I had a conversation recently with a former studio executive turned producer in which I found myself talking about the “spirit of the spec,” essentially when a person chooses to pursue a project or goal entirely on speculation with the hopes of some eventual payoff. Not everybody would make that choice. To many, with the odds so long against success, doing something on spec is not only illogical, it’s also seemingly inane.
And yet almost all screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and poets have as some part of their creative self the spirit of the spec.
After my conversation with the producer, it occurred to me this is a subject we should discuss here at GITS because it speaks to the very core of why we’re here and what we’re about as people driven by creative impulses. So today through Friday, I will post something each day exploring what it means for a writer to have the spirit of the spec.
You put it out there.
One might think typing FADE IN, thereby signifying your commitment to writing an original screenplay, is the single act requiring the most courage in the process. But time and time again, I hear from writers who have a problem on the other end of the spectrum: Actually doing something with the script when it’s done.
Some have confessed to me they are petrified to submit a script to an agent or manager.
Others have said they can’t even bring themselves to give their script to a professional reader for coverage.
And there are some writers who have one or more scripts — I’m talking completed drafts — which they have never let anyone read, not even friends or family, let alone somebody in the entertainment industry.
I get it. I think we all get it. As I suggested in yesterday’s post, writing a story is a scary endeavor. And yet the fact is the entire time you work on it — coming up with an idea, acting on that idea, the actual page-writing part of the process — your story only exists in theory. That is until you send your script out into the world. Only then does your story become in any meaningful sense of the word ‘real.’
No matter what fears you have to overcome to write a story, they don’t compare substantively with the type and degree of fear that can arise when you actually hand over your script to someone else to read.
At that point, your story becomes their story, no longer the private experience of you and your characters, but rather your characters and the world.
Talk about courage! Sure, typing FADE IN is a significant moment. But there the stakes are limited. If you don’t write a good story or don’t finish, you have disappointed nobody but yourself. However if you present your story to other people, you are taking a leap of faith they will respond favorably. And if they don’t? It’s no longer just you and those hectoring voices of negativity in your head to deal with. Now you actually have to take into account the feelings, thoughts, impressions and — get ready for it — criticisms of other people.
And yet if this is a fundamental truth — “You can not sell it if you don’t write it” — here is another reality etched in stone: “You can not sell it unless you submit it.”
A buyer is not going to magically read your mind, buy an airplane ticket to your home town, sneak into your house, locate the drawer in which you keep your precious script, read it, then wake you up with a check for a million dollars.
No, you need to put your script out there. Indeed this is where you would do well to embrace the spirit of the spec. And the spirit of the spec provides writers with two incredibly powerful words to help them circumnavigate all their fears, thus enabling them to submit their manuscripts to people who matter.
Those two words: Screw you!
If you are afraid to let your spouse read your script, repeat after me: Screw you!
If you are afraid to let other writers read your script, repeat after me: Screw you!
If you are afraid to let a professional script reader provide coverage of your script, repeat after me: Screw you!
If you are afraid to send out email inquiries to managers about your script, repeat after me: Screw you!
Who is the “you” you are telling to screw? Why fear, of course. If you have any realistic chance of succeeding as a writer, you have to squash your punk-ass fears, give them a big time beat down.
You telling me I don’t have any talent? Screw you!
You telling me people will hate my story? Screw you!
You telling me not to believe in myself? Screw you!
Screw you! Screw you! Screw you!
Here’s another fact to add to your list:
You can’t sell a script unless you write it.
You can’t sell a script unless you submit it.
You can’t sell a script unless you defeat fear.
Now you may consider that to be Coach Myers talking. If you need a confrontational therapy to get you over the hump to put your script out there, go to town. Empowered with those two key words — Screw you! — you should be on your way.
There is another dimension to the spirit of the spec. This message comes from Pastor Myers. For those who are more spiritually inclined.
Do you recall this reference from another spirit of the spec post here:
If there is a path, that presupposes there is an end to the path. So instead of a battle over your story where some random barbarian can spring up out of nowhere and split open your meager confidence with a pole axe, if you are on a journey of discovery, it’s all a matter of taking the time, asking the questions, and walking the steps necessary to get you to that end point, where you do find your story.
I want you to consider this idea: Your story’s path does not end when you type FADE OUT. Rather that is simply a new beginning. The path goes on. The journey goes on.
It goes on as your story gets read by others.
It goes on as your story gets bought.
It goes on as your story gets developed.
It goes on as your story gets a green light.
It goes on as your story gets produced.
It goes on as your story gets edited.
It goes on as your story gets released into theaters.
Your script, while a key component of your story, is but one step in a longer journey. I suppose you can look at the day your movie goes wide into theaters as the end of the path. But that’s not even true. I get emails every week from people who have seen K-9, Alaska, or Trojan War. It’s one of the most endearing and enduring aspects of our movies that they continue to live as long as people will watch them.
Which is to say you, as the writer, are but a player in that larger journey. Your story already exists, its path is already laid out. Whether it sells or not, gets produced or not, while we may work as fiercely as we can — and should — to make it happen, in a very real way, our story’s fate has already been determined.
So in actuality, you really have nothing to fear. The destiny of your story will play out the way it will play out. Thus when your obnoxious voices of fear would do their best to restrain you from putting your story out there, here are some other words you can use to quiet them:
Let it go.
I am afraid…
Let it go.
I am scared…
Let it go.
I’m not ready…
Let it go.
Afraid or not, your story’s fate is determined. You can not control its destiny, only the story can.
So how to put it out there? Let it go.
Okay, two possible courses of action in confronting fear, one from Coach Myers, the other Pastor Myers. I know for many of you, this is not an issue. You knock off your scripts, you get them out there. That’s being filled with the spirit of the spec. Because there is a baseline of belief undergirding what we do: If you put it out there, something can happen.
But only if you put it out there.
Part 1: You Have An Idea
Part 2: You Act On Your Idea
Part 3: You Write Your Story
Tomorrow the final post in this series: And if it doesn’t sell…