"There are times when the only way to get from A to C is by way of B."
On the way down to Florida this week I got an email from the Academy Nicholl Fellowship Committee. They had promised all the results for the quarterfinal round of their annual screenwriting competition would be announced by August 1st. I wasn't expecting an email so soon.
This past year (the third time I've entered this contest), I felt more confident than ever. I worked very hard for a long time to make the story more character driven and the emotions more authentic. My reader, best friend and all around coolest gingey ever really enjoyed the script. This was a breakthrough seeing as she wasn't too fond of my previous draft (I got to the quarterfinals one year and then in the top 15% with that draft). Rochelle is very frank and honest (that's why she's my BFF!) and so I trusted her opinion (and still do). I felt I had done the best I could do and it was great.
I didn't get into the quarterfinals. Not even in the top 15% or 20%. I was told the following:
"A little bit of good news: your script received two positive scores from first round readers and was read twice during the competition. It did fall outside the Top 20% of all entries. Beyond this, we do not provide exact numerical scores."
I'm still a little fuzzy on what that exactly means but in the moment I read it, it read failure. I was devastated. All that hard work and for what? I was very tempted to give everything up during those first 24 hours. It seemed like the harder I worked, the lower I scored! Now, there were more than 1,000 extra entrants compared to the year I got in the quarterfinals. The committee also changed the minimum screenwriting salary from $5000 to $25,000. That means I was competing against people with more real experience than me.
In the end, those excuses don't matter. I had a chance to talk with Scott Frank at a screenwriter's conference a few years ago and he said that if you submit your screenplay to this competition and you don't win a fellowship, then it's simply not good enough. I said that sounded kind of harsh and he explained that a screenplay has to stand out. Outside of the competition, he explained, there is so much more competition. My screenplay has to compete with hundreds of thousands of scripts. If mine can't stand out in 7000 or more scripts, how can it compete with hundreds of thousands?
It was hard to find out the screenplay I thought was amazing was only sub-par. For the first time ever, I thought about giving up writing. Rochelle assured me that I need to give myself time before I made any choices. My husband and mom told me not to give up. These reassurances kept me from metaphorically jumping of the ledge for the moment. The fact we were at the beach also helped.
After the initial shock I realized that while my screenplay needed work, I needed even more work. I had let my confidence slowly grow into egotism. I let myself get a big head. That big head lead to big disappointment and a desire to make big choices to satisfy the vast emptiness left behind by unfulfilled expectations.
While searching for some answers and inner peace, I came across this video. I had seen it many times but this time it spoke to me personally.
If you're not into the churchy stuff, I'll summarize. Sometimes we have to go down unexpected roads in order to find the right way. Sometimes we have to make mistakes in order to learn. Sometimes accidents or other problems out of our control cause us to take a different path than the one we planned. And that's okay. That's life! I'm embarrassed and disappointed I didn't place in the competition but maybe this is the only way I can be a better writer. I'm learning that I need to be humble and gain all the knowledge I can. I've been given some great opportunities to work with those who have experience in the film industry. The road isn't completely dark to me. It's just new.
This experience has taught me lessons I can apply to my life in general. Enduring autoimmune diseases and the resulting surgeries, physical therapy, painful procedures, strict diets and dealing with financial issues and living with my parents for several years . . . all of these are absolutely not the roads I thought I'd have to take! But maybe I'm here because there is much for me to learn here. I can learn to have more empathy and patience with others. I'm also learning that my social standing, career (or lack thereof) is not the final say in who I am. They don't make me unworthy. I am more than my failures, illnesses, etc. I just have to find my ground so I can have true confidence, not the puffed up kind I've had for the past few months.
What do you do when you find yourself on a road you didn't expect?