When It’s Time to Give Up

Today I had to go to Suntrust Bank and answer the question “May I ask why you are closing your account with us?”

“Because my writing business failed.”

I came to terms with this more than a year ago, but saying it out loud brought tears to my eyes. I’ve put off closing my business account for several months, but I can no longer postpone the inevitable because they will soon be charging a new $10.00 per month fee for bank balances below $1000. I had $2.82 in mine.

I knew there was no guarantee of success when I started the business, but it’s hard to look back on the optimism I once had now that I see how this particular story has ended. It certainly wasn’t what I had in mind. I wanted to have a copywriting business – writing things like brochures, website copy, newsletters, direct mailings, flyers, and the like. Something I could do from home to try to earn money while I was home with two young children. I worked outside the home two days a week at a law firm, but my husband and I desperately need more income. Like so many families, we could not afford the daycare so that I could work full time.

I invested a huge amount of time, money, and energy in trying to get the business going. I attended networking meetings throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C. The meetings in Washington were particularly brutal – between the drive time, the Metro, and networking, I would spend 8-9 hours for a 2-hour meeting. I did this several times a month – sometimes twice in one week, all while rising early in the morning to either tend to the kids or to go to work. I invested money in printing up my own brochures and postage to mail out postcards for my business. I paid meeting fees, membership dues, Metro fees, office supplies, and exorbitant gas prices. I drafted endless writing samples and put up a website. I gave out my business card and got quite a collection of others in return.

Though I knew there was no guarantee of success, I believed in myself. For years I sent out my own direct mailings – in the form of query letters for my screenplays. Several producers responded and told me my query letter was the best they had ever received (over 50,000 screenplays are registered with the WGA every year. These producers get A LOT of query letters). One producer called me at home to tell me that (alas, her production company dealt only with reality programming, so she couldn’t take my script). Yet another was going to send me my return postcard, but she decided it was so clever that she wanted to keep it. She called me to request my script, rather than relinquish the card. Two production companies told me that their policy was to not read unsolicited screenplays, but they would read my script anyway because of my letter. Two weeks ago, a producer contacted me and said that even though the script doesn’t really sound right for him, he could not bring himself to throw my query letter away. He had held onto my letter for years. He requested a copy of the script.

In 2008, I received only one paying job. I was hired to develop a concept and write an educational video for attorneys for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland. The video won a First Prize Gold Peer Award from the Television, Internet, and Video Association (TIVA) of Washington, D.C.

I do believe I have some degree of talent – enough to be a good advertising copywriter. After all, producers were actually KEEPING my query letters. But it was not to be. Lots of people at meetings said “we’ll call you”. Few did. One woman in particular told me she really needed copywriting for her website and she wanted to meet for coffee the next week to discuss it. I never heard from her. My own calls went unreturned. I’m still pissed about that.

So when do you give up? Would my business have succeeded if I just hung on a bit longer? Maybe. But time goes on. Debt goes up. Postage goes up. My kids are in school full time and now I have a full time job. I suppose it doesn’t make sense to keep trying anymore.

I have to accept that it simply didn’t work.

One of the few things I hate about my day job – like most day jobs – are the stupid hours. I would love to come in very early in the morning to do my work so I can be home in time to get the kids off the bus. Instead, like most workers, I get in my car at the same time in the morning and leave at the same time as everyone else. That way, we’re ALL stuck in traffic at the same time. Our tempers our short with lots of time and human and car energy wasted. If I worked from home as a copywriter, this wouldn’t happen. I’d be home with my kids. I wouldn’t have my pay docked for two weeks in a row for being late due to traffic. I wouldn’t have to eat dinner with my kids at nearly 7pm.

BUT I WON’T EVER HAVE TO WONDER WHAT IF.

Sometimes, when I’m trapped in traffic, I catch myself thinking – I should try to work from home. Then it all comes flooding back. Oh yeah. I tried that.

I tried that.

You better believe I tried that. I gave it all I had. I don’t kick myself for being stuck in traffic because I have to work a day job with the same hours as the rest of the planet. It’s not my fault, because I did everything I could to make things different for myself and for my family.

It’s time to let go of the idea of a writing business. Was it the economy? Was I really no good? Was there just no market? I don’t know. Probably never will.

I’ll continue to write novels and screenplays, which I never did for the money. I knew that success in that type of writing was a very, very long shot. I don’t do that kind of writing for money or for success. I’ve been writing for 16 years so far and haven’t ever given up. There was not one single moment in 16 years when I ever wanted to walk away.

I write stories because that’s who I am. I just checked my pulse. My heart is still beating. So it’s not time to give up on that dream just yet.

The Review is IN

Feedback is the combined scores and remarks from 2 judges.
On a scale of 1-10, 1= poor, 10= excellent.

Writing Essentials = 9

Spelling, grammar, punctuation = 10
A low score indicates that there are enough errors and typos to possibly affect the overall impression your script makes. Be sure to proofread carefully. You may benefit from having a style guide handy as you work, such as Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (available here: http://tinyurl.com/swstyle ) or Modern American Usage (available here: http://tinyurl.com/amerusage ).

Notes = The screenplay has been very well proofread. No typos/errors were noticed or distracted from the read. Well done!

Format = 9
A low score indicates that the author should consult a format guide. We recommend “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier (available here: http://tinyurl.com/trottierbible ).

Notes = The scene format is accurate and professional. However, be sure to capitalize the characters’ names when they are first introduced. On page 3, “Henry Vaughn, Sr.” should in CAPS. On page 5, “Charles ‘Tuna’ Manero” should be in CAPS, and so on for any new character throughout the script.

Narrative = 10
This score reflects the degree in which the author paints pictures with words concisely and creates an appropriate/effective tone for the script.

Avoid overly verbose narrative that resembles a novel vs. a screenplay. Script narrative is concise and to the point, while being vivid at the same time. Study the pros to see how complex imagery is expressed in short, punchy sentences.

Notes = The writer is adept at describing the characters with strong visuals while remaining concise. The narrative that introduces Henry provides a vivid picture of his character with descriptive phrases such as “man’s man” and “goofball show-off”. Each characters’ mannerisms are also well-conveyed, especially the difference between Sam’s slightly cold demeanor and Thomas’s friendly one. The locations and settings are adequately described as well.

Scene construction, placement, and rhythm = 8
This score reflects the degree in which the author exhibits a sense of rhythm and timing. Whether the scenes “come in late and leave early” – letting the audience catch up or infer what is going on, rather than over-explaining and rehashing moments/ideas. It reflects the effectiveness of the script’s pacing.

Notes = The first scenes in Act One move briskly, but the scene on pages 20-26 is a bit too lengthy. Although it’s good to show that Henry is convinced the pill made him gay, Henry and Sam’s conversation is unnecessarily repetitive. Sam’s insistence that the pill has nothing to do with Henry’s new attraction to men should be stated quickly, thus getting to the point of the scene (Sam’s invitation for Henry to join Sam and his boyfriend at the Hippo). It’s also problematic that as the script progresses, the scenes tend to get shorter. This should be reversed — the scenes in Act Three can be slightly longer than those in the first two acts.

Dialogue = 9

Natural/realistic dialogue = 10
This score reflects the author’s ability to create dialogue that has the simple ring of truth. Screenplay dialogue should sound like eavesdropping on real life, with the complex and messy patterns of speech we hear every day. A low score indicates that the dialogue was stilted, wooden, formal, or overly verbose.

Notes = The characters’ conversations have a natural cadence to them. The dialogue sounds realistically casual, especially when Henry and his teammates talk to each other. Henry’s initial conversations with Sam and Thomas have a believable awkward quality as Henry involuntarily insults them or makes uncomfortable comments about homosexuality.

Vibrant/fresh/original = 8

Creating a distinctive voice for each character = 9
Be sure to use dialogue as a means of characterization. For example, a bully might interrupt everyone all the time whereas a shy person might speak in short, mumbled sentences. Be sure to give each character their own quirks, rhythms and speech patterns that illuminate something about who they are on the inside. No two characters should sound exactly alike.

Notes = Henry’s personality is apparent in his dialogue, and it’s evident that life has been fairly easy for him as a ballplayer. The writer does a good job of conveying Henry’s passion for singing. We learn more about Henry’s character as he slowly lets his guard down and begins to express his hopes and dreams to his friends and Hank.

Sam and Thomas have very well-written dialogue because we are able to tell which character is speaking even without looking at their character heading. Sam’s dialogue is sarcastic while Thomas veers towards a kinder approach.

Alice’s dialogue could use more nuance. Apart from her love of stand-up comedy, we don’t learn much about Alice via her dialogue. Her line about getting implants is funny, but Alice loses some of this sharpness as the plot progresses. It’d be better for Alice to retain this straightforward, no-nonsense humor because then she’d be able to put Henry’s “problem” into perspective when he begins to whine too much.

Avoiding overt exposition = 10
Be sure to avoid exposition in dialogue. Rather than explaining things outright, find more creative ways to impart information. We recommend that all authors read their work aloud with a friend or fellow writer. Any lines that sound more like pronouncements for the audience’s sake should be removed or reworked to sound more natural. Recommended reading: “Creating Characters: Let Them Whisper Their Secrets” by Marisa D’Vari (available here: http://tinyurl.com/dvaridialogue ).

Notes = The writer does an excellent job of avoiding overt exposition. Information is conveyed in a natural manner during the characters’ conversations.

Characters = 9

How compelling is the protagonist (scale of 1-10) = 9

Notes = Henry’s asthma is a good way to show his self-consciousness and fear that his teammates may discover his secret. It makes us realize that if Henry is so scared for any of his teammates or fans to find out about his health issue, he’s a hundred times more fearful for anyone to think he might be gay. Although Henry’s initial behavior around Sam is insulting, Henry becomes a likeable character as he bonds with Sam and Thomas.

Even though Henry ends up not being gay, the writer might still explore the idea of his “overcompensation” regarding women. Consider further connecting this to the fact that he has long buried his true dreams. Also, there might be more to show why Henry finally realizes that Alice is a great woman.

Is the character arc well-rendered = 9
Be sure to give your lead character a strong arc illustrating how their journey has changed them internally from the beginning of the story to the end. These changes should be incremental, logical based on the character’s experiences, and illustrated through behavior. Giving your character a strong arc enhances the overall impact the story will have on the reader/audience.

Notes = Henry’s struggles are set up well and we see that he’s headed for an emotional upheaval. Although Henry sees the happy couples around him at the Gay Pride Parade, his consummation with Thomas seems a bit rushed. There should be a few more scenes before this that show Henry and Thomas bonding, and Henry feeling more comfortable overall with the idea of being gay. Some of these scenes could also help to show Henry building the courage to perform.

Vivid and distinctive supporting roles = 10

Notes = The writer does a good job of giving each supporting character a separate personality. It’s a nice surprise that Thomas works in the medical field with Sam, since this connects their two characters in career as well as friendship. Henry’s teammates also have distinct personalities, exemplified by their various reactions to one of their teammates, and perhaps Henry, possibly being gay. Kyle is intolerant from the start, while Tuna is more accepting, especially when he tells Henry “I don’t care, you know” (page 80). It’s a fitting turn of events that Tuna is the one who ends up coming out.

Recommended reading:
Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger (available here: http://tinyurl.com/segercharacters ).

Plot = 8

Rate how engaging or engrossing the overall concept is = 8
Rate how well defined the plotpoints and Act breaks are = 9
Act One, how well are the characters and conflicts set up = 9
Act Two, does tension mount? Is the midpoint effective = 8
Act Three, is the conclusion emotionally satisfying = 8

Screenplays should have 3 clear Act breaks with plotpoints that fall at specific intervals.

No matter what genre you’re working in, applying these techniques will help give your script a more engrossing overall dramatic arc. Recommended reading: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (available here: http://tinyurl.com/svthecat) or Story by Robert McKee (available here: http://tinyurl.com/storymckee ).
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Notes = The writer does a good job of setting up the plot quickly and immediately grabbing interest. Henry and his teammates’ homophobia is well-conveyed in the brief opening scenes of the script. It’s endearing to see Henry become comfortable around Thomas and Sam. Although we are sad that Henry and Thomas do not end up together, it’s evident that the experience has made Henry a better person.

Although the writer shows that Henry strives to be “macho” in his baseball career, the threat of his being gay needs to produce more tension for his sports career. Some fans may be bothered, but there are many public figures who are “out” and still respected. The idea that Henry may be gay would be more suspenseful if he had a job where his anti-homosexual viewpoints are what make him popular or successful (such as a politician). Then Henry would really see how his opinions affect and hurt others. We aren’t suggesting changing his career, but find ways to up the tension around this issue in his profession, keeping in mind that audiences and fans are increasingly comfortable with (or at least less outwardly bothered by) gay celebrities.

On page 18, Henry becomes anxious when he realizes that he finds each of his teammates attractive while they’re exercising. It may push the bounds of believability that he would be aroused by every one of them. This makes it seem as though gay men have no particular preference or type, that they’re attracted to any man they see. It’d be better if Henry discovers himself staring at certain men, but not every man. It might even be funny to see which ones are a turn off to him.

Be careful to avoid a preachy tone. When Henry upsets Sam and Thomas by saying that he doesn’t “associate with that kind”, the subsequent scene between Henry and Thomas (pages 71-74) sounds too much like a “be true to yourself” lesson as opposed to a scene where Henry and Thomas continue to get to know each other. The second half of the scene is better when Henry expresses his desire to be on stage Try to rework the scene to focus more on this aspect as well as Henry’s apology.

There are two engaging subplots that might be further developed — Henry’s relationships with Alice and Hank. Since Alice ends up being Henry’s love interest, the writer could show a stronger bond between Henry and Alice in Acts Two and Three. Even though Henry is “temporarily gay”, there could still be flirtation and attraction between the two characters (or at least one-sided, on Alice’s part). Additionally, Henry and Hank’s entire relationship is over the telephone — it’s not clear whether this is because Hank doesn’t live nearby or because they simply are not emotionally close. But it’d be good to have at least one or two scenes where they address each other face to face.

Originality = 8

Author exhibits a fresh and original style = 8
Characters and situations are unique = 8
Author creates innovative visual imagery = 9
Rate the level of lasting impression the story leaves = 8

Notes = The idea that Henry comes to terms with homosexuality without actually being gay makes the plot original and engaging, because most scripts with similar storylines contain a protagonist who is gay. In this script, it’s nice that the writer shows it really doesn’t matter whether someone is gay or not — it’s tolerance that matters most. However, the script doesn’t break new ground regarding the script’s gay characters, since most of the scenes revolve around a drag club, a Gay Pride Parade, etc. To make the script stand out a bit more, why not have Sam and Thomas invite Henry to join them for a sports game or movie — something mundane that Henry already enjoys, which would surprise him.

Marketability = 9

The script has an easily defined hook (10 = yes, 1 = no) = 10
Script has potential to attract top talent to the roles = 9
Has a target audience = 8
Has potential in a particular market = 8

An excellent resource on this topic is Michael Hauge’s Writing Screenplays That Sell (available here: http://tinyurl.com/haugesell.
You might also be interested in a directory of Hollywood contacts that you can query once you’re ready to start marketing the script: http://www.3dollarhollywooddirectory.com/. )

Notes = The screenplay is easy to pitch and summarize, and comedies are always a marketable genre. Although the script is lighthearted, it does touch on some issues that could be a bit controversial — can someone be “temporarily” gay? This may bring up various debates about whether homosexuality is innate or can be altered, which an agent or producer might shy away from for a mainstream film. But the good-natured humor and style of the piece will likely overcome these qualms.

Thank you very much for sharing your screenplay with Script Savvy. We hope the feedback and recommended reading will be helpful in moving your work forward.

Writing Essentials = 9
Dialogue = 9
Characters = 9
Plot = 8
Originality = 8
Marketability = 9

TOTAL SCORE = 52

NOT a good way to start the day

Dear Linda,

We are getting ready to announce the July Contest results on the website, but before we do I wanted to give you an update on your feedback.

All scripts for July have been read and judged, but we are still in the process of combining, proofing, and sending feedback. We hope to finish this process within a week.

As you may know, we experienced some staff turnover last month that resulted in getting behind schedule for June. Once we fall behind, it is very difficult to catch up since there are no breaks between each contest. But rest assured we are doing everything we can to get caught up for this month and onward.

We sincerely apologize for the delay, and are working very hard to get your feedback to you as soon as possible. Your patience and understanding is truly appreciated.

Your participation in the contest is very valuable to us and we want to return quality feedback that will truly be of help to you. Please bear with us as we work through this challenging time.

Sincerely,
Donna White, Coordinator

www.ScriptSavvy.net

HERE’S AN IDEA – let’s not wait until the deadline PASSES and then say “Oh by the way, we’re not gonna make the SECOND deadline that we promised you after we missed the first one. Our bad.”

They did announce the winners. I’m not one of them. I’m not surprised. But I am shocked at how hard this hit me. I haven’t been thinking too much about this review, but I guess I was more stressed out it than I thought. And I believed them when they said they would meet this deadline. I was very keyed up and stressed out when I got out of bed at 5am because, good or bad, I EXPECTED MY REVIEW.

Finding out I DIDN’T WIN and not getting the feedback makes me more scared than ever. I already sent this script – without paying the extra feedback fee, last year and I didn’t win then, so I shouldn’t be suprised. I’m not surprised. But it still hurts.

This contest is monthly one and usually has 150 -175 submissions with 4 winners.

Suddenly, all the doubts and anxieties come slamming back.

If I can’t beat 175 writers, how will I ever beat the 50,000 other writers who register scripts with the WGA every year?

Only another Wannabe can truly understand how I feel right now. Too bad I don’t know any.

The smell of rejection in the morning

Woke up this Labor Day morning to a rejection note in my inbox. (I actually got a script rejection on Thanksgiving once, so it could be worse).

It was a simple rejection – a “thanks but no thanks” from an agent for my novel. I was disappointed, of course. Oddly, sometimes a rejection just spurs me to try harder rather than just getting me down. This was one of those times. Right now, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, researching more agent names to query. Nice to have the day off so I can do this.

No news on script reviews yet. Script Savvy contest is running late – now they’re saying feedback and contest results to be announced Sept 6 by midnight pacific time – so I may have my review in my inbox in the morning. We’ll see.