Looking for the Short Cut

Screenwriter Paul Guyot offers some great advice for aspiring writers for the new year:

A huge problem I see with people wanting to write for a living – more
screenwriters than prose for some reason – is that they are so
completely focused on getting an agent, or getting their script to a
producer or studio, or dreaming of that one spec sale that will solve
all their troubles, that they don’t spend any energy on becoming a good

…Try something new this year. Just for 6 months. Forget completely
about trying to get your scripts or books to agents or producers, or
trying to enter contests, or suck up to the rich producer/editor at the
party, or meet the "right" people.

And just concentrate on your writing. Making it better. I promise
you, on my granny’s grave, that your writing can be improved upon. That
script that you think you can’t do any more with – it can be better.
That manuscript you’ve tweak four or five times and think is your best
work ever – it can be better.

He gave this advice, and a whole lot more, in response to a question from a reader of his excellent blog. That reader didn’t take the advice very well and, basically, told him to go fuck himself, essentially underscoring the point Paul was trying to make. The reader thinks he’s owed a career simply because he can type stories in screenplay format — he hasn’t grasped the concept that being able to write actually counts, too.

But this attitude isn’t limited to screenwriters — you see it a lot with aspiring novelists who, rather than hone their craft, send their half-baked manuscripts and checks to iUniverse, lulu, and the like and expect this will lead to being a bestselling author. Too many aspiring writers these days are looking for short-cuts to success, a way to avoid all the hard work and rejection,  and there simply aren’t any.

24 thoughts on “Looking for the Short Cut”

  1. This reminds me of all the wannabe novelists who pester established writers to read their 250,000 word fantasy epic but don’t want to hear the suggestion that they might try honing their prose style on a short story or two…

  2. Well, I didn’t expect to be a bestseller, but I sent two manuscripts to iUniverse before learning better. They were both awful, and if I’d stopped growing then …
    It’s like people who say they want to write, but they have no time to read. In my opinion, the number-one way to improve your writing (aside from the act of writing itself) is to read.

  3. For Maple and others…
    Right after I posted, the “Morgan” person emailed me, saying:
    “I was looking for help and you got on your almighty high horse! you think you are better than everyone, you must have forgotten where you came from!
    Fuck off and die.”

    I didn’t think it was worthy of a response on my Bog, but I’m glad Lee made it public.

  4. although i don’t at all disagree with paul’s advice, perhaps the reason folks don’t think they need improvement is because they see so much of the junk that DOES make it. for those that are more concerned with celebrity or money, perhaps there isn’t much incentive for them to worry about the quality of their writing.

  5. I think Paul offers great advice. Who knows? In six months you might have written two scripts and the second one is better. When you do finally send it off you’ll have a better shot. I don’t quite understand being in a rush to send out scripts to people who aren’t really waiting for them.

  6. I have to say, though, that being a great writer is not enough, not if you want to write for film or television – you also need access, and access means an agent, and it doesn’t mean just any agent – it means the right agent.
    I have great scripts. I have more than one great script. I’ve spent the past nine months looking for a new agent because I found that I don’t have the right agent.
    I know what Paul’s talking about, though – it’s important to work hard and excell at the craft. But it’s not the only thing – it’s not even enough – I know other really great writers who aren’t really going places because they have no access. And I’ve met so-so writers doing pay jobs for big money because they have a great agent. It’s no surprise that so many writers focus on finding an agent. Because that means finding a job and success in the field.
    Just my two cents.

  7. “I have great scripts. I have more than one great script.”
    I have an ego…God knows, this blog proves it…and I’ve written hundreds of scripts and dozens of books. But I don’t think I’ve ever referred to one of my own scripts or books as great. In fact, most professional writers I know don’t refer to their own work as great, fantastic or excellent. Not because they aren’t proud of their, or because they are insecure. They just know better than to presume to be able to judge whether their work is great or not. Not even if, or when, reviewers say its great.
    All I can say about my work is whether I’m happy with it, or if it was the best I was capable of doing, or if I completed the task I was assigned to the best of my ability, or if the final product resembles what I originally had in mind when I set out to do it. But I would never say I have several great scripts and books. No offense, Joshua, but I cringe on those rare occasions when I hear an artist heap praise on their own work. It makes me suspect whether it really is all that great…or makes me wonder if the artist’s attitude isn’t their biggest obstable to success.

  8. Oh, and yes, having a great agent certainly helps. And making good connections. And luck. And who you sleep with and who you don’t. And who you’ve pissed off and who you’ve kissed up to.And a whole lot of other things.
    But the bottom line is that most writers don’t succeed if they don’t have talent.

  9. “I was looking for help and you got on your almighty high horse! you think you are better than everyone, you must have forgotten where you came from!
    Fuck off and die.”
    Well, rule #2 after #1–work your ass off–might very well be, “Don’t burn your bridges,” or, “Someday Paul Guyot may be a showrunner and the odds of you working for him are now precisely zero.”
    Even if he disagreed, he should have said, “Thanks for your thoughts.” He could have stomped around his living room saying, “fuck off and die,” all he wanted. God knows I’ve done the same about various editors and agents, but I’m a businessman as well as a writer and I may be in a position of needing (not wanting) to work with some of these people in the future.
    Grow up.
    Mark Terry

  10. No offense at all, no sir – I want to know when I have put my foot in it – I certainly don’t think that every script I have written is great, but there are two or three that I am very proud of – if it’s a mistake to call them great, if it’s something that may hurt me professionally at some point, I want to know.
    I didn’t use to say that – I used to do that thing where I’d be all shy about my work, and a friend who works in development told me some time ago to be confident and clear about the work and job. Told me a few things along those lines, one of which is to say it straight out that I got game.
    “Most of the people you will meet won’t know the difference between good writing and bad” he said, “Let ’em know which one you are from the start.”
    Now whether or not he was overly cynical and burned about his brethern in the biz, I don’t know. He thought I should go a lot farther than just saying “great.” So that’s the background. But it’s a fine line between confident and uncomfortable – I’ve been writing for awhile (in a different field in the beginning) and though I’m confident but I’m not gonna pretend that I ain’t still learning – so I welcome your view on the subject, even if it stings me a bit. Guyot spanked me, deservingly, much harder – but it’s hard to argue if it’s a righteous bust, so what can I say? This is one of the ways guys like me have to learn about this stuff, right?

  11. … they are so completely focused on getting an agent, or getting their script to a producer or studio, or dreaming of that one spec sale that will solve all their troubles, that they don’t spend any energy on becoming a good writer.
    Why make this assumption? Maybe the person who asked him the question spends hours every day on his writing. Maybe he spent 2 minutes asking about agents.
    When you pat someone on the head and tell them “You shouldn’t ask that question–just become a better writer” don’t be surprised if they are put off by your patronizing tone.
    Why tell the writer in question (or aspiring writers in general) to spend six months on their writing? For all you know, this person has just spent six years doing exactly that.
    Why not just answer the question?

  12. Harry,
    How about you read my post in its entirety before commenting? Then you might have a better perspective.
    Or, if you did do that, then you completely missed what I was saying, and how many times in the post I said things like “And it doesn’t mean that some of you aren’t already amazing, wonderful writers, probably better than me. I recently read some stuff by an AW and it was terrific.”

  13. There will always be lots of people who prefer snake oil to surgery — that’s why informercials are filled with get rich/fit/potent magic bullets.
    In regard to writing, as with most creative arts, I think many are convinced success is just a matter of talent (innate aptitude) as opposed to skill (aptitude that can be learned, and honed through experience and study). They don’t understand that it requires both.

  14. Paul, I did read your whole post.
    Here’s the thing: Nothing you said in your post was bad information. It was all good, as far as I’m concerned.
    The problem lies in the context. You offered general advice, with all the caveats about your readers maybe possibly being as good as that Absolute Writer, in response to a specific question from a specific stranger.
    If a guy asks you for directions to the Inn-N-Out Burger, do you tell him to go two blocks that way, then turn right one block, and he’ll be right at the Bally’s. Because hey, most people are fat and better off going to the gym, unless they run marathons or something.
    If you want to talk about people rushing to market their work before they’re ready, cool. Just don’t hang that label on people you don’t know. And if a stranger asks you a question, don’t ignore their question in favor of the one you think they should be asking. Unless you want to be disrespectful.

  15. And can I, as humbly as possible, add that whenever I have asked someone higher on the professional ladder than I just HOW I can land the RIGHT agent (not AN agent, but the agent that will not lose me work but get me work) the first thing I’m told is “write a great script” –
    Which is why I said – I did that . . . more than once . . . I just want into the game, coach . . .
    Now I get spanked for saying I have written a great script . . .

  16. After years of effort on all fronts someone with the power to make it into a film buys it and actually does. That’s how you know you’ve written a great script. But it will most likely be changed regardless.

  17. Every writer thinks they’ve written a great script. It’s the marketplace — agents and executives — who make that decision. Clearly the marketplace has told you (and Morgan) that your scripts are not great — because you haven’t been able to find representation or get a sale. So keep trying and maybe someday your scripts will be great — at least great enough to actually interest an agent.

  18. Clearly you’re making assumptions about me . . . I have an agent, I’m on my third now . . . and I’ve had property optioned . . . and I’ve had stuff produced . . . so I know it makes a nice target on my back when I say I have a great script (actually, I said I had more than one) and it’s something that Lee took me to task over and I explained in one of my posts above why I said it, who told me to present myself that way and etc.
    So how is a writer supposed to promote themselves, anyway? I’ve heard other writers (Scott Rosenberg comes to mind) say that they have a great script that hasn’t found a home yet. According to what I read, M. Night said it about Sixth Sense before it sold. I’ve heard pro screenwriters say it.
    So some think it’s egotistical for a writer to say, “I have a great script” – I get that. It may be. It’s better to find a manager who can say “This guy has a great script” and that’s what a lot of writers are looking for. Which is what started this discussion, right?
    Really, the only way to know if someone truly has written a great script or not is to read it – I’m not asking anyone here to read anything of mine. We were talking about representation, specifically finding it once you have done all the things you’re supposed to do, written the scripts and specs and put in the hours, blood, sweat and tears but yet do not have access.
    The idea that, if you don’t have an agent or a sale then the property must not be good is silly. I call bullshit on that. Lee’s book THE IRON ON BADGE took years to find a home. Was it any less great when it was unpublished?
    I know other writers who have written great scripts. The fact that they haven’t found a home yet doesn’t make them any less great. Shoot, a lot of great scripts were PASSED on by a whole lot of studios before they got made.
    The quality of the craft makes them great. And gets them an agent.
    My question is, how to find that agent, how to know it’s the right agent and how the hell do you get an agent to read something?
    I don’t agree with how the other guy (Morgan?) responded to Paul, I don’t know how good he is, nothing. I simply stated that it’s a Rubiks cube of a puzzle to figure out how to find the right rep.
    Hey, I get that it offended some that I like some of my work quite a bit (I like a lot of writers work, actually) and said so – but what’s a better way of doing it?

  19. Boys, boys, please! Leave your ego on the floor, read Paul’s comments again-and slowly-then ‘really’think about what he’s saying. Don’t take it personally-how the hell can you since he’s made it clear he’s offering general advice?
    As for finding an agent-go out and look for one! I mean, come on, let’s not act so dumb here. You query, you ask friends for recommendations, you network, you do your homework-you find the agent that specializes in what you write. There’s no magic carpet ride to an agent either in the film biz or the book biz.
    As for ‘great scripts’ or ‘great books’, well, there is nothing wrong in believing in yourself, but a little humility goes a long way. And it’s more palatable.

  20. I have a couple of specific stories I need to sell that derive from books. Without an agent, my second should I land another, there is no chance they’ll sell, or be read for that matter. I can get the books through to the agencies in NY just fine. The screenplays don’t even get a response in LA. Well Peter Miller responded, NY though, and I won’t mention the other one. Are they good? Bad? I don’t know. They tell the story I want to tell in screenplay format.


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