Practice? We’re talking about practice?!
A few years ago when I began my journey toward becoming a professional screenwriter, I knew that there would be a LOT I would need to educate myself on before being anywhere near ready for my work to be seen by professionals. Being the person I am, I know I would never truly be satisfied even if I were to become a professional, but I knew that I could not fool myself in the beginning to think that any work I did would not be a complete mess to say the least.
So here is what I decided, before I began work on my very first script: I will complete three movie scripts strictly as “practice.”
Now anyone familiar with former NBA player Allen Iverson and his “Practice” tirade many years ago may feel I’m perfectly justified in going into a similar one when talking about writing full movie scripts as practice. After all, a movie script could take anywhere from a few weeks to months to complete (after re-writes and edits). And I’m talking about spending all that time doing it just for practice.
Here’s the thing. It’s not “practice” per se, because I am doing them for a reason, and I feel a very good one. For one thing, these were the scripts I would send to receive feedback on. I’ve entered my first three scripts into screenwriting contests, along with sending them to professionals and paying them to give me script coverage.
I’m proud to say that I’ve largely taught myself how to write scripts. However, in knowing that I would have to teach myself for the most part, I also knew that my first few projects would be messy and I would need to suck up the embarrassment of having professionals read them and telling me what they honestly thought. So I got myself in the mindset that I absolutely needed to do this and to not expect praise for much of my work.
The good thing is that the feedback was never really that harsh. In fact, it was extremely helpful and detailed, making it well worth the money I spent to receive it. Even though at times, I felt my work was absolute garbage (I’m just hard on myself like that anytime my work isn’t absolutely perfect and that is no exaggeration), none of the feedback I received told me anything close to that. In fact, I was often credited with having ideas that could work, but only after a series of rewrites. They were very clear about being “not being quite there yet.” The most encouraging thing was to never feel that any of them implied that I should “not quit my day job.”
Also, as with anything else that we practice, I simply have learned a lot from doing so. In all the writing and research I’ve done, along with watching television shows and movies (from a writer’s viewpoint rather than as a fan), I’ve learned a LOT and have been sure to incorporate it into my writing.
Probably the best aspect I’ve learned is how to write and become other characters. I’ve also written three books and when I first began writing those, it was difficult to write as anyone other than myself. In other words, I had a tough time writing as someone other than strictly a narrator or as a character very similar to the way I am as a person. The writing practice has allowed me to finally begin to write completely as other characters and be comfortable doing so. I am absolutely certain that I would not be anywhere near where I am today, several scripts and a few years later, in terms of writing as other characters, had I not decided to spend the time in the “practicing” of writing scripts.
Obviously, I am a lot further along than I was when I began doing this and I am actively working to begin this is as a career very soon, as my Army career is nearing an end (I am looking to retire at 20 years and I am sitting at 18 1/2 right now). I will never feel like I don’t need the practice. Even after becoming a professional, I will always look to learn more and more each day as I write. Even “practicing,” as I see fit.
Some may think that to spend weeks and sometimes months working on a project just as “practice” is absolutely insane. In some ways, they may be right.
However, one thing many have to understand is that when it comes to the most successful people out there, we may see the end result of all the hard work, but we don’t see the hard work itself. Because of this, many simply don’t believe the “hard work” ever took place, which is why they don’t understand it.
Luckily for me…I do.