with positive thoughts and outlooks will leave little to no room for the unproductive practice and phenomenon we call cynicism.
Life is too short. Embrace the suck, learn from it, and stay positive!
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies