Writing is hard. It's hard as balls. It's a gut punch, a charlie horse, a migraine. Writing is a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, but without the side-effect of getting drunk.
And sometimes, ever so briefly, there is vindication.
Before we go on, let me address a few things. If you call yourself a writer, you need to be prepared for some harsh truths. I'm living them all, and I can tell it is survivable.
- You will face utter rejection of your ideas, your voice, and your ability to contribute.
- You will be told, time and again, that you shouldn't write a certain style or genre.
- You will fail, and fail utterly, to impress a group of strangers.
- You will hear and read horrible things about your work, and yourself, because the Internet is Hell.
- You will write things you absolutely hate.
- You will write things you love like children, only to be told they are garbage.
- You will write things you love like children, only to realize a few months later than they were garbage fires in written form.
You will experience all this and more in the wild, party-all-night lifestyle of the Writer. In fact, the torture you impose upon yourself will be much worse than anything your critics can throw at you. I've met very few writers that can say, without a hint of sarcasm, that they shit out gold on the daily. Most will admit that this is a grind at times. That's okay. If you want to work as a writer, then writing is your job. Sometimes it WILL be a grind.
And then, on occasion, you will get recognition. And it will be glorious.
Okay, now what comes next may sound like a brag. I don't mean it to be. I'm trying to get across a point about working hard and earning reward. If you need to roll your eyes, I understand.
For the past few years, I've worked with an incredibly talented group of filmmakers at Go Go Guppie Productions. We've created 5 short films, each more inventive and challenging than the last. All of this has been for the 48 Hour Film Project, a nation-wide program that pits local filmmakers against one another in unarmed film combat.
Last night, we took home some fancy awards. Among them were Runner Up for Best Film (out of 30 teams), Best Actress (the incredible Sherry Berg), and Best Writing.
As a writer, there are few things as powerful as recognition. I'll admit, there were times I've watched a film and thought: I could write that better. It's easy to play Sofa Screenwriter. It's a lot harder when your work is actually going to be onscreen. It's a lot harder when the voice in your head doesn't quite match the actor's portrayal, or vice versa. It's a lot harder when you've got five hours at most to write, because you need to get at least an hour of sleep before you start shooting.
For me, winning Best Writing for our film justifies me continuing down this path a little longer.
Okay, that sounds a little defeatist. I'm not saying that, had I lost, I would have walked away from writing forever. This is how I find my happy place, so you all are stuck with my nonsensical wordage for life. But a writer's life is lonely. It's a lot of staring at a blank screen while a blinking cursor mocks your choices.
Recognition is a powerful reminder that you've improved. That you are understanding your craft. It is not a medal that says "You're on top forever." It is a benchmark. At this moment, in this instance, at this location, you did a good job."
I would be remiss (re: an asshole) not to mention the stellar writing of every other film in the competition. With rare exception, these are not amateur filmmakers or hobbyists. Many of our competitors are professionals in the entertainment industry. To be elevated to the status of a peer, even for a day, is powerful. It's a motivator that doesn't wear off easy.
Now, why am I writing about this? I promise, it was not to brag.
YOU, the writer reading this column, need to compete. Not specifically in the 48HFP. You need to find a competition that suits your style and voice and compete. Often. As often as you can manage.
Is there a short story contest in your home town? Write for it.
Is there a film contest you can enter? Write for it.
Is there an online contest for writing the best tweet? You know what to do.
It's not even about your career (although these help). This is about boosting your confidence as a writer. It's about learning to hit deadlines, to meet criteria, and to collaborate with others (depending on the contest).
And, as you work hard and get better, it's about putting a "W" on the board. If you keep at it, and practice at writing, you will win. It can take time, and patience is a virtue I know we all lack, but you can do this.
Remember: Always be writing. There's an award out there with a blank spot where someone will write in your name in Sharpie. Go get it.