Austin Screenwriters Conference: Man-up Edition
While attending the Austin Screenwriters Conference one of the people I spoke with was a fellow aspiring screenwriter and blogger. He told me that he stopped blogging because he thought that industry people might see it and notice that he's been at it for over five years. In his mind, that span of time showed how long he's been at it without "making it". That somehow it indicated that his shelf life as a screenwriter had already passed, that he'd be viewed as stale in some way. Having yet to have "made it" I can't really offer any insight to the validity of this thinking. All I know is who I am and what I do. And what I do, for better or worse, is let it hang out. We all have our secrets and I'm no exception, but I can safely say that my secret drawer is smaller than most, a sock drawer at best. That's the long, circuitous way of prefacing . . .
I've never felt like more of a failure and poser as I did before arriving in Austin this year. My latest script, the one I was so high on, the one that would cause Glenn Beck and Obama to embrace as knowing brothers crashed and burned in both of the major screenwriting contests. Even though I know that all contests are subjective crap shoots. Even though I know that depending on these contests for validation is a recipe for disaster. Even though I know that relying on them to get you some sort of traction is just shy of winning the lottery I still looked to them as some sort of yard stick. I felt my talent had grown since writing my football drama (which might have its flaws but after talking with some football-minded strangers I came away more confident than ever that if I could get the right person in a room they'd believe in the idea, but I digress) and I deserved some recognition damn it. Instead I was left to wallow in a pool of my own uncertainty which, as it turns out, is fed by a bottomless spring of self-loathing and doubt.
At Austin I was greeted by what now are old friends, friends that I see but once a year but are friends nonetheless. It's always a joy to hoist a bottle of Shiner with them and revel in the moment. This year was a lean year, and there were fewer there than I'd have liked (I drank with them in spirit). But the real story is the others. The other people that I see year after year and never talk to. I don't know how talented they are. I don't know their stories.
Here's where I turn into a judgmental asshole. The only thing I am certain as sin about is that they will never be professional screenwriters. They haunt the Driskill for four days but never really make any lasting connections. They are rarely, if ever, seen talking to any industry professionals. They just hover and pretend to be actively engaged in starting a writing career, when the sad fact is that they are secretly hoping that some producer will pick them out of the crowd and ask to see their work.
I'm scared shitless that I'm turning into one.
Maybe everyone there has the same loathing feeling. Forever stuck on the outside looking in. Having people look at them and think, "Damn, I wish that guy knew how pathetic he is. Just go home and write fan-fiction already." While I do my best to stamp them out, the thoughts linger, waiting for a chance to punch me in the face. I hope someone has the pity to tap me on the shoulder and tell me to get moving before I turn into one of the Driskill's walking dead.
This year I arrived with the desire to meet some new people and get to talking with some industry professionals, more than I have in previous years. I succeeded. On a scale of 0 to 10 I moved from a 0.5 to around 3. Progress to be sure, but not nearly enough. I try to be more personable. I wish I could be loose and free with my words and be the affable guy that I am around my close friends, but I find that near impossible. I wonder if it's possible at all. Maybe it's just not me. My friend Brett sits down and writes notes every night he's there to remind him that he's on a business trip. I wonder if I need to find a way to remind myself that I need to loosen up and have fun (and the good stuff will follow naturally).
One thing is for sure. If I step foot in the Driskill lounge again, it will be with a clear purpose. I'm not afraid to ask for help. I've spent the last five years honing my craft (and I'll continue to do that for sure), but I've got to stop hiding behind the idea that I'm developing my skills and be brave enough to show the world that this is the writer I am, and it's good enough.
Time to man-up.