Picking Your Battles

Back in 2013 and 2014, I was spending a lot of time and money trying to find agents, producers, managers, directors—anybody, more or less—for my scripts. I’d get a nibble and get excited only to have it all fall apart a few weeks or months later. I’d get an option and then it would lapse. It was the constant feeling of swimming upstream.

At the same time, I was also bumping along with my prose. My Sherlock Holmes stories were doing pretty well. I was getting solid interest on the Peter manuscript. Sure, a lot of that fell through too, but there was certainly more sense of forward progress with my prose projects than with the screenwriting. And I wasn’t losing money on pitches and attorney’s fees, either.

So I finally had to stop and ask myself: How much does being a screenwriter really mean to me? Am I willing to continue tossing money and energy down that well? Or is my time better served focusing on my prose?

I’d already stopped writing stage plays. Maybe it was time to whittle myself down again.

And it’s not that I don’t want to do screenwriting. But I also don’t enjoy beating my head against a wall. I get pretty depressed, honestly, and it felt like it was time to limit the avenues that would generate that depression. And maybe that’s the wrong attitude to have. Maybe you’re saying, “Well, then, you must not be much of a writer if you can’t handle rejection.” Or, “You must not want it badly enough then.” And you could be correct on either or both counts. I don’t know. But I have enough self-awareness to know my own limits. And I’d finally reached one with the screenwriting.

It’s a difficult choice. My scripts received a lot of good feedback, did well in a number of competitions. But that doesn’t actually win you anything or get you much of anywhere. And I don’t have it in me to write the stuff most people seem to want to direct or produce. (Though in a number of cases I had interested directors, but they couldn’t get funding for the projects. So . . . I wasn’t writing what people wanted to invest in, I guess?)

I write full time. It’s my job. But I have to choose projects that are, in the end, going to further my goals. And, you know, maybe make me a little money. Writers can seldom afford to live off their earnings, but I do like to be able to fund my hair-and-nails habit.

A while back one of the pitching services I’d used a few times e-mailed me to suggest I try this or that manager. It was tempting. It’s like gambling, and you keep hoping you’ll hit the jackpot or whatever. But I started thinking about everything else I’d rather do with that money. And I reminded myself of how this service had suggested this or that person before and it had never worked out. So I walked away.

I’m having to live with the possibility that I’m not “good enough” for The Biz. I’m having to remind myself that doesn’t mean I’m entirely worthless. I’m having to come to terms with the fact that not all my dreams in life are going to be realized. Not all my goals are going to be met. It’s a hard lesson. But I’ve done a lot, and I hope to do much more. I’m just picking my battles.

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3 thoughts on “Picking Your Battles”

  1. You are good enough. You’re one of the best writers I know, but you’re also one of the hardest ones on yourself. I do the same to myself. I’m feeling that not good enough feeling today with a short story up on Every Day Fiction and the commenters are being super harsh. Yet I tell myself I have improved and I will continue to work to improve. So onward we go!

    1. It’s so tough to put yourself out there. I’m a bit terrified of what people will say about Peter when it comes out next week. But not everyone will like everything. And your piece was, I think, solid (I’m no fan of hard-boiled, so I can’t give any more helpful feedback). It had 3.2 stars when I read it. I just read a great piece (linked it on Twitter) about how 3 stars isn’t bad. We all want A’s and B’s and 3 stars is a C, but it’s still passing. I keep reminding myself of that! Congrats just on getting selected and having a piece posted!

  2. You’re definitely good enough. And it seems like you have one important thing: that drive. Unfortunately it takes years and years for some, me included, but you keep going. You don’t give up.

    And cutting out the screen writing isn’t giving up.

    Screen writing and fiction writing are two hugely different things. Whenever your doing screen writing, that’s taking time away from fiction writing, from the learning/improving on, and from the marketing/selling/looking for agent side.

    And vice versa. So you’re only maybe getting half the time to dedicate to that type of writing. Which slows things down ever more.

    It’s hard though, if you love both. But you might be right. Maybe it’s time to dedicate time more fully to one or the other. It’s not like you can’t go back to screen writing.

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