Screenwriting is not a profession for anyone who’s used to being paid after putting in a day’s work. Punch in/punch out. Do your 40 hours. Get a paycheck at the end of the week.
If you went to college, you put in your 4 years and you got a degree. Put in 2 or 3 more years for grad school and you get a degree. Put in however long it takes to write your dissertation and you have a Ph.D.
You put in the effort and you get a reward. Makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense is when you put in the effort and there’s no reward. Writing a spec screenplay--whether you spend 5 weeks, 8 months or 2 years--doesn’t guarantee a reward.
For some, that’s very upsetting, especially if you’re a results oriented person. Most of us are results oriented. Who wants to do anything without some remuneration? Even a college student who gets a job as an unpaid intern will have a payback down the road: experience, maybe a promotion to a paying job upon graduation, possibly a good reference. So there is a payback.
But if you take up screenwriting you must accept the fact that your results oriented work ethic doesn’t mean crap. You have entered a new world of delayed gratification. Put in the time—months, years, lots of sweat and energy—with the idea that there will be a payoff later on.
There might be. There might not. No matter how good or commercial your first screenplay is it may never earn you a penny or get you an agent. Its only purpose may be to have helped you get your feet wet as a screenwriter. Same with your second, third, fourth and fifth screenplay.
Lots of hard work, but no deals, agents or managers. Maybe access to some producers, which is something.
But with each script, you’re getting better. Most of us, myself included, after we’ve written a few screenplays can look objectively at our first or second and realize that they were at best, workmanlike. Maybe even pretty mediocre.
Delayed gratification should be your mantra.
“I will do the work and put in the time because I believe in myself and my talent. I understand that this is a marathon and it’s not fair and that some people sell the first freakin’ thing they write. I can no longer follow my results oriented attitude and must accept the fact that I will hopefully taste the honey at some point. I know that the more I write the better I’ll get and that has to be consolation enough until my payday comes.”
If you can’t abide by this way of thinking, screenwriting will be a troubling, frustrating experience.