I started writing for MoviePilot in April. I didn't come here in search of success or opportunity. I came here as a way to better myself as a writer, not by writing amazing articles that blew people away, but instead by allowing myself to step out of the ever pressing box of perfection and structure and into a world where there were no rules. That's what I love about being here on this site. Though you will have grammar police stop through and judgmental comments from many telling you that you aren't a good writer, that's not really what this site is about.
We write for free. Some do it for the crowd that reads the article, and in certain ones I post, it is all about the audience as well. However, the majority of what I put on here I do for myself. I have a thought and I want to share it with the world then I can. I don't grammar check before posting. Usually when I read back through my articles is when I take the time to check out the errors. I spend so much time in my other endeavors frantically combing over every last word to make sure it fits in every single way to the correct standard that it is nice to be able to just... think as I write. It's fun to write here.
I am not alone in this. There are thousands of writers on MP and I'm sure that most of them have other aspirations beyond writing online articles. We want success doing something we love, and why shouldn't we? Writers are some of the most under appreciated artists out there working in the industry. The percentage of us that will be extremely successful is very, very small. But with the boom in audiences online there are more avenues these days for writers than ever before.
This is not a success story article. If you would like to read one of those, there are thousands across the internet. This instead is a list of the ways that I've managed to maintain relevance as a writer even while working the day job. I see so much advice from people who made it, but what about those on the cusp? I'm not saying that I am, but I have the upmost confidence in my writing craft. One day, in the near or distant future (I don't really care I like to write. That's who I am) I will be able to focus simply on writing and not have to work the day job. Until then, I have carved out ways to make sure that my dream, never becomes encompassed by my day job.
This is one of those articles where I would love other writers to share their secrets as well. What makes you successful? How do you stay King/Queen of your own worlds? Here are some things that have worked very well for me.
1: WRITE EVERY DAY: FINDING YOUR VOICE
Nothing holds you back more as a writer than not writing. You can give all the advice you want to someone, but if they aren't honing their craft then it is a lost cause. As a writer there is only one way to break through to the other side and that is: finding your voice. You can be a great writer without having a voice, and may even find success, but even those who are successful have went through spurts of great success that accumulated at the time they found their voices as writers.
I started writing when I was in 3rd grade. Creative stories were my favorite because anything could happen. By high school I had started to really bloom on my creative side and found myself writing when there were no assignments. In college I learned structure and story arch from a professor who had success in the television industry. That knowledge he bestowed upon us took me to another level. Even with that being said I didn't really know what it was to be a writer until I was 25.
That's when I started writing every-single-day. At first this is really hard to do until you realize that it doesn't have to be writing under the skill set you've grown accustom to. For me, I studied screenwriting and film after learning theatre and playwriting. I thought that it always had to be a screenplay or I was wasting my time. This couldn't have been further from the truth. Poetry, jokes, blogs, music, speeches... articles on websites about pop culture and films. Take chances and break out of your shell.
Looking back on my work before I started writing everyday and after, it's night and day. Before I was more timid and questioned myself often. I always wondered how many people would hate it instead of thinking about who could possibly like it. The more you write the more confidence that builds and the better you become. Because you're taking chances. You're risking the norm by pushing past it. And who knows, maybe one of the poems ends up working for a character. Maybe one of those songs you made makes its way into a short film you wrote.
2: USE YOUR OFF TIME WISELY:
This one is hard because of the Inspiration Factor vs the Work Schedule. No one can choose when to be inspired. That being said, who cares? Some days you'll feel lightning strike and other days you'll just sit there staring at the screen. That doesn't matter. The point is you are making sure to set the time aside to focus on something you want.
If you want to lose weight, and you never step foot in a gym, then chances are you're never going to. If you go to the gym everyday, regardless, you'll find that you really have nothing better to do than work out. Writing is no different. One log line you write today could turn into an entire piece down the road.
Now I know this isn't easy with a day job either, especially if you work multiple ones. Personally, I work 40 - 45 hours a week and always have two days off. When I say two days off, I mean from that job. Until the day you are discovered you will never have a day off. Once you've past the youth days and you accept adulthood and all it's crushing powers, you can begin to get in the routine of this. This doesn't mean to never get out. What it means is that even if you have a day off, you have to set at least an hour to the side to write. You can't not write. You have to write something. Anything will do.
Going to run some errands today and maybe out to the bar with friends later? No problem. Before or right after you take your shower try and write a little something. Maybe practice your hand at fortune telling and write what you imagine will happen. The more often you do this, the bigger the pieces you write become in these moments. Before you know it you might find yourself in my shoes where I'm 2 hours late for something fun I wanted to do because lightning made its way into a bottle and I couldn't walk away. Nor did I want to.
Blind writing is a whole lot of fun sometimes, but as far as big projects go it's for the birds. You need to know where you're going before you can figure out how to get there. One of the biggest hurdles of writers block is having the structure laid out before you. If you get stuck somewhere you can go to another point of the story and hammer that out.
This doesn't mean that you can't start in the middle of nowhere. I'm sure that you've written something out of an idea that you thought was really interesting. Maybe it was a cool visual or something characters are saying to one another. Once you've got that down you have to take it somewhere. You need a story to go with it. You figure out, what make today different than any other day in this characters life and then you tell that story.
Where are they going. You must have a beginning, middle and end. Even a great like Tarentino has all three, he just tells it out of order to add height to the effect of his film making. If you know what is going to happen you can go back and forth as much as you'd like... as long as you have an outline.
So many writers break this rule. We want to write about something but we don;t know 100% of the facts. In some cases you never will, but you have to learn as much as humanly possible. The worst thing you can do is think you've remembered something correctly. Back it up. Look deeply into it. You would be surprised the ideas that come from finding out information you never knew. New scenes can come out of nowhere in this search which is why I find it so valuable.
You have to remember that even though there is suspension of disbelief, there will always be someone trying to pick what you've written apart. The goal as a writer is the leave the window open as little as you possibly can. If your story is set in a certain city, you need to know the layout and the lifestyle. The environment will play into your story. The population in a certain setting will change the way you can write a certain scene.
If your character is working a certain job that you've never worked yourself, research it. Even if they're waitress or a telemarketer. Get to know what those jobs are like. Read forums with stories people have experienced. Talk to people that work those jobs. Ask them questions. There's nothing wrong with making conversation. For all they know you're interested in a job.
The point is it has to be believable in some avenue. You can't just hope it lands because it won't. Your audience is not stupid and the best thing you can try and do as a writer is not insult them by assuming that if you don't know they don't either.
5: CARE ABOUT THE MESSAGE:
When you write something it should never just be because it sounds like a cool idea. A cool idea is nothing unless flushed out in its entirety. You should be sending a message. Whatever that message may be is entirely up to you as the writer, but you have to know what your saying. This plays hand in hand with finding your voice. You find your voice and then you start delivering your messages to the world.
If you watch some of your favorite films, or listen to your favorite music, even read an article or social piece, you'll start to understand that they carry with them some sort of message to the audience. Rappers tend to focus on the troubles of growing up in a world where the establishment fails to see them as human beings. Most country music is about the importance of finding love and enjoying life to the fullest. Even punk wants to send the message to you to not fucking care about the message they're sending you.
What do you want to tell the world?
6: POWER THROUGHS:
EVERY WRITER HITS A WALL. Every single one of us have found ourselves sitting in the chair, or lying on the floor, screaming to the lords of fate to just let us think clearly. This can take hours, sometimes weeks off of a projects life because we just can;t seem to find a way. In these instances there is only one thing worth doing. POWER THROUGH. This is flushing the idea out.
You know what the beautiful part about writing is? It's never set in stone until published. We get numerous drafts to work with. You can always change a scene or an ending. Maybe a line you hated finds meaning and you re-write it into something you love. Maybe that line becomes the most famous one of anything you've ever written. You never know how people are going to react, but you will never know unless you finish and get your own reaction.
You have a lot to learn. We all do. The best way to learn above everything else is by doing. Writing. The second best way to learn your craft is by reading.
Do you write novels? Get to reading. Crack open some classics, but also be sure to read the contemporary works as the world is always changing and society is moving faster now than ever before. If you are a novelist then your library of research is almost never ending and you have plenty of authors to choose from.
Are you into writing movies like myself? Read them. Simply Scripts, IMSDB, and Screenplays-Online are just a few of the avenues you can travel down in order to obtain Hollywood scripts. It may not be as wide spread as novels, but getting your hands on a screenplay these days is now easier than ever.
Whether it's books, movies, poetry or even advertising, read from the greats in your field. Learn what brought them success. Study their work and story structures. There is a proper formula to everything and most writers use the same formulas repeatedly in different settings. Some say there are only 12 stories to ever be told....the creative part is finding a new way to tell them.
8: WORK ON OTHER PROJECTS:
Multiple projects allow you time to think and step away. If you hit a wall on something you're putting together, and the outline just doesn't seem to be greasing the wheels, then maybe it's time to step back and let your thoughts go somewhere else. You're not technically procrastinating because you are still working on something. You're writing something that you hope to turn into income one day.
For me I like to keep my projects separated by genre. If I'm having trouble in one genre, I'll step away and work on a piece with a different mindset. Sometimes things in your life change and that makes you have to readjust. If you're writing a high energy project and you start to go through a rough time in your personal life, you may find it consoling to work on a piece that better suits your emotions. Writing with emotion is one of the best way to add heart to your characters.
Allow yourself the right to jump back and forth until you feel the spark ignite.
9: ALLOW YOUR DAY JOB TO BE SEPARATION:
The day job doesn't have to be looked at as the inevitable death sentence to the possibility of failing as a writer. If you let it get to that point, you're doomed. The first bit of advice I would give to any writer, or other artist for that matter, is find a day job that makes you want to be there. If writing is your number one passion, then what is number two?
For me, I have always been a people person. I like to talk to others and pick peoples brains about things going on in the world. I also perform with comedy, so I like to try my jokes out on people to fine tune my sets. What I did was listed what my job had to have and then I went for it.
- No more than 45 hours a week.
- Health benefits in case I start dying.
- Home office HAS to be in L.A. so that promotions and moving up equals going where I need to go.
- Has to Involve something I love.
- Has to pay the bills.
I do sales management in pop culture retail. The home office of my company is in Los Angeles where I am awaiting a transfer to. I am never asked to work more than 45 hours a week allowing myself around 30 hours a week to focus solely on writing and filming. This allows me to let the day job be the day job without the fear of not having time to still chase my dream. I can go to work and BE AT WORK for that set time. As long as I know I have those 30 hours in the week to run wild with my imagination I am fine.
It's a huge plus to know that there is stability in your day job as well. Doing well at work means that you can be stress free when off the clock. (most times) Even as the boss I found it easy to make it work by hiring able bodied people so my phone isn't going off the hook while I'm working on a script. And for those who aren't the boss, I wasn't always either. At one point I realized that I need to make my own schedule so I sacrificed where I could to climb the latter. Nothing ever got handed to me and I even walked away from a higher level of success because it did not grant me the time I needed to be happy as a writer.
You're going to have to make sacrifices but trust me, the events you live through and the things it makes you feel will only make you a better writer. Those of us that struggle don't have to make up the events of the world. We live them.
10: HAVE A SOCIAL LIFE:
Jesus lord don't let this one fall through the cracks. You lose track of the world, you lose relevance. You need to experience other people. You're job as a writer is either to create believable characters, raise awareness for something you believe in, or appeal to the public eye. How can you do any of those things if you are always alone?
Writing is one of the loneliest jobs anyone could ever have. You need to be with your thoughts. Even if you listen to music when you write (which I do) you can;t focus with someone talking to you. Your brain is busy trying to think of responses instead of focusing on the task at hand. You have to be able to shut yourself off from the world and hammer down when needed. But some of us take this too far and it's not good for you at all.
Keep friends. You may not see them as much as you use to, but that's okay. Tell them how you're doing. Tell them story ideas you have. Ask them to read your stuff. Stay connected. The more of my friends that I got to read my stuff the better the relationships got. It showed them that I wasn't just setting around drunk thinking I was better than everyone else.
I have written 6 full length features and multiple television pilots with my co-writer and we always let our friends take a peek. (After copyright and Writers Guild filing of course) No one is going to give you better feedback than your audience and lets face it, our friends and family shaped who we are. No one is going to understand the relation to our stories like they will. Plus it gives you the opportunity to gain support, something writers tend to get little of.
If you follow through on everything and find yourself in the category of having multiple finished projects than you need to take the next step. What was it all for? Why did you put in the time and effort if you aren't going to shop it around? 15 years ago you had to live in New York or LA to make it in "the industry". With the power of the growing online audience there is a growing need for writers who can create content. The more you shop your works the more value you bring to yourself. If you don't live in the City of Angels or the Big Apple then you need to start hitting the competition circuit.
Exposure is everything in this business and if your script can win, or even place in a competition then you are going to find yourself actually having conversations about getting your story put on film. More importantly, it opens the door for the rest of your writing. Maybe the script that actually won wasn't your favorite. When the time comes to talk to agents and production companies, they're going to ask what else you have. Trust me on this one. They like what you did, but they want to know if you are a one hit wonder or if you have more in the arsenal. Make sure to have some ammunition readily available just in case this really is your one big opportunity.
The cool thing about the competition circuit is that it isn't a dying breed. More and more are popping up every year and they more we get, the more genre specific we become. Save money for fees and always be sure to get your work COPYRIGHTED before submission. The last thing you want is for your million dollar idea to be cashed in by someone else because you failed to take the means to protect it. The earlier you submit, the smaller the fees. Most competition even allow you to pay a fee for notes from industry professionals. Don't complain about the fees. They aren't even close to these peoples hourly wages. You want professional notes, you need to make it worth their time.
Here are some of the best competitions out there for screenwriters:
List is in no particular order.