Saturday, March 29, 2008

How To Know When To Quit

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?!


Anonymous said...

Yes, never give up.

Even if we are confronted with stress, divorces, more stress and sometimes a dash of financial stress...

Grab on to Hollywood like a "poodle or pitbull" and never let go....

Benjamin Ray

Raving Dave Herman said...

Yes, but only "never give up" on the goal, rather than any particular strategy for achieving it. In other words, recognize when a strategy isn't working and quit it asap, in favour of a new strategy for achieving the same goal!

Anonymous said...

Actually Dave, this is a very interesting piece of advice. Dip or cul de sac? It's a very tough assessment to make.

The one thing I would add is that the biggest job in my career came out of the blue, at the very point that I truly thought I would never work again, and I had started looking for other lines of work. I had decided I was in a cul de sac, in fact I was in a dip.

Not to get get all cosmic but it really did make me thing there is something in that old idea that you can only get to the top when you have surrendered at the bottom.

Looking around, every screenwriter I know has suffered real knocks at one time or another. The ones that keep working are the ones that keep writing. Simple as that.

They change tactics, learn, improve, obviously - and it can take decades - but at some deep level they never give up on their primary goal.

Raving Dave Herman said...

Phil, glad the advice was useful. All credit to Seth Godin who was the one to originally coin the phrases in his book.

It's so important to keep your eye on your long-term goals. Helps put some perspective on seemingly overwhelming obstacles in the present.

And yes, the knocks are part of the Dip and the changes in tactic are a recognition of the Cul-de-sac!