1. Fear of getting your idea stolen – Fear of getting your idea stolen is so synonomous with being a beginner that it’s a dead giveaway to your newbie-ness. You have to realize that in Hollywood, people are exchanging thousands of ideas all day long without worrying about those ideas getting stolen. The only way that anything is going to happen with your idea is if you get it out there, someone hears it and says, “Ooh, that sounds good, I want to take a look at that.” Otherwise, you’re hoarding an idea that probably isn’t as amazing as you think it is in the first place for no other reason than you’re irrationally petrified.
2) Dialogue – Dialogue isn’t nearly as important as the situation that dictates the dialogue. Set up a good scene and good dialogue will flow. The exceptions are genres that celebrate dialogue, such as rom-coms, teen movies, and quirky character pieces.
3) Getting an agent – An agent cannot do anything for you if you’re not ready. In fact, an agent will even have trouble helping you if the last project you sold was a year ago. The only time an agent is good for you is when you’re desired by production companies that are coming to them with offers for your services. Once you are making an agent money, they will help you find the best project, send your scripts out with confidence, even get you onto projects you weren’t initially considered for. Always be your own content generator and marketer first. When the buzz on your writing gets big enough, the agent will find you.
4) An emotional obsession with others’ success – There is this obsession by a large swath of screenwriters with any project that has been purchased, developed, produced or done well at the box office that they think “sucks.” Who cares? No need to get jealous. If you’re so concerned with what everybody else is doing, you’re not putting your energy into what really matters, which is your own content. This type of obsession doesn’t help you as a writer. It’s a waste of time. Don’t worry about others. Focus on your work.
5) “Good writing” – Who cares if your script is well-written? Nobody. Nobody’s perfect. All anybody cares about is if you’vr written an engaging, appealing story. I always ask writers, what story would you rather hear? It doesn’t matter who the writer is if the story is weak. Whoever has the best story stands the best chance at engaging the reader.
6) The Nicholl – This antiquated contest is way past its prime. It celebrates non-marketable winners in an industry that’s obsessed with marketability. And while a few winners have gone on to have successful careers, not nearly enough do for a contest that has the highest number of submissions. What the Nicholl is good for is seeing where you rank amongst your peers. It tells you what percentile you ranked in, which is typically accurate, and therefore allows you to gauge your progress as a writer. But as far as what the contest can do for you if you win, so many other contests have risen up over the years that give you much better industry access if you come out on top. For example, PAGE, Austin Film Festival, scriptapalooza.
7) Talent – Talent is important. Lots of writers with talent who never went anywhere because they overestimated the importance of their talent and didn’t do the other things necessary to find success. The important components to screenwriting success are hard work and perseverance. This is the most technical of all the writing formats, which means it’s the least dependent on raw talent. You have to learn how to navigate the limited and awkward format that is screenwriting before you even have a chance at telling a good story. Work hard. Keep learning.
8) Features – If you’re not aware of a changing industry dictated by a young generation seeking entertainment on more platforms than ever before, you’re limiting yourself. Specifically, TV offers writers an amazing opportunity. You can still tell big stories, but now actually have the time to do them justice. Keep writing features but don’t rule out television. It’s ok of you prefer one or the other. The strength of writing either or both is more important. It’s harder to make it as a TV writer than a movie writer. The TV format is more complicated than the movie format.