Where Has The Magic Gone? | Script Revolution

Where Has The Magic Gone?

Introduction: 

Stephen Ford is fast becoming know in these parts for his brutally honest articles on the reality of trying to turn a love of writing into a viable screenwriting career. I'm pleased to say, he's back with another, this time covering the topic of that melancholy we can feel for our passion after an extended time chasing the dream. It's tough and it's far from the romantic ideal many paint it as. I'm sure many of us can empathise with the insight Stephen shares and take a little comfort in the ethos he proposes - CJ

During a recent Screenwriters Ireland Zoom Q&A, one of my members had a turn to ask their question, and started off with the following:

“I’ve been a Screenwriter for thirty-six years and I’ve got my masters. But I’m just kind of a bit jaded now, I suppose. I still get a buzz, but that magic has kind of gone a bit now.”

That immediately clicked with me. I could feel the heartbreak in their voice as they spoke about not being able to achieve the only thing they ever wanted to achieve, and how they were just fed-up now. I could relate to that feeling all too well, as I think most of us struggling Screenwriters can.

I retraced my own Screenwriting journey in my head after hearing this, thinking about how confident and optimistic I was when I first left college. Actually, when I first left college, my idea was to write a stage play - our lecturer was a Playwright, so most of what we wrote was for the stage. But I wanted to go further than that. And I remember the constant hours of studying books from beginning to end and writing as many drafts as I could possibly muster - I was young, and I had no responsibilities whatsoever. It was really just a choice between going out to party with my friends or staying in to write all night - I tried to balance the two. I mean there was no pressure, no hurry. I’d convinced myself that because I was only twenty-one, I had my whole life to become a fully-fledged screenwriter. Now I’m thirty-two and with the same problem, although I feel as if I haven’t got as much time anymore. That’s when the magic is hopping, though - when you’re young and you’re just starting off, with nothing less than that sparkle of Hollywood stardom in your eyes. You have plans of moving to LA and slipping a script under Harvey Weinstein’s door (oops) like the original writers of Predator did all those years ago. The problem with that is, no one ever told me in college how hard it would be to “break in” or “make it” as a screenwriter. It took me a long time to figure that out all by myself. One of the most eye-opening books I ever read, that really made me realise this, was William Goldman’s ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’. It was written in 1983, but I feel it still has advice that is pretty relevant even in today’s world, like:

“In terms of authority, screenwriters rank somewhere between the man who guards the studio gate to the man who runs the studio (this week).”

No more quotes, I promise.

Anyway, before long I had the first of what would be many rejections in my career. It was a TV pilot script for the BBC Writer’s Room, a four-part crime/drama called A Single Shot about the murder of a rival gang leader and the affects it has on those closest to the situation. The idea was good, but there were mistakes galore. The script and subsequent episode outlines were sent back to me with a “thanks but no thanks” letter attached. That was hard for me to accept because I thought, being as young and naïve as I was, that this would be my “big break”. It knocked me a little, but I kept entering competitions and kept getting rejected, over and over and over again. Until, one day, I just gave up. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I had a baby, and so for two years I did nothing but drift from one God-awful job to another, while spending all my time on my family. But I was always drawn back to my writing, it never went away for good. I’d go to the cinema and watch a movie on that big screen, and all my dreams would suddenly be revived again. And back and forth it would go for years.

In 2019, after years of writing absolutely nothing, I decided to set up a group called Dublin Screenwriters (now Screenwriters Ireland) because I had grown tired of getting nowhere with my own writing - I wanted to create a safe space for other screenwriters to meet and share their work, to connect with each other. And through this group, I learned more about screenwriting than I ever had before - a lot of harsh truths. I also realised that there was a lot of screenwriters in Ireland with nowhere to go, no one to learn from or who could relate to their perilous struggle. It’s funny because if it wasn’t for this group, I don’t know if I would’ve ever started writing again. I do like to think that I would’ve probably drifted back to it eventually either way, as I always did then and still do now. But I did many other things, from setting up a group for people with anxiety to going through more God-awful jobs to trying my hand at podcasts and blogs and I even took a shot at Instagram fame - all because I felt I’d been sitting in that room alone, writing for countless hours with no reprieve, for way too fucking long. And as before, none of those things worked out and I always, always, ended up right back where I started. Some might even say that this is something I was meant to do, destined to do almost (too far?). Or maybe I just refuse to give up?

Don’t get me wrong, I avoid writing features like the plague. I enjoy writing blog posts and short scripts more than anything else and mainly because, even though they may never help me get paid, I enjoy it - they remind me why it is I write in the first place. And I don’t find them as stressful as trying to write a feature, there’s no strings attached. But again, it doesn’t pay the bills. I think that’s why a lot of screenwriters tend to branch out into writing novels and stage plays and teaching courses and running writer’s groups etc, because confining yourself to just screenwriting makes it even harder. That’s why there’s no harm in taking a break from that feature every now and again to write a blog post or write a one-page short script, just to take your mind off it for a while. I mean right now, at this moment in time, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been writing short scripts and blog posts and running my writing group - and I’m enjoying myself. I will write features again soon but for the moment, I’m happy where I am, even if my wife is on my back to start making more money. And maybe that’s the problem, that we spend so much time focusing on writing that feature that will help us get paid and propel us into that illustrious circle, that we forget about the actual joy of writing. We forget how cool and wonderful it is to write a short and get your friends to help you make it for absolutely nothing. I even feel more magic coursing through my veins right now while writing this blog post than I did writing my last feature, which I would’ve been paid for (yeah, remember my last blog post?!). I know a lot of you right now either don’t understand a word of what I’m saying, or you think I’m just a total nut. It could be both, but it’s definitely the second one.

The thing is that, and I’ve found this to be true myself, it’s so easy for writers to get tired of trying to “break in” that we try our hands at so many different things in an attempt to figure out if we’re actually supposed to be writers or not in the first place. I mean let’s be honest here, we need to pay the bills and provide for our families, and we can’t wait forever for our writing to do that for us. The truth is, the magic will more than likely always feel like it has disappeared because writing is a grind, pure and simple - it can be gruelling. For a lot of us, the harsh reality is that we may never “break in” with our writing and it’s hard because of that lingering at the back of our heads to not give up every single day. Some of us just aren’t built for it. Even with an abundance of persistence and talent, I think you still need a little luck to go your way too.

So, where has the magic gone? Well, it hasn’t gone anywhere. In my personal opinion, the day you realise that there is no magic in the process of writing and only torture, is the day you finally realise that you’re a fucking writer after all.

Good luck!

About The Author

Stephen Ford's picture
Real name: 

Stephen is a talented, autistic creative who has more than ten years experience in the world of Screenwriting. He is extremely focused and organised.

 

After finishing college in 2010, Stephen spent the next couple of years further learning the craft of Screenwriting and trying to get his work out there. Until in 2018, when he decided to take a break from Screenwriting and put all his focus into trying to help other budding Screenwriters within Ireland, so he set up a group...Read more

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Comments

John Hunter's picture

I want to believe most people write because they enjoy doing it. Making a living writing is another story altogether. If you must write, short stories are an excellent way to scratch that itch. If your stuff is really that good, more pixels can be added at a later date to satisfy the adoring masses.

Bamutiire Jerry Edmund's picture

Stephen, two blogs so far, two touches on my heart so far, well done so far! I love it you've been brave enough to openly and honestly share about your walks down the lonely gloomy streets of screenwriting. You expose the pessimistic reality at hand as well as the hope and happiness within the hard grip industry of the art we call screenwriting. Keep on inspiring us, Ford!

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