I once had a chat with a group of guys who all wanted to be screenwriters or novelists of some description – at least that’s what they claimed to want to be. As a person who feels a little uncomfortable with blowing my own trumpet, I was perfectly happy just sitting and listening as they discussed their various methods of coming up with mind-melting stories, or creating the perfect reveal for their bad guy or the best way to avoid writing bad material.
Eventually they got round to the critique section of the conversation, which is something every writer ends up doing instinctively. And don’t get me wrong, it is good for a writer to be able to critique other people’s work, just as long as they can extend the criticisms towards their own work or accept the same judgement from other people.
I sat and listened as one particular lad ripped into a film that, despite what the real critics of the world had reported, wasn’t a badly written film – it was just poor on every other level. As this lad got going, the rest of the group found themselves just sitting and listening as he banged on about it.
“The screenwriter should have done this…”
“I wouldn’t have done that…”
“Was he high when he thought that would be a good idea?”
Eventually this lad, having completely ripped apart someone’s hard work, started to spew his advice to the rest of the group…
“If you want to succeed, you have to do this…”
“Your story won’t work because…”
Now, no one minds getting advice. In fact, we crave it. In a profession where it is so tough to get your foot in the door, we are willing to grab any advice we can get. Unfortunately, any chance of this lad’s advice being taken by anyone was unceremoniously ruined by a young lady sat at the end of the table.
Whilst he was in mid-flow, the woman leaned forward and pointed her long index finger at the advice-happy lad.
“Have you ever been published?” she asked.
The question seemed innocent enough, but you could tell from the look in her eye that she had become annoyed with this kid’s rambling and was aiming to stop him short.
The lad’s eyes widened. “Well, no…. not yet, but I have several projects on the go…”
“Have your scripts been accepted then?” fired back the woman.
“They will be shortly!”
The woman smiled and leant back in her seat. “Have you sent anything in for consideration?”
There was a long silence before finally the young lad straightened his back and said, very matter of factly, “I’m waiting for the right moment!”
With that, as though as a single unit, the table turned their back on him and he remained very quiet for the next ten minutes before sliding out of the door.
This lad suffered from what a lot of starting writers suffer from. The talk more than they do. And it is not just the writing profession that does it. I have met hundreds of people in the film, theatre and other creative industries who seem to spend a massive amount of time telling anyone who will listen how good they are, but when asked for a sample or showreel or suchlike, come up with nothing. And I must admit, I have been guilty of it too. There are are even film schools out there that teach students to con people into thinking they are big shots when they haven’t got a single credit to their name.
I once sat in a lecture where the speaker advised that the best way to get out of the question of experience, or what you were working on at any given time, was to use the phrase – “I have various projects in various stages of development!”
I have to admit it’s a good line. Particularly when you’re keeping your cards close to your chest. But you should never use this phrase if you haven’t got something to back it up. Because the one thing that these schools don’t teach you is what to do when you’re caught out on a bluff.
If someone asks you what you’re working on, and you haven’t got anything, the last thing you want to do is create several new projects by saying the “I have various projects” line. Because the inevitable reaction from the person you are talking to is… “Oh yeh? Like what?”
So, if you no other reason other than pride, don’t get caught bluffing. The simplest way to lose any credibility with everyone you speak to is if word gets around that you speak more than you do. And besides, I doubt anyone’s muse will work as efficiently after its ego has just had a good kicking in…