Today’s follow up comes from a reader who asked a question on my imdb column, which somehow never got copied over to this website.
Yes, for the record, I’m aware that this “Follow Up” feature has become self-congratulatory. If it’s any consolation, I hate myself. (Not really.)
The original Q and A went like this:
That feeling where you sink low in the stomach and begin to doubt the really great thirty pages that leaked out of your head -Â which eventually leads to utter disappointment in yourself, your talent, your words. That’s good right?
I know the old “Don’t give up” or “Give it time” advice. But tell me from your personal experience how you get through those famine times in writing.
— Carey O. Malloy
At a workshop last week, one writer said her trick to getting through these bleak times started before she even began working on a project. She would write a half-page letter to herself about why she was excited about the project. Then she’d take this letter and seal it away. Hopefully, she’d never need to look at it again. But if she hit hopeless despair, she could rip that envelope open and be re-inspired.
It’s a smart idea. Unfortunately, it does nothing for you, Carey, right-here-right-now, with no hope, no confidence, and no damn letter to inspire you.
Self-doubt is essentially an argument with yourself, and it’s impossible to win a battle when you’re fighting both sides. So concede defeat and move on to the real questions: Do your thirty pages really suck? What changed that led you away from thinking they were great? Do you really know what the movie is that you’re trying to write?
This last question is usually the killer. I’ve gotten lost in scripts many times, and had to throw out material I really loved but that simply wasn’t part of the movie I was trying to make. It was too slapstick, too showy, too Ivory-Merchant or too Bruckheimer for the project. But I realized something amazing: Nothing ever really goes away. You’ll re-use or re-invent things, sometimes without being aware of it.
The short film script that begat Go was in turn begat (begotten?) by an aborted modernization of “Alice in Wonderland.” I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I was using a lot of my ideas for Alice in it. Later, I wrote a damn cool split-screen action sequence for Charlie’s Angels that didn’t survive, but as God is my witness, one day it shall be filmed.
I guess my best advice for grappling with self-doubt is to reassure you that every script has its crisis point in the birthing process, before a certain critical mass is achieved and it comes out wet and shiny and crying. If a certain scene is troubling you, skip over it and tackle something further ahead. If the story is getting confused, take a break and outline the scenes. Ask hard questions of the script and the characters, but lighten up on yourself. You’re only human, and they’re only paper.
Here’s the follow-up, more than six years later.
You answered a question of mine WAY back in July of 2000 on IMDb. Here’s the link.
I lived in Nashville then, and at 22, had just decided that year to combine my one real talent, writing, with my insatiable love of films. (Apparently I had also decided to use my middle initial. Go figure.)
So in 2004, armed with a spec that was fueling opportunities to rewrite other people’s specs, I moved to Los Angeles. It took a couple of years, I worked jobs that had nothing to do with writing, as new Angelenos are wont to do, and in April a good friend (and an ex-agent) asked if she could make some calls around town on my behalf concerning my spec (which had basically been a drink coaster for a year and a half.) I said, uh sure.
A week later it sold. She cold-called a big company about a script and a writer no one had heard of because she dug the script and wanted to be a part of it. I had zero representation, no management, no professional guidance really, just that nagging instinct that storytelling is what I’m here for, and someone who believed in my writing.
The project’s in active development, much to the surprise and excitement of just about everyone involved.
And because of that deal, I pitched and met and pitched and met and I’m now adapting a comic book for one of the Big Five.
Less than six months ago, my life started down the road to becoming what I sometimes thought it could be. And it simply came down to a combination of an honest-to-goodness NEED and ability to write, getting people to believe in what you do and wanting to go to bat for you, but mostly, getting the best you have on that page.
Back then I emailed you because starting out I wondered, is this normal? What is this? This sinking, desperate feeling? And of course, now, I know it’s normal. I know what it is. It’s the critic, it’s the “realist,” it’s the southern upbringing telling me that making movies in Hollywood is a fairy tale. Or it’s a problem with the script.
I had to learn the difference between self-doubt and a bad idea. And I think reading your response first helped me realize there was a difference. But if I hadn’t asked, if I hadn’t sort of reached out to someone who I knew I could trust professionally, a guy I knew had been there, who knows…
I like to think I would’ve still pushed through, but asking then, helped get me here now, and I’m grateful for the nudge.
Thanks, Carey Malloy