A Screenwriters Fear is their Fuel

Updated: Oct 14

Star Wars Screenwriter Rejection Meme

It was 5 pm and I just got off a long flight and barely had enough time to change into my “nice” clothes. I rush to the first big film festival I was ever nominated for an award in. That’s when the Fest Director runs up to me and says, “they are waiting to interview you on the red carpet.”

Standing there as an introvert with an undiagnosed anxiety condition I was quickly overwhelmed by the lights, cameras, and crowd. I was a stranger in a new land. That’s when my nose popped. Blood everywhere. My blood pressure had spiked so high that I blew a vessel in my nose. Honestly, I’m surprised I didn’t stroke out. As I was cleaning myself up, I stared into the restroom mirror and remember thinking “I can just walk away. I can leave. I can go back to my life where it’s safe.” But I realized I wouldn’t be able to look myself in that mirror again. So, I went out there, did the interview, and bombed terrifically. That is when I learned the path to success is paved with moments of fear and dread.

Fear is opportunity

We are all afraid. It’s in our nature. It’s how we’ve survived the threats of a changing world. But that’s what fear is. Change. More specifically, fear is the opportunity to grow. To become something more. As people, we seek comfort. In our relationships, daily lives, or even food. So how does fear present itself to a screenwriter? Very simply. As rejection. AKA The Fear of Failure. This presents such a significant psychological threat that the avoid-failure response exceeds a writer’s motivation to succeed. It results in unconscious sabotage to the chances of success.

Fear of Failure

The fear that we will put all this hard work, time, and dedication into something just to see it ultimately rejected and fail can be powerful. Over the past 15 years as a screenwriter, I can honestly say that I have been guilty of struggling with the following list of issues during my journey of growth. And I’ve noticed them in several other writers and students which I have worked with as well. Please note I am not a psychiatrist by any means. I’m just a dude who writes screenplays and has been around the block.

The especially nefarious aspect of this type of fear is how it hides in our screenwriting such as:

  • The Never-Ending Screenplay

  • The Uncommitted Screenwriter

  • Bouncing Between Scripts

  • The Artist as Ego

  • Writers Block

The Never-Ending Screenplay

I had a friend who had been working on the same screenplay for five years. He had plans to pitch it to HBO. I’ll admit it was an original concept. He worked on it in spats. Within those five years as I plugged ahead with multiple optioned and produced scripts while watching my career grow. He had made no progress. Why? Was it because he couldn’t break the story properly? Of course not. He is talented. I honestly believe it’s because he had set this goal of pitching to HBO and that pressure got to him. His fear of blowing it shut him down.

The Uncommitted Screenwriter

“I like to dabble in screenwriting” which is a phrase I’ve heard several times in one form or another. I even used it myself as a green writer. But now, as a professional, you might as well be saying to me “I like to dabble in a little heart surgery and quantum physics.” That’s how serious I take screenwriting. Eventually, I realized by not committing I was shielding myself from rejection. Being able to excuse any failure I had due to being a part-time hobbyist allowed me to avoid that fear of failure or at least mitigate it.

Bouncing Between Scripts

I asked a writer what he was working on. He said I’m writing 3 scripts at the moment. Surprised, I asked if he was close to finishing one. He replied no but he was really excited about this idea he had for a fourth script. This bouncing between scripts is not uncommon. It is just another way of avoiding failure. If you keep yourself in the early process of development where you are creating characters and worlds with the feverish intent of a rogue scientist gone mad then you never have to worry about actually completing a work and presenting it to someone for feedback. The threat of failure or rejection doesn’t exist.

The A