Why Talented Writers Fail Part 3: Action Through Pain

How do talented writers fail?

Last time, we looked at four roadblocks that obstruct writers from capitalizing on their talents.

Screenwriter Kraig Wenman adds another: “I think the biggest problem writers have to overcome is that an idea is great or perfect JUST because they thought of it. You need to lose that ego or you'll never work as a writer-for-hire or in any medium that requires a group effort which is what film is.”

He concludes: “The successful writer is the one that keeps going and failing their way to the top.”

In total, there are twenty roadblocks that Robert Sternberg mentions, but I’ll only list one more this week:

Lack of product orientation: Some people seem more concerned about the process rather than the result of activity.

I used to attend writing seminars, lurk in writing forums and work at various events. I eventually noticed some writers who seemed to be everywhere.

Now there’s nothing wrong with equipping yourself through these various seminars, workshops, discussions, etc. In fact, there are some that InkTip promotes. But I realized that sometimes writers spend much more time on the process of how to write and thinking about what writing is than actually writing. When that happens, perhaps it’s our subconscious way of procrastinating and our fear of committing to the page and its consequences (such as fear of failure or imperfection).

If reading a screenwriting book helps you, then bravo. But at some point, your output should far exceed your “process” input. After all, you can keep taking courses on building a plane but unless you actually start building the plane, then what’s the point? (Hint: after you read this article, start writing)

In an interview, Sheldon Turner, writer of “Up in the Air,” says, “I wrote twelve screenplays before I gave one to anybody. Literally, I was writing a script a month. I knew I had to get that training ground.”

Ok, clearly Turner is a writing machine. In fact, he wakes up at 3:57 AM every morning, writes for an hour, hits the gym for an hour and a half, then writes again. On top of that, he tries to read one script a day, four newspapers a day, and a book and several magazines a week to stay fresh. But he does this because he’s an extreme guy. If he wasn’t constantly moving like a shark in the wee hours, he says, he’d wake up at 1 PM instead.

So what if you are not a machine? What if you are wired differently or you have kids and work late?

Find out not what works for you but what you must do to make it work the best. In other words, choose not what is most convenient but what results in the most fruitful activity. Turner might seem like an anomaly but it is only because he knows himself (he thrives on action) and his habits (he needs to start early or he’ll start really late) that he chooses actions that produce not only the most work but the best work.

Years ago, a writer told me how he wrote a TV episode for which he won an Emmy. The rewrites were imposed on him last minute, so he ended up pulling an all-nighter more than half asleep. Hours later, his alarm clock rang and he barely remembered typing much of what was spilled onto on the page. That uninhibited, non-judgmental, delirium his mind was occupied in at 4 o’clock in the morning helped him write his best work.

So if you are a night owl, then burn that midnight oil. If you work late, then write in the morning or during a quick lunch break. But either way, you will make it happen one way or another if you want to.

What Are You Willing to Struggle For?

On Mark Manson’s blog, he writes that instead of asking yourself, “What do you want out of life?” a more interesting question is “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.”

If you want a career as a screenwriter, you must choose your pain. You may need to cut down on your leisure time. You may need to wake up not 20 minutes but 2 hours earlier than you’d like. You may need to cancel your cable subscription to stop distracting yourself under the guise of “research.” You may need to exit your comfort zone and natural introversion and meet people at mixers. You may need to work an extra job to make ends meet.

You must turn some of those may need to’s into musts.

Respect your goals. If you are honest, getting there will involve pain.

Many people are simply in love with the idea of writing. They fantasize about the romantic notion of writing on the Riviera, or of winning an Oscar, but are actually unwilling to live through the pain of getting there.

At the end of the day – and the week, the month, the year, your life – you’ll see what you truly want.

Manson writes, “If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealization, an image and a false promise.”

Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all.”

Let’s sum this all up.

Here are two takeaways:

  1. Discover if you’re more interested in the process than in activity (and results). If so, don’t overthink it. Just take action.

  2. Find out what you really want by asking yourself this: What am I willing to struggle for? Choose those struggles wisely as that will tell you more about yourself than what you dream about will.

This concludes our 3-part series on talented writers.

To sum everything up:

Why do talented writers (sometimes) fail?

Because they rely too much on talent, because they don’t cultivate a growth mindset, because they let various roadblocks obstruct their way, and because they choose the wrong struggles.

I hope this all has informed you and moved you to reflection and action.

Write to me and share your experiences: InkTipStoryPower (at) Gmail dot com

If you have any ideas for future topics, you can email me as well.

Also, here are some resources that should help:

  1. Robert Sternberg’s 20 Reasons Why Intelligent People Fail.

  2. In case you missed it, part 1 and part 2 of this series.

  3. Here’s the Sheldon Turner interview referenced earlier:

Michael Kim
Questions? Comments? Write me at InkTipStoryPower (at) gmail dot com

Michael Kim has worked in every department at InkTip. He is now the VP of Product Development & Media. Besides challenging his former "lazy pianist" fixed mindset, he enjoys feeling insecure about being the oldest audience member at concerts as well as helping young writers and directors stay on the path to success. His favorite film is La Dolce Vita.

Written by: Michael Kim
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