How to get a Hollywood career…or lost in Mongolia

It’s a long road to a script sale

It’s a long road to a script sale

When I started this blog back in 1902 or whatever, I wanted to record the major milestones on my journey to becoming a professional writer. I’ve made embarrassing mistakes, gained amazing allies, and gotten some awesome opportunities. I also discovered the one thing that made it all possible and if you’re going after a huge, crazy, out-of-touch-right-now dream, you will need buckets of it: MOMENTUM.

Momentum is defined as strength or force gained by motion, or a series of events. It is calculated by multiplying the mass of an object with its velocity. In other words, it’s the size of your goal times the energy you spend to accomplish it.

First, let’s stop calling this a journey. Seriously, just uttering that phrase will get you pantsed on the playground at screenwriter events. Instead, I call it what it really is: a compulsion.

I have to write. I have to sit down and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard every day. It’s how I process the things I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, break, love, hate, acquire, abandon, fear, covet, and dream. If I don’t take the time to churn all of that stimuli into a journal entry, script, novel chapter, or horrible haiku, then I stagnate. The wheels stop moving and I rumble to a stop…usually directly in front of the refrigerator.

Once upon a time, it took me several depressed days moving from fridge to computer, wondering why I couldn’t make anyone pay attention to, what I could only assume were, my absolutely genius scripts, until I realized that I was in a rut. I was living in New England (the apple farm part, not the quirky, full of retired famous people part) surrounded by those who thought this was an adorable hobby. They praised me to my face and rolled their eyes behind my back. Mostly, I ignored it because my family knew that while my goal may be crazy, I AM CRAZIER. They knew I’d make it.

I’ve always set really big goals. When I was in fifth grade, I started my elementary school’s first newspaper, called Take Five! (Go ahead and roll your eyes, but that was clever as hell, people.) I did it because a high schooler told me that I was too young to do anything important. That’s how most of my best personal stories start. Someone said I couldn’t pitch on my coed baseball team. So I did. Can’t do a backflip? I took gymnastics. Too young for a college course? Nope, I learned Russian. Afraid to travel outside the US? I applied to be a high school student ambassador, which lead to a night lost in the steppes of Mongolia, and THAT is a story for another day…with hand puppets and vodka. The point is that I have the will to do a lot of things other people think are insane, so the mass of my average goal is BIG.

But when I first started out, my velocity was zero, so no momentum.

At the time, I was living in New England with daily responsibilities that kept me from achieving my career goal. Or so I thought. Progress is made one shuffling step forward at a time. Some writers seem to drop into their careers like they were carried there by a guardian angel. The important words are “seem to.” Every successful writer has her tale of years spent laboring on pages that no one ever read. It isn’t easy. It isn’t a Cinderella story, despite the way most screenwriter interviews are presented. It is grunt work: reading scripts, writing your own pages, getting feedback, and rewriting your own pages. It isn’t a glamorous moment in the agent’s office as you sign that big picture deal. My first script sale negotiation lasted MONTHS. I have a friend whose project was optioned by an A-list star and that deal took over a year to finalize. And also, I hate to ruin the fantasy for you, but the paperwork can be signed online now.

But this is awesome news!

You can do the grunt work anywhere. You start by taking a look at where you are in your career plan. Do you have a career plan? It is much more than a list of goals or a business card that you got at a pitching event. It is a series of tasks that you will do, and by completing them at a steady pace, you will create that much needed velocity.

What are you waiting for? Shut the fridge. Grab a pen and write.