I feel bad about last week’s negative article. So I wanted to change it up today. Two things happened to me in a matter of hours Tuesday that reminded me of an essential quality all screenwriters must have in order to succeed.
It started when a writer informed me about an article they’d read in The Hollywood Reporter. In it, an anonymous working screenwriter complained that the life of a professional screenwriter, for the most part, sucks. The writer who’d read the article was upset. They said, “I’m working so hard to climb up this mountain, and this is what the end result will be? Misery 90% of the time? Why bother?”
I always get a little down when I hear these stories, and I’ll explain why in a second. But that afternoon, I had a meeting with another writer. For the record, this is a writer who’s had some success, but is nowhere near where he’d liked to be. He had this big smile on his face when I arrived and relayed how excited he was to talk about all the stuff he’d been working on. Before long, he was passionately telling me about all of his projects.
It didn’t even feel like a meeting. It felt like two people who love movies talking about writing them. I left that meeting with a noticeable hop in my step. Nothing earth-shattering happened. But I was happy. Why? The answer is simple. This writer’s overwhelming positivity had rubbed off on me. It had gotten me excited. It made me completely forget about that ridiculous article.
But something much bigger came out of that meeting. I realized how easily negativity can influence a writer’s life, and how quickly it can spread to others.
If that writer I’d met hadn’t been so immediately positive, I probably would’ve brought that negative energy into the meeting, and things would’ve gone very differently. Maybe I would’ve brought up the article, maybe we would’ve spent 30 minutes discussing if we thought it was true (being a professional writer sucks), then when the writer pitched me his ideas, they would’ve been laced with a sense of hopelessness, born out of our incorrect belief that making it was “impossible.” I would’ve left the meeting bummed out, and it would’ve taken me a day or two to get back to being excited about the business.
The thing about writing is that it’s such a lonely endeavor. And because you’re alone a lot of the time, your mind often drifts into the negative. “Can I do it?” “Is it impossible?” The doubts start creeping in. Rumors about how the only people who make it are those with family connections, or how nobody’s buying specs anymore, or how minorities don’t stand a chance, or how you have to live in Los Angeles to succeed.
Pay attention to what I’m about to tell you because it’s an often overlooked but ESSENTIAL component to your success in this business. Ready?
Negativity begets Negativity.
I know how crazy it sounds, but if you believe you’re never going to succeed, you won’t. You just won’t. Because you’ve already decided that you won’t. You’re just waiting for the official confirmation.
If you believe you’re going to succeed, you’ve got a chance. Because you believe. And as long as you believe, you’ll continue to make others believe.
You can see how that tiny insignificant Hollywood Reporter article spread like a virus from the original reader, to me, and almost to the other writer I met. Luckily a good dose of screenwriting chemo destroyed that negativity before it was too late. The only way to make sure that didn’t happen again was to stay away from that kind of person, the kind who complains, who hates, who sucks the life out of things. Positive successful people try to avoid those folks like the plague.
Again, if you believe in the negative? If you exhibit negativity? If you present yourself as a negative person, the majority of the experiences in your life will be negative. Negative people attract negativity. Positive people attract positivity.
Now I don’t know who this writer is in the Hollywood Reporter article. And I understand that his article is a tiny sample size of his career, but I’d make a strong case that the reason he isn’t as successful as he wants to be has a lot to do with how he sees the world. He sees screenwriting as a soul-sucking miserable existence. And there’s no way to mask that. Every meeting he goes to, every person he chats up, every job he’s up for, they see that. They feel it seeping out of his pores, or projected deep within his eyes. His negative posture, his lack of general happiness. They feel it, and they don’t want to be a part of it.
I used to think that it should be all about the writing. If the person is a good screenwriter, who the hell cares what they’re like? But I realize now how naïve that was. I still think it’s true for SUPER-STAR writers (David Koepp and Frank Darabont). But for everyone else, it matters tons. Some of the people I’ve met are such soul-suckers, that working with them for five minutes would depress the hell out me, much less five months. Even if the negative writer is the better writer, is it worth them always miserable, always complaining, always fighting every note, and generally hating work? It might take longer with the lesser writer, but their eagerness to get it right will trump the problem writer every time.
Negativity begets Negativity.
I’m going to tell you a story that I’ve only told a few times (and have alluded to in my book) because I’m actually quite embarrassed by it. But it’s a story that completely changed how I approached life. This happened a little bit before I started Scriptshadow when I was a REALLY negative person. I was that annoying guy who always found fault in everything. I was always complaining about the business, hating on every movie, commenting on how stupid the entertainment business was. I was like Grendl on crack.
A lady friend at the time delicately suggested I read The Secret. She thought it would be good for me. Now if you don’t know what The Secret is, it’s this book/movie/audio-tape “way of thinking” by which a soothing Australian woman tells you to do things like “imagine success” and success will come to you. “Imagine money” and money will come to you. Your basic new age hooey-phooey.
But I was in a really low place and knew that my negativity had reached dangerous levels. So I thought, “What do I have to lose?” and started listening to the audio version of the book while I exercised. If you haven’t heard this woman, it’s quite amusing. She has this over-the-top hypnotic voice that promises you the world if you just think positively.
I started listening to it more as a source of entertainment than enlightenment. But the woman started issuing challenges. She’d say things like, “Go out and say five positive things to people today.” For shits and giggles, I’d do it (“Hey, that’s a nice watch,” I’d say to the cashier at the supermarket) and I must admit I was surprised by the response. People would offer back a genuine smile, thank me, and even start up conversations. More importantly, after every interaction, I felt better. And when I’d talk with friends later, they’d note that I was uncharacteristically “upbeat.” Without me even knowing it, these positive experiences had started to improve my life.
But when the chapter about money came up, I couldn’t play the game any longer. What Nutty Soothing Australian Woman was saying was ridiculous. She posited that if you “thought” and “believed” that money would come to you, it would. In fact, she said, it would just show up in your mailbox in the form of a check. Money by just wishing for it! Who would’ve thought it was that easy!
I had never heard such blatant bullshit in my life. I had NEVER received money in the mail. Not once. So I decided to play a game with Nutty Australian Woman to prove her wrong. Over the next month, I would be genuinely positive about everything, and wherever I went, I’d believe – just like Nutty Australian Woman told me to – that I should receive money.
Over the next three weeks, I found my life improving dramatically. If a movie I didn’t like did well at the box office, I wouldn’t complain like I used to. I’d think, “Good for the writers.” I was genuinely happy for them. If somebody said something mean about something online, I’d try to find something positive to counter it. It almost became a game. No matter how negative a situation got, could you find a positive way to respond to it?
I noticed my friends were happier to be around me (I wasn’t interrupting every fun moment complaining about something), and because they were happier, I was happier. That’s the great thing about being positive. Whatever you give out comes back twice as strong.
But it was three weeks into my experiement that one of the biggest shocks of my life happened. When I went to get my mail that day, there was an envelope from the city of Los Angeles. I opened it up, and there was a check for $75. I shit you not. The letter was in regards to a parking ticket I had received last year. They went on to say they had made a mistake in the ticketing process, and were therefore refunding me.
Now as anyone who lives in Los Angeles will tell you, the LA parking ticket system is one of the most obsessive corrupt institutions in the world. They will wait at your car until your meter runs out in order to ticket you 1 second later. They’d rather commit Heaven’s Gate-level mass suicide before issuing a refund. I’m pretty sure I was the first person in the city’s history to receive money back for a ticket.
I couldn’t believe it. That freaking Nutty Australian Lady was right. I had received money in the mail. I was so excited (good God did I need that money), I had a newfound optimism about the world. That optimism led to me getting the confidence to do a lot of other things I’d been putting off. One of those things, a few months later, was starting Scriptshadow.
Now look. I’m not going to sit here and tell you you have to believe in some New Age Hooey in order to succeed. What I can tell you, from personal experience, is that trying to find the good in everything instead of wallowing in the bad, positively alters the way others perceive you. People will want to be around you. They’ll want to work with you. They’ll want you in their lives.
Positivity Begets Positivity.
And look, it’s not easy at first (especially if you’re inherently negative), and I still struggle with it at times (I’m not sure how positive I was yesterday, although analysis does require certain negative reactions), but I’m telling you, it’s the unsung hero of success. And I just want you guys to know that the more positive you are, the more opportunities you’re going to get in this business. I can promise you that. Don’t believe me? Give it a shot.