How a Writer works.
I am constantly asked by friends’ and students which I like better; Writing Novels or Screenwriting. The answer is never as simply as one or the other. You see, when you’re a screenwriter working on a studio project or really any project where a producer or studio executives are involved, there are going to be changes, not just a few editor changes but dozens or more changes to your work.
I’ve made so many changes before to screenplays that in the end it seemed like an entirely different idea from where we started or it has gone full circle and we are back where we started. Screenwriting is collaborative, as long as you are prepared for as many changes as it takes to get it to screen, it can be an amazing experience. It goes a little something like this – say you get a job writing a script for Studio whoever, we start with an outline for what you’re going to write. The producer will then give several rounds of notes based on what they think the executives wants. You change the outline appropriately. The producer then turns it into the exec who invariably wants something different, sometimes slightly, other times entirely. You then go through more rounds of notes and changes with both the producer and the exec. This is done as many times as it takes to make the exec and the producer both happy. This, by nature, involves many compromises.
Having two (exec and producer) smart, confident people who only vaguely know each other to agree on something as complex as a script – it’s much, much tougher. You’re going to be meeting somewhere in the middle. It won’t be exactly what you have in mind, nor will it be exactly what the exec or the producer each had in mind.
After all this, you go off and write the script. Which you then turn into the producers and we go through the same notes/rewriting process you outlined above all over again, this time however, the amount of notes grows exponentially. The producer and exec now have specifics to give notes on. Things they can really chew on and get into, from subplots, to turning points – all the way down to specific lines of dialogue. You will spend the next few months altering, massaging and sometimes changing large and small chunks of the story.
How many rounds of this you go through, depends on the exec, the producer and how willing your agent is to go to bat for you, Scripts are art, not science they are never finished or ever perfect. So you could theoretically be working on it for the rest of time. I’ve had as little as two rounds of notes and I’ve had as many as twenty two ( yes you will count). And the rounds have almost always end with one party saying ”
Alright people, enough is enough, or some politically acceptable version of that.”
Now, to my novel writer friends, this all sounds like a fate worse than death. They can’t imagine making this many – what they refer to as “sacrifices.” I prefer “compromises” that is just the way it is? To their point, it’s not always easy, if I’m being completely honest. It’s all about the people you are working with, If they are bad at their jobs, the process can be interminable in turn if they are great at it, it can be an enormous boost. The good ones have the ability to not only find problems, but help fix them as well; they can and do make your script better.
Most screenwriters don’t write novels let alone authors who enjoy screenwriting. Most screenwriters I know never do. I’m not sure why, except the money that is. The screenwriting biz is hard, it’s a monetary rollercoaster. To take time off, to put a giant hole in your budget, is stressful. But unfortunately, screenwriters/authors such as me are no stranger to anxiety and stress. I’d say out of the ten professional writers I know, eight of them are on some sort of med’s legal or not.
Screenwriting is a tough, gut wrenching, chaotic and incredibly unstable profession. When you have a family, it’s tough. As an author of your own book you have many of the same challenges, hoping that people will buy the book (and of course love it). It’s a risk and a gamble. If you know a writer you already know that they are dreamers, it is amazing how dreamers seem to make things happen and create the change that they did to survive.
Writing books is one of the best experiences of my life. There is nobody trying to reshape my story, no compromises to be made. I can tell a story exactly the way I wanted to tell it. It is both scary and exhilarating at the same time. You have full control of the books success through research, writing, editing, cover art, publishing, social media and distribution. This is a lot to manage as a writer, however it is all you and your can work at your pace and can discuss changes with yourself rather than fifty others. Monetarily it is not going to put food on the table unless you can have your agent sell it to a big publishing house for a massive amount of money, however to see your work on the shelf of a bookseller is food enough some days but remember once an agents is involved you will have to make a few sacrifices.
If I had to pick either screenwriting or writing novels, it would be extremely difficult. I am however extremely passionate about writing books and sharing this experience with others. There is so much in my imagination that I can write about but can’t affordably be produced for screen. Maybe someday one of my novels will be adapted into a screenplay, as have several of the books that I have worked on with others as a ghostwriter. That maybe the creme de la creme of both worlds.