Why Perseverance Always Wins the Race: A Lesson for Screenwriters

by Shane Weisfeld on February 13, 2018

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

That is only one way to describe what it takes to break through as a screenwriter. Whether it’s getting representation, getting your material optioned, selling a script and/or that script being made into a film or TV show, etc., etc., etc.

“But isn’t it all about who you know?” Well, the same can be said for any industry – knowing someone, or the right people, can always help – but it’s not a sure-fire way of having a career or breaking in, period. Yes, this is an industry where knowing the right people can help, but it’s also an industry where you have to work hard and climb up the ladder to get to the point where people come to know who you are.

Don’t just bank on knowing someone. Don’t place your chips on hope or luck. Don’t even think it’s about talent. Put your money and stock into perseverance. There are a lot of talented people, but what separates the adults from the babies is that pure, raw, unremitting perseverance.

Each individual is different, but in most cases, you are going to spend years at this. You have to be RAW (Ready And Willing), like Big Daddy Kane explained on his debut album.

Here’s the good news: perseverance pays off. Period. That could mean a few years, several years, or over 10 years. Like Dres from Black Sheep said: “The choice is yours”. Make sure you’re willing to go the distance. If you choose, the responsibility is 100% on you. The great Jack Canfield has spoken at length about responsibility and making no excuses or blaming others.

If you decide to make a go at it as a screenwriter, or you’re currently pursuing this crazy rollercoaster of the film biz, be prepared to stick it out for a very, very, very, long time.

Yes, we’ve all heard the stories of Diablo Cody, Callie Khouri, Tarantino and others who broke through after their very first script (and won awards and became overnight sensations from it). That doesn’t mean that they haven’t busted their asses while in the business, it doesn’t mean they don’t face rejection. They’ve had to persevere in a different fashion – persevering and surviving in this business.

I’ve always said there are two sets of dues to pay: one where you’re trying to break in, and another where you’re trying to maintain a living. Aside from the 1% that broke in without trying much or spending little time at it, the rest of the 99% in the business will probably tell you they spent years at this before something happened.

Perseverance is an umbrella that encompasses hard work, talent, sacrifice, determination, connections/relationships, and in some cases, good-old timing. However, I can’t stress enough that it may take years for something to come to fruition, such as being in the right place at the right time. It’s ironic, isn’t it? The right timing may take years. It certainly took me years.

I’m at the 20-year mark right now. Things didn’t start happening for me until about the 12th year of actively pursuing this. That’s 12 years of facing rejection until finally, something happened. That one thing was the springboard to other things happening, but it’s an ongoing journey and struggle that, in its 20th year, has taken a mental toll… but there’s nothing else I want to do.

It’s up to you to make your own luck, to establish your own network of connections, to create opportunities for yourself. This won’t happen overnight. You have to be active, and in some cases, quite aggressive and relentless.

I’ve heard the concern from many young and aspiring screenwriters: “I don’t know anybody, what am I supposed to do?” Here’s a tissue, blow hard with your eyes open. My honest, blunt, real answer: spend years writing, spend years sending your material out, spend years making mistakes, spend years facing rejection – and in that time you can build up your network of not only connections, but hopefully solid relationships.

There’s so much uncertainty when it comes to this, which is partly why it’s so mentally taxing and frustrating – but this is why perseverance is the name of the game. “Nobody knows anything”, and there is no set timeline on when and how it will happen for you. All you can do is persevere and never quit when the going gets tougher than leather, as RUN-DMC once rightfully chanted.

This is a universal message. It can apply to screenwriters, filmmakers, actors, musicians, artists, photographers – anyone involved in the arts who is at the mercy of subjectivity and peoples’ opinions and interpretation of your work.

Whether it’s your dream or goal or obsessive, burning desire – and you take action on it – the only failure is quitting. That’s it. Hands down. The only way to win is to persevere. And hey, when breaking in, you may not have to persevere. It is possible for things to just… happen for you. However, being ready for, and accepting, and putting perseverance into practice will only make you stronger in the long run, and for this business, you need that strength. Believe me.

Shane Weisfeld is a screenwriter based in Toronto. His first produced credit as a writer was the 2014 crime-thriller film Freezer starring Dylan McDermott and Peter Facinelli. He has a number of feature and TV projects in the works.

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