Most writers who’ve “made it” won’t sugarcoat the facts: earning a living as a screenwriter is hard. It takes talent. It takes work. And maybe most importantly, it takes standing up when you’ve been knocked down … over, and over, and over again. But the reward? It’s oh-so-worth it to be able to do what you love for a living.
We had the pleasure of meeting screenwriter, playwright, producer and director Dale Griffiths Stamos at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. She’s also a dramatic writing teacher, so she sees students aspiring to live their passion every day. She has some sound advice for them, and for you, writer.
Proceed with Caution, but Proceed if You Must
“What do I tell screenwriters? I tend to tell them that it’s tough. But I tell all writers that. I tell all writers that you should not write unless you have to write.”
Writers who choose to pursue screenwriting would often describe it as their calling, not necessarily their career choice. There are more writers who want to be paid than there are paid writers, so don’t do it for the money. Do it because it’s your unique gift, and you can’t imagine doing anything else. Write from your heart. Write what you know. Write because you have something to say.
Learn the Craft
“You have to learn the craft. Screenwriters think that it’s a magical thing, that if you have the talent, therefore you make it happen. But talent without craft is nothing.”
A traditional screenplay follows a very stringent format. Learn it. Then learn what makes a story move, what makes it stick, and what makes it impactful to an audience. One of the best ways to learn, of course, is by reading screenplays. Pick some of your favorite films or TV shows, and study those scripts.
Griffiths Stamos also recommends some books that helped her early in her writing career, including Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and Screenplay by Syd Field.
Grow Thick Skin
“It’s not an easy business. It is not for the weak-hearted.”
You will get tough feedback. You will probably meet people who aren’t all that nice to you. And people who are more powerful than you may try to take your art and turn it into something that is so not you. Be ready for the tough days, so you can celebrate the great days. There may be fewer of the latter but learn to celebrate the small stuff. To even enter this business is brave, and you should pat yourself on the back every day for pursuing your passion. No one will do this for you, so learn to prop yourself up.
“… persistence and marketing yourself, and getting out there, and talking to people, and getting to know people and making connections, all of this is part of the game. You cannot sit alone in a room somewhere and think it’s going to happen, because that’s not how it happens … and the standard way of getting an agent is NOT the only way.”
In this internet era, it is easier than ever to connect with like-minded people. Find your tribe of writers, whether virtual or in-person. Share your scripts with friends and family. Attend festivals and enter contests. A strong social media presence could also help, as we’ve seen with the recent #wgastaffingboost campaign.
Write, Write, Write
“I like to write in my office … I go in there at nine in the morning, and sometimes I don’t come out until nine at night. I love working.”
Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones, and your first couple of scripts will be fantastic and flow easily. But even if they’re terrible, you WILL learn a lot about your style, your needs, your strengths, your weaknesses, and your process by failing over and over again. These are lessons that only come with practice, so write as often as you can.
Approach writing a few different ways until it clicks. There’s no better feeling than looking at the clock and realizing hours have passed and pages are piling up. If the opposite it true for you, and time is passing with no progress, do your best to keep writing, one word at a time. Finish! And avoid letting your editor in until you’re ready to revise.
So many of these tips for aspiring screenwriters will be made easier and more fun once we launch the SoCreate Screenwriting Platform. We truly believe we’ll see more people choosing to write, enjoying the process, and sharing their unique voice with the world.
Until then, I do hope that if writing makes you happy, you choose to do it no matter the challenges. Writers make the world go ‘round,
Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach