photo by fireflythegreatWhen I was in my teens I used to play in bands. I played bass guitar, but really I wanted to be a singer. When I was a child I had been a choirboy. I had been a good singer, but when my voice broke it broke badly, and I lost confidence in my ability to sing, so I never even tried to be the singer in a band. It was just easier to learn to play bass guitar than to make a fool of myself. Twenty years later, I rediscovered my singing voice and fronted my first and probably last band. I enjoyed it. Not only that, I was good at it. Sometimes our lack of faith in ourselves prevents us from putting ourselves out there.
Of course, there is a flip side to that.
Every year "X Factor" parades the deluded in front of us for our amusement. These are people who genuinely believe they have talent as singers, but who really, really don't. We just love laughing at them and their obvious lack of talent. It's HILARIOUS, if you're both cruel and sadistic, to watch sad people's laughable dreams shattered to dust in public. Personally, I won't watch shows like that. I've never found robbing people of their dreams and showing them in their follies to be entertaining. I've always found the whole thing rather tasteless, sad and tragic. And, if I'm honest I find the contestant's delusions frightening. They believe so passionately they are talented and deserving of success, whilst everyone else clearly sees them as rather lost and pathetic.
Which brings us to screenwriting.
The dilemma which faces every unknown screenwriter is this: Am I an undiscovered talent, or am I the script writing equivalent of a deluded X Factor contestant?
Of course, we are all undiscovered talents.
But, of course, the nagging suspicion is that we're not. Or at least I hope it is. I genuinely fear for people who have no doubts about their talents.
I have never managed to let go of the core and nagging fear that I am both talentless and deluded. I am mind numbingly insecure as a writer... and yet, at the same time, I also have a great deal of confidence in my scripts. A confidence I've gained by putting my writing out into the industry and having people say nice things about it. If nothing else, my scripts have a small and appreciative fan base in the industry. A fan base which has kept me writing and working at this, on the very many occasions where my insecurities have loudly urged me to quit.
I seem to need my insecurities, even though they plague me, simply because they are often the fuel that drives me to make my writing better. Basically, I am so terrified of being bad, that I work harder than any writer I know to be good. Not only that, I reality check my opinions about my own work. I don't trust my own opinions about it. I put my scripts out to industry professionals, to professional actors, to script editors, to other working writers. Even when I think a script is good, I don't believe it until other people say that it is.
And, in reality that is where screenwriters answer that question... we find out if we're any good by putting our scripts out into the industry. We don't discover it in online screenwriting groups, where collections of bad screenwriters all pat each other on the back and tell each other how brilliant they are, we don't discover it giving our scripts to our mates; who are your mates, so therefore are obliged to tell you that you are good. Fundamentally, we discover whether we are any good by putting our work into the industry, or by self-producing and putting it out to audiences.
However, there is a problem with this. Script reading is subjective and audiences lie. So, for instance, the same script that attached seven international name actors and which got rave reviews from three commissioning editors, was described as "hopeless" by one industry professional and "too slow" by another. I've experienced this on everything I've ever written... contradictory feedback.
I honestly still don't have an answer to how to deal with those kinds of contradictions. They certainly don't balance each other out. You'd think having people who you admire saying nice things about your work would wipe out the negatives... but they don't. Deep down, I still fear my inner X Factor contestant.
Ultimately, worrying about whether we're any good or not is meaningless. Being good isn't relevant. People who write bad scripts are successful. Some of the worst writers I know are in almost constant employment. Every year TV shows and movies are released, where the writing is so fuck-awful it's hard to comprehend how it ever made it to the screen. As writers we need to reconcile the fact that being good as a screenwriter is something that only matters to us. The industry certainly doesn't demand it, or reward writers for achieving it.
The desire to be a good writer and the desire to be successful writer is not the same thing. Which is a pity really, because I'm a good writer.
keep writing and viva la revolution