Who doesn’t want to live the dream and turn professional as screenwriter? The question is, how do you turn professional in a career where the pathway to success is so hazy?
In the Writers Foundation Certificate and Write and Sell The HOT Script classes I teach, the most common question is” ‘How do I turn professional as a screenwriter?”
Any goal in life is easier when you have a strategy rooted in the successful stories of others.
How To Turn Professional As Screenwriter – 5 Tips
Earning money as a writer is an arduous process. Not only has the entire publishing world been turned upside-down by new digital distribution from the internet giants – but the way writers are paid has changed.
None of these five tips will actually guarantee you anything. But if nothing else they will show you how the industry works. You can then decide if writing for the screen suits your taste.
Step 1: Turn professional as screenwriter: Get an internship
There’s only so much you can learn about screenwriting, or the film industry at school. This is why I designed our internship programme here at Raindance with a serious outcome in mind. Namely, can our many interns learn any life skills that will help them moving forward.
As a writer – getting an internship in a film company can have many rewards. Most interns start off doing script coverage. If they’re lucky they then move up the ladder into editing and then development. None of these jobs are well-paid. But they are professional.
Internships even unpaid teach you something else: How much of a workload you can handle. And how you can deal with personal and work stress at the same time. Learning how to budget you time as well as your money is an invaluable lesson.
Tip: Internships show you the ropes. You’ll learn how the industry works. In the beginning you will make coffee and run errands. But you will learn how to ask questions of the sorts of people who will help you in your career. And you will make great contacts.
Step 2: Turn professional as screenwriter: Write
Writers write. full stop. If you aren’t writing every day you really have no reason to call yourself a writer.
Here’s something I’ve noticed. Often writers will so so attached to a project it becomes an obsession. It’s all they work on – polishing and rewriting forever. Being so embedded in a project means there isn’t any room for other ideas. remember the golden rule of writing: Scripts are never finished. They are abandoned. Learn when to move on. And write and write and write.
Tip: there are so many different formats today: shorts, series, documentary, corporate, adverts and of course feature films. Write and write. Show you as prolific and versatile.
Step 3: Turn professional as screenwriter: Network Network Network
The film industry is a people industry. It’s not what you know, it’s whom. Networking can take up a whole lot of time. Organisations like Raindance have monthly networking sessions in their hubs in London, Berlin, Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York.
There is another excellent venture about to launch called CollabWriters. This is designed to connect writers. There ambition is to short circuit the route to publishers and development executives. Please take a moment and check out CollabWriters.
Attending a networking session can be intimidating. Have a look at this article: Networking tips for introverts.
Step 4: Turn professional as screenwriter: Enter contests
Entering contests is great way to get noticed. And there are a ton of contests out there. Before you enter a script writing competition, here are a few pointers to consider:
First and foremost, ask who the judges are. You are looking for competitions where producers and development executives are reviewing submissions.
Most ask for submission fees. It’s normal for competition organisers to ask for modest submission fees. Avoid the ones with hefty fees. Those competitions are usually designed to line the pockets of the organisers!
Ask yourself where past winners have leveraged their successes. Try to limit yourself to competitions organised by organisations with proven track records. Ask yourself if script competitions are really of any use.
Here are a list of worthwhile competitions:
Tip: Not all contests are created equal. Research, spend wisely, and be careful.
Step 5: Turn professional as screenwriter: Self Publish
I grew up on a dairy farm. My parents used to sell their wares at the farm gate. Nothing should give a budding writer a bigger thrill than self-publishing. This used to be the dirty word in publishing circles – it was called vanity publishing. But it’s all changed now. [again where Collab Writers comes in].
Consider the case of Amanda Hocking – a lowly paid senior people’s care assistant in Minnesota – who wrote. And who wrote a lot: A dozen and a half novels which were rejected by every single publisher in America. She had a shoebox full of their rejection letters. One day she heard of a Jim Henson convention an 8 hour drive away in Chicago. She had the time, but not the $300 (£180) for fuel. So she slapped one of her rejected novels onto Amazon figuring she had enough relatives and friends to buy a copy of her book. To her amazement she sold $20,000 worth. When she got back she put all of her books onto Amazon and has now sold several million copies! Read a 2014 interview with Amanda Hocking here.
It’s the same for screenwriters as it is for authors: Take control of your destiny and make your own movies. And then self-distribute them. Sooner or later you will make money. ad when that happens you can call yourself a professional!
There is nothing particularly easy or straight forward about the creative industries. This doesn’t mean your dream of becoming a professional writer is hopeless. It’s just hard work. And even as you climb up the ladder, remember that there is a certain satisfaction in creative endeavour that is unparalleled in other professions.
For my money, probably the best advice on writing professionally comes from Neil Gaiman: