Turning Pro (Rookie Writer to Professional)

by Diana Black

the rookieIf what follows doesn’t resonate with you, then do whatever does. The important thing is to be writing and working on your craft every day. You’ll never take yourself seriously or be taken seriously by others if you don’t start thinking and acting like a professional.

Ideally, at any one time you should be taking actionable steps on a daily basis – with any or all of the following: stories in ‘Creative Preparation’ stage, stories ‘In Development’ – either in the vomit (first) draft stage or being rewritten and polished. And finally, stories in ‘Pitch/Marketing’ stage – you’re pitching it/them directly or researching and/or organizing to market in some way. Your daily workload will of course depend on how many you have and in what stage.

Stories in ‘Creative Preparation’ stage are ideas/concepts in rough-note form. No matter how outrageous/silly these notes might be, don’t discard them – ever – lock them in a drawer. People know you’re a writer and such is expected of writers and you are one aren’t you? They’ll not suspect you of being a serial killer but mark it ‘fiction’ if you have to. Always have a notebook handy – jot down ideas, characters, events etc. – immediately – wherever you happen to be and whenever they present themselves. You’ll think you’ll remember that stupendous idea later but chances are you won’t.

For those ‘In Development’ – aim for at least 5 – 10 pages on a daily basis. Get the ‘Table Read’/s done, once into your 3 rd or 4 th draft and put ego aside for a while. If you leave the ‘read’ ‘til its polished – you’ll think it’s ready and if you’ve had professional actors on board, they’ll have things to say. There’s also professional script coverage – pricy but if you’ve chosen wisely – the notes should be comprehensive. For both forms of feedback, listen then address the comments as you see fit. Don’t allow people to fuck with [it] to the point where it’s no longer recognizable – you had a great concept/premise that you tested on those you trust long before you put serious pen to paper – so don’t lose sight of that and serve your story faithfully and well.

For ‘Pitch/Marketing’ stories – devise a strategic plan to generate interest in and ultimately sell your creative project. To generate interest, submit it into screenwriting competitions – ones that in Stephanie Palmer’s way of thinking are highly regarded in the industry with the potential to lead to something bigger. Lots of production companies apparently use competitions as a ‘Gatekeeper’ these days. Regarding selling, don’t be disrespectful and throw your ‘gift’ out on the street. You might get lucky but if it now belongs to those who’d trash it beyond recognition – will you respect yourself in the morning? Being judicious is not being overly precious.

Develop a database/list of prospective buyers – those working in your particular genre and within the perceived budget range. Have you checked out how their previous work fared? Okay, you’ve narrowed the field down to those who appear to be professional filmmakers with a strong skill set and a professional approach – great – but can you get them to read it? Many refuse, so be polite and professional but don’t necessarily take that first “No” as the final answer – they may be just testing how determined you are. Offer them something else or express a willingness to take on writing assignments and to that end, ask whether you can send them a writing sample – they’ll know you’re professionally committed and not a ‘one-show pony’.

If they’re open to receiving a well-crafted Query Letter (QL), present it, but don’t hold your breath – pitch and move on. The actors among you know – the ‘job’ is to audition, not necessarily ‘book’ the job and the same applies here – create quality material and pitch it that is if you believe in ‘the product’ enough to put your neck out on its behalf and if so, be brave, determined and …get busy!