6 Ways You’re Holding Your Screenwriting Career Back


A journey of a thousand screenplays begins with the first word

This is a mantra that many aspiring screenwriters swear by. But many also fail to take that first step to become an actual screenwriter.

You’ve got a ton of story ideas, read a few books on screenwriting, attended a masterclass or two, but you still can’t get past the blank page. Sound familiar? You’ve even come up with a title for your screenplay and typed in “Fade In.” You’ve actually made a start. Then you go on an extended break to think about your screenplay. Upon your return, you write a scene and promptly delete it.

You return to your outline and rearrange it before writing another scene, which you delete as well. Negative thoughts swirl around your head – What if my screenplay is bad? What if I’m bad? Should I go back to my legal career?

Why do we self-sabotage our careers? You left the law profession for a reason. You wanted to become a screenwriter. But you become paralyzed and can’t make any progress. Why does this happen?

It all comes down to one word – FEAR. Fear is a natural human emotion designed to protect us from harm. It’s not designed to prohibit us from realizing our potential as storytellers. Recognize your negative feelings and manage them.

Which definition of FEAR applies to you?




Change requires a decision that change is required. A decision to get out of your own way, out of your comfort zone. Here are some ways to identify and overcome your fears:

Photo by Alessandro De Bellis

1) What Are You Scared Of?

Most often it’s a fear of failure. Screenwriting is a tough business and the odds of success are low. Frightening, but true. But it’s not a good enough reason not to pursue your goal.

Imagine the piles of rejection letters. Are you a bad writer? Only if you believe you are. There is always room for improvement. Even A-list writers hear NO regularly. As in daily, if they have enough material. It only takes one YES to negate all the NOs.

If working screenwriters get rejected, what chance do you have to break in? It’s healthy to have a realistic view of a viable screenwriting career. Realistic, not nihilistic.

You have to be in it for the long haul and understand that a string of rejections will make that single success that much sweeter. Don’t give up after your first few scripts. Treat them as stepping stones as your craft improves. In fact, when you send a screenplay off for consideration, start the next one before you receive a response.

Then there’s the fear of success. That’s a deeper concern for anxious screenwriters. Will you be able to write your award acceptance speech? Should you buy or hire an appropriate outfit? What about all the paparazzi and journalists wanting a scoop? Let your publicist worry about that. Those are the least of your worries.

Identify your fear of failure and recognize it as a temporary feeling. Don’t dwell on it. If you ignore it, it will go away.

2) Your Comfort Zone Is Your Hazard Zone

Playing it too safe doesn’t ensure success. If you set your bar too low to new challenges, you will never grow as a screenwriter. If you set it too high, you run the risk of becoming discouraged and putting off your writing. Be strategic with your challenges. Charter new territory. Write in a new medium. If you normally write for television, write a feature script. Perhaps a web series or even a stage play?
Take some calculated risks. Maybe even some uncalculated ones. Sure you’ll make some mistakes. Grow from them. Screenwriting is a craft of continuous improvement. You must write to continually improve. The roadside is filled with animals who couldn’t make a decision.


3) You Settle For Less

Settling for less than your potential is related to staying in your comfort zone. Both end badly. It’s also related to your self-esteem. Despite much of the screenwriting business not being controlled by you, sitting at your keyboard is. You have the power to write your screenplay without permission. Visualize your idyllic writing life. Practice that acceptance speech. Take progressive daily action until it manifests.

What are your screenwriting career goals? Writing one screenplay a year? Enter at least one contest? Produce a short film? These are admirable stepping stones, but are you really challenging yourself? They may be fine when you’re starting out, but they will not get you a script sale or a paying gig.
Think about the distractions in your life. Do you really need to be doing so much? Eliminate what you can. Streamline tasks. Guard your writing time. Dream big. Act big.

4) You’re Not Resilient

Disappointment is a big part of every successful screenwriter. You worked so hard on a screenplay, you got a producer interested, maybe even some financing and name actor attached… and then you get the dreaded phone call that it all fell through.
By all means, acknowledge and process your anger and disappointment. But don’t let it consume it. When you fall off the screenwriting horse, get back on it. The recovery time shortens after every setback.
Take stock of a situation when things start falling apart. The situation has failed you. You are not a failure. This project wasn’t meant to be at that point in time. Even if your project irreversibly falls apart, you still have a completed screenplay.

Maybe you can set it up elsewhere in another format or it sparks a new idea?

A smooth sea never made a good sailor

Let yourself grieve and do some soul-searching, but never succumb to your negative self-talk. Your perceived failure is an opportunity to grow. Surround yourself with positive and supportive influences.

5) You Compare Your Career Path To Others

Screenwriters often judge their success (or perceived lack of) based on the success of others. Success and failure look different when you’re not directly linked to it. It hurts when someone else gets their (inferior in your opinion) project greenlit, or they win an award. Success doesn’t make you a good person, nor does it make you a bad one.
It’s all relative. You don’t know how many previous failures other screenwriters had. Or how long they’ve been writing. Somebody else’s success clouds your judgment of it. Do you perceive failure as a setback to be overcome or as a fatal flaw? Every screenwriter is at a different stage of their writing journey so it’s unproductive to judge your progress by their status.

Don’t compare your first draft with another writer’s tenth

6) Excuses Excuses

You’ll have a tough time finding new excuses for not committing to your screenwriting goals. You’re too old. You’re too young. You don’t have the time. You don’t have any industry connections. You spend more time feeding your fears rather than your dreams.
This is time taken away from writing. If you must make up a litany of excuses, write them all down. Get them out of your system.

Then burn them. That’s right. Have a fire extinguisher handy. Excuses don’t serve a higher purpose.

Then you can acknowledge what’s really holding you back. It’s a four-letter word, FEAR. Writing compelling stories is hard enough without you acting as an added obstacle. Your dreams are far too important.

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