Thursday, May 15, 2014

Four Words Every Writer Needs to Hear

(Note: this is an updated version of a post from several years ago. Why? Because every writer STILL needs to hear these four words...)

In 2000, while attending the Maui Writer's Conference, I had an eye-opening, life-changing experience. I had scrounged up money that was earmarked for things like house payments, food, and insurance (you know: frivolities) and had jetted halfway around the world hoping to further my career.

I had been a featured presenter at some smaller writers conferences, had a finished YA manuscript, and a screenplay that had held its own in the Nicholl and Austin film competitions. Other than some magazine articles, I had nothing of note in print. The Maui conference appealed to me because it featured panels on both screenwriting and fiction writing. And because it offered pitching sessions with Real Live Agents. And so, knowing I had much to learn (and hoping to find someone who thought I was brilliant and who signed me immediately), I went to Paradise.

I learned many things.

One of the most painful was that I had no idea how to pitch. (How fast can you say "crash and burn?" Believe me, it takes longer to say than to do!)

One of the most helpful was that the agents & film industry professionals were not interested in eating me alive. (I am eternally grateful to Alison Rosenzweig for suffering through my first-ever pitch attempt. My thoughts: "Oh my God, I'm babbling and I can't shut up! Someone please kill me now." I can only imagine hers. She let me regroup, kindly offered some suggestions, and let me practice on her. Bless her.)

But by far the most influential thing I discovered was that Someone Out There believed I would make it.

Here's what happened:

After a panel discussion with Hollywood insiders on the realities of the film business, they fielded general questions. Someone asked the inevitable "Why does Hollywood keep saying they're looking for great writing while churning out bad movies?"

(I remind you that the year 2000 saw such film releases as "Memento," "Requiem for a Dream," "X-Men," "Gladiator," "American Psycho" (which I still maintain is a comedy), "Castaway" and "Chocolat." Ok, it's true, it also inflicted "Scary Movie," "Charlie's Angels," "Me, Myself & Irene," and "Battlefield Earth" on humanity. But still: it wasn't a terrible year...)

The panelist, a VP of Production at Paramount, answered the question using the analogy of ordering ice cream to feed a group. Individual members of the group may like various flavors, but the group as a whole probably won't all agree on something extravagant like Double Chocolate Macademia Nut or Salted Caramel. And so, in the end, everyone goes with tried and true: Vanilla.

This kicked off a spirited discussion about the ills of the industry and a general trashing of the state of filmmaking.

Finally, I couldn't stand it. I stood and said that I was happy every time I went and saw a bad movie. It gave me hope. Because as long as Hollywood continues to make bad films, I find it easy to believe with all my heart that they need me.

Afterward, the Paramount bigwig tracked me down, introduced himself and shook my hand. He told me he liked what I'd said. Then he said the four words that I'd been desperate to hear:

"You will make it."

I remember very little of the rest of the conference. Four years passed before I got a book deal. I'm still working at finding the chink in the film industry's armor that will let me in. But those words, coming from someone who wasn't related to me, fueled my determination to persevere in ways that the speaker will never know.

I daresay that there is a secret to sticking with any artistic endeavor through the inevitable rejections and dry patches that accompany a creative career, and it is this: Find someone who believes in your success and who tells you that you will make it.

If you're in southwestern Michigan this summer, and looking for a community of writers who will band together to jointly support you while kicking your butt to achieve the goals you have set for yourself, I encourage you to consider joining us at the #Write2TheEnd Writer's Workshop, beginning in June. If you're not in southwestern Michigan, consider starting your own #Write2TheEnd chapter.

Even if we don't immediately achieve our goals and realize our dreams, knowing that someone out there is pulling for us to do so encourages us to make progress on them. And progress, not perfection, is the key to ultimate success.

If you're a writer, an artist, or a creative soul, and you are looking for a reason to keep on keeping on, here it is:

Keep learning.

Keep creating.

Keep growing.

Keep putting your work out there.

Never give up your dreams. And one day, you'll see --

You will make it.


Sara Best said...

I love that idea of finding some other folks who have the same target date to finish a WIP.

I'm aiming to have mine done by the end of 2010, ready to start querying in January.

I'm now inspired to go in search of others on same path.

C Bailey said...

After all the posts I've read, yours almost made me want to cry.

One of the reasons why I organized the blogfest and write my blog was for the talented people who give up because of naysayers. For all of those snide remarks, that one person makes a difference and it's been amazing how successful writers have the thought to cheer others on.

That man tracked you down. It's such a small effort on his part to have such a profound impact on yours.

I'm grateful for this post. It's exactly the kind of encouragement I hoped to see for the blogfest.

WritersBlockNZ said...

It's wonderful that you were encouraged like that. It's amazing how much effect four little words can say. Thanks for your motivating post.

Simon Kewin said...

Thanks - wonderful post and an inspiring story. I shall keep repeating that mantra to myself!

Ami Hendrickson said...

We're all in this together, aren't we? Sara, C Bailey, WritersBlockNZ, & Simon, I'm honored that you found a little inspiration from my story. Refuse to let those who say "no" dictate your dreams! Let's all determine to push onward together...