Screenwriters: Time is NOT on Your Side

Writers, take notice: Time is NOT your friend. It’s NOT waiting by patiently. It’s not forgiving, in any way, to writers. Time is, in the best and worse ways, your enemy. A good adversary should keep you on your toes. Should inspire you to stay alert. To stay on point. If you treat it with respect, paying proper heed to its wondrous abilities to baffle, frustrate and challenge, it will only be to your benefits.

Time, in this industry, is something that you will inevitably be challenged by. Bottom line?

Don’t waste your time.

Seriously. You got a contest win? You got some interest? Take it, and run with it NOW. Nobody cares what you did two years ago. And unless you’ve been in a coma, no one cares why it took you 4 years to write your next screenplay. On the contrary. If you’ve gotten noticed, be it through a high-profile contest win or a an existing industry contact, what they care is that it took you anything more than six months to come up with your next stellar screenplay. They don’t care if you’ve been depressed. If you’ve moved. If you’ve changed careers three times. They care that despite the talent and the success, writing was not enough of a priority to become a consistent cause in your life.

For the record, yes, I did say six months. That’s the expectation, and that’s stretching it. Remember, before you get represented, that’s easy time. Once you’re repped, your agent or manager will look to you for a stellar script every 3-4 months. And you want to be able to deliver it to them. You’ll be competing with prospective clients and existing clients alike for your rep’s attention. It will be your objective to keep delivering the kind of quality content that will keep you front of mind. So if you’re not repped? Time to get your writing schedule in line. To nail down your discipline. Your method. Your schedule. Agents and managers are asking you “what else do you have” not only to make sure that your new content is worthwhile, but also to ensure that your writing habits meet the needs of the industry that you’re aiming to work in, that they will be able to build a career with them. If they see you win a contest and then… Nothing? Nobody is going to be making money on you taking your time time.

It’s been said before, but, if only to emphasize, I will chime in one more time: You have to be developing ideas, developing new work, all the time. Not developing content at all times, in whichever format, is just not unacceptable. Do not take your time. Do not sit on your laurels and wait to see what comes from the last screenplay you’ve put out. Quality is balanced by quantity in this game. So it doesn’t matter if you did it once. Or, worse, if you did it once in 2009. The industry wants to see you producing content ALL THE TIME. A writer’s job is to write.

If you don’t? New writers will come. New screenplays will place atop the meaningful contests. There will be exciting new voices who not only posses the new hot screenplay, but also the potential to deliver new stellar work like clockwork every 4-6 months. That is exciting to an industry exec. Much more so than a promising writer who hasn’t capitalized on the momentum created by their work thus far.

And then there is the reality of the young.

One thing that young people rarely realize (God knows I didn’t) is this: You are only going to be young for so long. For better or worse, you are going to grow up. And you’ll be grateful for it, too. You’ll have kids. You’ll have commitments. You won’t be willing to move to LA and live with annoying roommates and take on the crummy assistant jobs working crazy hours for crappy money and finding a way to feel good about it. Sure, you’ll gain wisdom. You’ll gain perspective. You’ll ultimately be a better writer. And, to boot, you will have better living standards. But the opportunities will be different. No one considers a person just trying to make inroads for an assistant job when they’re 35. So if you’re young… Do it now. Don’t wait. If you’re thinking about moving to Los Angeles, DO IT NOW. If you want to take a screenwriting class, DO IT NOW. You’ll never have enough money. It will never be comfortable. You will never get a guarantee of how it will turn out. But if you want to make a real go of it… DO IT NOW.

The point? DON’T WAIT. You’ve had a win, even one that feels small and not so significant? Make sure to capitalize on it. To use it as a building block for the next thing you do. The older you get, the faster time flies. You don’t want to see it take your dreams with it as it flies by.