Writers, by nature, are an optimistic folk; don’t let the hard-drinking, depressive reputation fool you. Writers aren’t depressed, why would they be? They have one of the few occupations that are pants-optional. The drinking part, yeah, that’s true. But we’re happy, pantsless drunks… the best kind.
So one day – optimistic, pantsless, drink firmly in hand – I asked a group of screenwriters on Twitter if it mattered what I wrote about in my first feature-length screenplay. Should I focus on a genre that sold well in the spec market, such as comedy? Should I ensure my main character was a white male, which would make the script easier to sell than a non-white male or a female lead? In essence, should I listen to the chatter about what sells and what doesn’t?
And that’s when this nugget of advice came my way from screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe. Geoff said, it doesn’t matter what you write about because your first screenplay will most likely blow.
Dear God, I almost spilled my drink.
Did he just say, my screenplay, which I hadn’t even written yet, was going to blow?
Well, that didn’t sound optimistic.
I took a long swig from my martini and thought about all the screenwriting books I’d read, the full semester of Script Analysis I’d taken and the countless conversations I’d had about structure and character and story. I then realized two things: 1) I still had no idea how to write a screenplay and; 2) the goal for my first screenplay should be to learn how to write a screenplay.
That was it, so simple. Geoff had set me free.
Not free from putting in the time and the sweat to write the screenplay. Not free from gathering feedback on my work and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Not even free from caring so much my heart will break if I can’t make this script sing. But free from giving a damn about what anyone else believes is a worthy topic or a worthy person to write about.
The beauty of being a novice is I don’t have to worry about making money from this script or where it will fit into the market. This is my time to take pleasure in the process of writing and creating and learning. It would be a shame to miss out on the freedom of being a student by being overly concerned with how I’m going to go pro.
Geoff has since told me I should never write to market trends and should always write about the people and the stories that drive me to create my best work. This seems like solid advice and I’ll chew on it… but right now, I have a screenplay to write. And to finish.
One final point, lest you think I’m setting off now to write a really shitty screenplay and love it, don’t forget I said writers are eternal optimists. As much as I truly believe Geoff’s words, as much as I’m going to use his advice to spur me on to working harder and with more determination, I can’t help but keep in mind that he said my first screenplay will “most likely” blow. Because the flipside is, there’s still a tiny chance that my screenplay will totally fucking rock.