I have been writing scripts since 2007. The first one I tried writing was to be my “Reservoir Dogs.” Cheap, simple, effective. It was called “Out of Order” and was that ever a fitting title if ever there was one. I didn’t know thing one about formatting, introducing characters, writing effective dialogue or really anything for that matter. All I wanted to do was get a story from my head and onto the page. In that sense, I succeeded.
All that mess aside, I wrote a mere 17 pages. That includes the title page. The whole reason I started writing when I did was because it was at this point in time where I enrolled in an internet-based home school program. One of the perks of this program was that every student was issued a laptop. This was a new concept to me: a portable computer. Every single computer my family’s had has been a big, bulky desktop. Any time I had an idea for a movie or a scene, I would have to try and remember it or write it down because my computer might be turned off or something. The ability to have a computer at my side was damn near mind blowing.
I wrote the pages in Word in Courier New. Sluglines and action flush left, character prompts and dialogue centered. All completely wrong, but how would I have known back then? I don’t even think I’d read an actual script at that point in time. For me back then, it was most important to get the unadulterated thought down on page as soon as possible.
My first completed project was at the start of 2010. A sitcom pilot called “Nothing Like This.” It was a fun undertaking. Naturally, I thought once I completed it, every agent in Hollywood would be dying to represent me. Ignorance is bliss they say.
So, me being the resourceful type, I utilized my library system and got as many books on querying as possible. One main book I borrowed was just a collection of literary agents. Literally. In this book, about an inch and a quarter thick, there was a mere six or seven listings for agents that represented scripts. Naturally, all of them received a query letter from me. Not a single read request.
It may sound weird, but rejection from agents is one of those things every screenwriter should have to face. As early as possible, too. It is this event that will truly test the perseverance necessary for any writer to succeed. The earlier they find out whether or not they can handle rejection, the better. It is perfectly natural after each rejection to have a small down period, because let’s face it: rejection, of any kind, sucks. You have to avoid dwelling on it for long, though. Too long, and you risk giving up entirely. Simply put, you just have to do better next time.
So how do you improve? Simple. Practice. Over the years, I read a bunch of screenwriting books, visited a ton of sites and continued writing. Thanks to practicing, I improved as a writer. I learned a lot about character development, setups and payoffs, 3-act structure, and subtlety. I’m not at a professional level yet, but with practice, I will be one day.
Over the years, the quality of writing has gone up. As has the ability to craft query letters, summaries, outlines, and effective loglines. I’ve even had a couple read requests for a few projects. That’s always an adrenaline rush when I have to prepare a script package. It’s that feeling among many others that keeps me at it.
The biggest silver lining happened about 6-9 months after my first batch of query letters were sent out. I received a rejection letter for my first project from the biggest agency in town, William Morris Endeavor. They sent it on company letterhead and it was so cool. Me, an aspiring screenwriter from the middle of Wisconsin, got a rejection letter from the biggest agency in Hollywood. I finally felt like a real writer that day.
I’ve lost count of how many letters I’ve sent out over the years. Some were returned due to the agency no longer being at that address, some were answered by a form letter, some got a handwritten note, and most went unanswered altogether. WME being the biggest agency in town, I never expected to hear back from them. But to know that the biggest agency in town sent me a quick letter rejecting my material was pretty big for me.
All I can do now is work harder. I can only get better.