You don’t deserve it more than anyone else just because you showed up…
A while ago I had a minor tête-à-tête with a fellow in the comments section of a motivational graphic posted to one of my screenwriting groups on Facebook. Yes, that place where all great thinkers of the internet go to air their grievances with life.
The image in question was a quote from Jordan Peele about how it took him over a decade to get anyone to take his script for Get Out (2017) seriously, but that his hard work and determination got him there in the end.
Beneath which this genius chimed in with “also helps when you’re famous”.
This comment really bugged me and so my immediate response was a mini-essay to the effect of “pipe down and get a grip”. While it was only a very minor disagreement, it stuck with me because of how it typifies the mindset of a lot of writers.
This idea that it’s impossible to break in due to all the evil gatekeepers colluding to keep us “normal” people out.
The reason this irks me is because I think it’s a self-defeating and disempowering attitude that holds a lot of writers and creators back. It implies there is nothing you can do because the whole system is rigged.
It isn’t. Maybe you just haven’t paid enough dues to be taken seriously.
“But what about all the nepo-babies, wha wha”
–I hear some of you cry!
And yes, I agree, some people are given a leg up that they maybe don’t deserve, but the rest of them weren’t. Some people got there by sheer will and determination, which means *shock horror* it might actually be possible to succeed without someone handing it to you.
Yes, being famous might have helped Peele get his script taken seriously, but it also took him years of paying his dues, fighting for opportunities, and working hard to get to there.
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He didn’t just wake up famous.
It isn’t a personal slight that you weren’t catapulted directly to the top of the queue because you wrote something and… sent it to an agent. This is a job at the end of the day, you have to do a bit more than just show up bearing the weight of your own delusions of grandeur.
When was the last time you walked into a company, in an industry you have no experience in, and demanded that you be made the CEO? I’d guess, never.
Funnily enough, nobody owes you a writing career. Yet, for some reason, some writers will produce a piece of work and if people aren’t immediately clambering to throw money at it then “the system is rigged against me!”.
For a long time I drank this very same Kool Aid, and honestly, it wasn’t a good look. The reason I bought into this mindset is because I felt powerless and didn’t know how to break into an industry that I was so desperate to be a part of.
There is so much misinformation floating about and scams preying on naivety that it can feel really overwhelming. That's part of the reason I started this blog, because I didn’t want other writers to have to spend the years it took me to fully understand how this industry works.
I want to help writers get better at what they do but I also want them to be realistic. The sad fact is, if you’re struggling to get people interested in your work—
You’re probably just not good enough, sweetie…
But that’s actually great news, because with time and effort you can get better.
But you can’t get better if you spend all your time whining about gatekeepers. Even if there is an evil cabal of gatekeepers, "there’s more than one way to skin a cat", as Blake Snyder might say.
Something that stories from successful people almost always have in common is that they refused to take NO for an answer. If one door wouldn’t open, they went around the back. Being talented or connected aren’t the things that bring you lasting success – tenacity is.
So stop complaining, start grinding, and remember nolite te bastardes carborundorum.
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