Trying to make it as a screenwriter is similar to trying to start your own business. You invest large amounts of time, energy and passion, knowing there is no guarantee of success (in fact the odds aren’t exactly stacked in your favor). But that doesn’t stop you from having a dream and the drive to do everything possible to make it happen.
But the unfortunate reality is that most new businesses fail, just like most screenwriting aspirations. The question is, why?
The Princeton Business School did a study to see what separates successful entrepreneurs from those who fail. Specifically, what is the single most important variable determining if a new business owner ends up making it or going bankrupt?
Which of the following do you think is the single most essential ingredient that can best predict if a new business owner succeeds or fails?
a.) How much education a person has
b.) How hard a person works to make their business successful
c.) How good the person’s people skills are
d.) The person’s overall track record of success and failure in other areas of their life
e.) How much money the person has to start the business
f.) The location of the business
g.) Whether the person has a business mentor or not
And the correct answer is…
None of the above.
While all of the above variables are obviously critical to success, none of them turned out to be the most important. That honor went to…
How emotionally supportive a person’s spouse was to the new endeavor.
Which is pretty amazing when you think about it. The study shows that a person with an MBA and an unsupportive spouse is less likely to succeed than a person without the education but with a partner who is one hundred per cent in their corner.
At the end of the day, it turns out there is no greater single predictor of success than how supportive your partner is to your dreams.
I find the same to be true for screenwriters. The friends and students I know with spouses who are less than thrilled with the time and energy they devote to writing are almost never the ones who end up making it. It’s like trying to run a marathon while being blindfolded and wearing ankle weights. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I sure as hell don’t like your chances.
So no wonder pretty much every professional writer I know either has an incredibly off-the-charts, supportive partner, or is single.
With this in mind, I’d like to offer the following advice, depending on which of the three categories best describe your situation.
If you’re single, I would suggest you keep the Princeton study in mind while dating. If you were a single parent, you would probably be keenly interested in knowing how a potential mate felt about kids before getting too involved. Perhaps the same should be true if you’re committed to a writing life.
If you’re with someone who isn’t exactly supportive of your writing pursuits, anything you can do to change this position will pay huge dividends to your chances of success. But what if that’s not possible? You need to understand that you have a steeper road to travel, because not only do you have your own doubts, resistance and sabotage demons to battle, but the person who shares your bed is most likely in alliance with such forces. So it’s imperative that you become an expert in self-compassion. And while being in a supportive writer’s group is always a good idea, for you, it might very well be essential. And please avoid the trap deals: “I’ll write one more script, and if that doesn’t sell, I’ll quit;” or “Give me one more year, and if I haven’t launched a career by then, I’ll hang it up”. Trust me, such agreements almost never end well.
If you have a supportive partner, count your lucky stars. And by all means, stop taking her or him for granted. Writing can be such a lonely, frustrating journey eating away at our self-confidence; it is all too easy sometimes to lash out at the person who loves us the most. Even though I have the most supportive wife imaginable, I’m embarrassed to say that the following could easily have been taken from the transcripts of some of our exchanges early on in my screenwriting career.
So if you are fortunate enough to be with someone who supports your writing, no matter how self-indulgent, distracted and moody you can be, please let them know how amazingly thankful you are, because, without exaggeration, their support might very well mean the difference between success and failure.
Posted in Corey’s Blog | June 8, 2011