I’ve been working on my primary current project, now, for nine months.
That might not seem like such a long time, until you consider that that “project,” in its current written form, is a four-page document.
It’s not a script. It’s not even an outline for a script.
It’s a pitch.
A television pitch. A proposal for a potential drama series.
And no one (save my partner on it, and my agent) will ever read it.
Instead, they will hear us present it verbally. It takes maybe fifteen minutes to do that.
Why nine months on a pitch, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. In the beginning, I was just batting it around with the writer who brought me the original idea — who I’m now partnered with to write it. Then, I thought we might be onto something, and suggested we turn it into a “paragraph” we could e-mail to my agent. He’s a TV literary agent, meaning he only represents writers, and only for television. Actually, he’s a TV “packaging” agent, meaning his main role is to help writer clients develop show ideas and get them into the marketplace. He’s in the biggest and most powerful department of this kind, at the biggest agency. He individually represents at least three (that I know of) creators and showrunners of successful shows currently on the air.
I say this not to get your admiration, but to set the scene for who he is and what our relationship is. He’s busy. He hears a lot of pitches. I personally send him, probably, dozens of “paragraphs” a year (and he probably he has forty of me that he represents). Most he isn’t wild about. Some I’ll go in and pitch to him at his office. That usually doesn’t lead to the desired reaction, either (i.e. “I love it, I’m sending you out, and we’ll sell this, for sure!”).
In fact, during the last four years, when I’ve been doing this pretty much full-time, he’s only once had that kind of a reaction — over a paragraph I e-mailed him. An idea for a drama series in three sentences. He immediately set up a meeting with a very established producer while I turned that paragraph into the afore-mentioned four-page/fifteen-minute pitch (which he never saw or heard). The producer loved it. The producer’s studio loved it. The network loved it. They bought it and I wrote a script for a pilot episode. That’s as far as it got. Which is pretty far.
Anyway, back to my current idea: the paragraph turned into most of a page, which we finally e-mailed to my agent. I didn’t hear anything. I called to follow up. He hadn’t read it. We hung up while he read it. He called right back and said he really liked it. And thus my odyssey really began.
Since then, my partner and I have written, I think, over a hundred individual “passes” of this four-page document (I hate to call them all “drafts,” because “draft” implies that you sent it out to people). One version we pitched to my agent in person. A couple more since then we pitched to him over the phone. One, most recently, he read on his own time from the page.
There are two reasons why this has continued for nine months. Number one is he loves the idea, more than anything I’ve ever done. Number two is that until very recently, he didn’t think the pitch itself was quite ready to go out into the marketplace — that it needed work.
Now it’s officially pitching season for the big networks (always in the summer time is when they buy the bulk of their ideas for the following development season). He thinks it’s ready. And he’s sending us on meetings with a bunch of big producers.
I do this for a living. And I haven’t earned a cent from this yet. And I might never. And it’s the main thing I’ve spent my time on for lo, these many months.
Why? Well, from a practical business/making-a-living point of view, my experience is that most ideas never get off the launching pad with my agent, and when he believes the marketplace will respond to something, they do. In spades. There may be “false negatives” (he doesn’t get it but I sell it anyway, which has happened), but he’s yet to give me a “false positive.” And this one, he says, exceeds all that I’ve ever brought him — I’ve “checked off all the boxes” of what an idea needs, in order to sell.
So here I am. Operating off HIS faith. And that’s the real subject of this post.
Without his faith, I might well have abandoned this months ago, or at least put it on a back burner. My own faith (and that of my writing partner on the project) might not have been enough to make it such a priority. Even if I thought we were onto something great, which I did.
And yet, as writers, doing much (or all) of what we do “on spec,” with no guarantee of future remuneration, production, or positive impact of any kind on the larger world, this is our typical situation: we have to have faith in what we’re working on, and sustain that faith.
This is not easy. But it may be the most important thing we do: see things through, with persistence, if we really believe in them — even when others AREN’T encouraging. I could bore you with thousands of examples of successful projects that required that of their creator. A recent BIOGRAPHY profile of George Lucas made this point hit home for me. “People think they can’t do things so they don’t try, or they give up too easily. But they’re wrong.” These are the words (I’m paraphrasing) that came out of his mouth. I think he’s right.
It’s easy to give up when no one is giving you any encouragement on something. Even when you like it. It’s easy to give up when you get “notes” after “notes.” It’s easy to give up when there are a million other things you could be doing, and the world (i.e. other people) might think you SHOULD be doing.
Akiva Goldsman said at a strike rally that all his life people told him he didn’t have what it took to be a writer. The secret to his success? He never stopped. (Until the day the strike was called, and then only until it ended.)
Maybe it’s really as simple as that…
If you really believe in it, don’t stop. I say, be open to others’ feedback, absolutely — but don’t be open to them talking you out of it, IF, after you’ve heard them, you still really believe in it.
Hard to do, sometimes, but I think it’s what the most successful writers (artists, entrepreneurs, etc.) routinely find a way to do. And it works.
It doesn’t mean every project will succeed, by any particular definition of success. Or that they should all go on forever. I think different ideas, different projects, last for different seasons, and have different purposes. Many do end up being “trial and error.” I’m not suggesting you obsess over one project and decide all the people who rejected it misunderstood your genius. There is a reality check process, continually, about what the real potential for something is, that does get adjusted as you get reactions from the world, and make changes on it. And sometimes, it’s good to put one down, and move on. God knows, I do that with most of the things I come up with, before they ever get nearly this far.
What I’m saying is that if you remain open, keep working on it, and believe in something about it continuously — which evolves and grows over time as you do new versions and get more feedback, etc. — then keep at it, as long as you have that energy for it deep inside. As long as you feel there’s really something there, and you would like to see what it could become. Don’t talk yourself out of your own ideas that you really believe in. Nurture them and see what they turn into.
If you haven't read them already, I also recommend my "Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand", and my series of audio downloads.