I recently read an excellent little book called The Dip, by marketer extraordinaire Seth Godin. In it, he deals with the question of whether and when to quit. To become the best at whatever you do, you’ll inevitably be confronted with a tough period in which quitting is one of the options.
In some circumstances, quitting is exactly the right thing to do, because it frees up your resources to work on something more viable. In fact, says Seth, successful people often quit, because they know when they’re flogging a dead horse (a situation he calls a Cul-de-sac).
In other situations, persevering and successfully working your way through The Dip will place you many notches above the competition. By having continued where many others give up, you become a scarce and therefore valuable commodity.
The difference between success and failure is knowing whether you’re in a Dip or a Cul-de-sac.
In the realm of screenwriting, this is true both in terms of any script you might be working on as well as in terms of your career as a whole.
A minority of screenwriters establish themselves by persevering despite repeated rejections, abysmal or non-existent remuneration, discouraging family members, and all the other factors that cause the majority to give up.
A minority of screenwriters listen seriously to criticism of their work and continue writing and learning until their screenwriting is absolutely as good as they can make it. For the majority this sounds too much like hard work, and they give up.
A minority of screenwriters acknowledge when a script is going nowhere, when it’s time to put it away and start on a fresh idea. They know that screenwriters write many scripts, a few of which get produced. The majority don’t. They’re the ones you see schlepping that same single script around with them year after year, complaining that the world is evil for not recognizing the unique talent hidden in that one masterpiece.
This uphill struggle seems to be a kind of natural selection process. That minority of screenwriters who push on through the Dip, come out the other side with infinitely more experience and skills under their belt than the majority who either get stuck or give up.
It makes sense, too, when you think about it. Part of being an exciting and inspiring screenwriter to work with, is being someone with vision and self-knowledge. Someone who acknowledges their own strengths and weaknesses. Someone who knows when to dig in their heels and when to bow out gracefully.
So where are you right now? In a Dip or a Cul-de-sac?!