We all have obstacles of some kind. A personal challenge. A flaw, or for most of us, a series of flaws – a whole host of issues, really. We deal with them on a daily basis, whether they’re literal and physical, or mental and emotional. We’re imperfect. And most of the time our beliefs surrounding our issues or personal challenges are even more debilitating than the actual challenge itself. So what I want to talk about here is something a bit more esoteric than what I usually cover, that being the craft of writing and the process of developing a story. That process is a relatively finite one. We have an idea, we beat it out, we outline and prepare, and then we write it as a story. There are steps to that process. There is a beginning, middle, and an end to the process itself, just as there is to the story you’re telling.
But in life, and in this endeavor of developing yourself, it’s much more difficult to notice the beginning, middle and end. It’s not easy to break down your life to a process because life isn’t lived in a straight line, even though it may seem that way at times. We go from year zero to life’s end. Sure, you could argue that is technically a straight line that takes you from point A to point Z, but we all know how much of a zig-zag life really is, and we all know that each step of the way can lead us toward entirely different directions. While I could quite easily compare life to the writing process, I’m trying to steer clear of that metaphor here – I’ve touched upon that metaphor in past chapters, and I’ve mentioned it in the online classes I manage with the International Screenwriters’ Association. What I want to focus on instead is perspective, and though I talked about perspective in the chapter about Voice and developing your personal story, let’s just drop the metaphors entirely. Let’s just drop all of it, at least for a few minutes, because I need to be candid here.
You have two options; two choices that you can make that will define your entire life, and you can’t choose both. It’s pretty simple. Either life is good, or life is bad. Either life sucks, or life is amazing.
OK, so I laid out the two choices, but let’s break those two choices down. Can life suck sometimes? Yes. Can life be amazing sometimes? Yes. So am I contradicting myself by saying that, since I just said you can’t choose both? No, and here’s why. Just because life is naturally dichotomous, as it can both suck and be amazing, it does not mean that you need to consistently believe that it sucks. Or, for that matter and on the flipside, consistently believe that it’s amazing. It’s up to you to make a decision that will then drive your belief. In other words, when life sucks, you have the complete and unregulated freedom to choose that life is actually amazing even when it may seem terrible. And that’s the difference. That’s why I didn’t contradict myself. It’s the difference between living an unconscious life and a conscious one. Being aware or unaware. I would hope that you choose that life is amazing, even when life seems terrible. That goes without saying, but I’ll dive in a little more.
I mentioned a moment ago that a decision drives a belief. That statement could also be reversed – a belief drives a decision. But what comes first? The decision or the belief? In order to make a decision, you have to believe that the decision is based upon some kind of a proven belief. Should I say that again? In order to make a decision, you have to believe that the decision is based upon some kind of a proven belief. But the catch is this; in order to strengthen a belief, you must continue to make decisions that prove to yourself that the belief is real – that the belief is more than just a belief, but it’s actually a knowing. And think about the difference between believing something and knowing something.
You might believe that one day you will be wealthy. You can feel it. You believe that all of the work you’re doing will result in financial wealth of some kind in the future. But now consider something you know. Just as an example, you know that you can breathe. You know it so well that you don’t even think about it. It just is and it’s just something that you do. Do you see that there is no doubt within knowing something? You know it, and that’s it. Doubt cannot exist in knowing. Belief however tends to be dripping in doubt when you are consistently making the choice of, “life sucks”.
The catch is that any belief can turn into a knowing. Why and how? Through consistent decision making with absolute clarity. Even though the doubt may pop up now and then, and even though you may fail from time to time, it does not and should not ever disrupt your decision making process based on your belief. What I have noticed simply by living my own life, and of course by helping a bunch of others – both in and out of the writing world – is that the biggest, and most detrimental element to our intent to live a happy life is a lack of complete and consistent clarity. Clarity of decision, and clarity of belief. Because what happens when you continually make a decision to strive for something? You eventually start to succeed. It may not be complete success, but the steps toward the ultimate success are still successes, and those successes do what? They reinforce your belief that something is possible. That success is possible. So you make another decision based on what? That it’s possible. That your belief is actually real and true. That your belief isn’t just some fanciful little wish that you whisper before falling asleep. The belief is actually manifesting something real, something tangible.
But here is twist that life tends to throw in the spokes of your wheel, and I’ve already mentioned it earlier, but… failure. Failure is inevitable. Let me just tell this to you now. You are going to fail. Is that me being negative? No. That’s me just being real and honest. No matter what endeavor you choose to pursue, I don’t care if you want to be a plumber or an astronaut, your journey toward finally becoming whatever it is you’re pursuing will be covered in failure. Failure is going to rain down on you like a storm. It just is, so accept it. But what have I been talking about this whole time? You have a choice – does life suck, or is it amazing?
If you continually fail at something, it doesn’t mean that you’re not any good at it or that it’s no use and you should just give up. It just means that you have to make a decision based on how powerful your belief about it is. Are you going to be a working, professional screenwriter? How are you going to answer that question? I assume that you are answering it with a “yes”. Great. But what kind of steps can you take that will prove your belief of, “I’m going to be a working, professional screenwriter”? For one, write. Write every day. If you’re calling yourself a writer and you don’t actually write anything, then you’re fooling yourself and you don’t have clarity, but another thing you can do is find ways to improve your writing and your craft. Even better. You’re doing that by reading this book. You can apply to screenplay contests to hopefully prove that you’re actually doing something right and creating viable material. You can submit your work to producers, managers, agents, whomever, to attempt to find someone to back your material, or you can just go shoot the script yourself.
I could keep going with the list of things you could do, but ultimately, you have to find ways to try and prove to yourself that you can be a working, professional screenwriter and without ever backing down, even in the face of consistent failure. What did Thomas Edison say when he tried over a hundred different ways to create a light bulb but failed? He said, “I didn’t fail at inventing the light bulb. I just discovered over a hundred ways how not to make a light bulb.”
That is a perfect example of making a decision based on a belief, and allowing your belief to be reinforced by consistent decisions, but Edison had complete clarity. His perspective was entirely of, “life is amazing.” Had he made the decision of “life sucks”, he would have stopped after his first failed light bulb.
Like I said when I opened this chapter, we have all have obstacles. We all have personal challenges, either of the mind or physical. No one has a simple road to success, but you are only going to make it harder on yourself if you decide to believe that life sucks. Do I think that you, reading right now, are actually believing that life sucks? No. But the next time something unexpected happens to you, something that is “bad”, how do you react? If you get incredibly upset and have a woe-is-me attitude to the bad thing happening, you are leaning more toward the choice of, “life sucks”. If you get a little frustrated, maybe vent some anger, but then quickly take a deep breath and decide to just figure out the problem… well, you know where I’m going with this.
Life is amazing. It really is. But the best way to prove to yourself that life is amazing is by making little decisions along the way. By constantly aligning yourself with the highest and best choice possible, and by defining your goal – whatever that goal may be – with absolute clarity. This isn’t some spiritual guru, metaphysical, “the universe will respond”, kind of stuff. This is about making decisions, one after another, based on a clear belief that you can, and you will, succeed. Just don’t get caught up in the little failures along the way.
In terms of finding success in the screenwriting and entertainment industries, it’s really hard. Really, really hard. I don’t know how else to explain it or define it. But so what? Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. One of my favorite Tom Hanks lines is from A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN when Gina Davis’ character is quitting and she says, “It just got too hard.” What does Hanks say? “Of course it’s hard. The hard is what makes it great.”
Own your failures. Own how difficult this endeavor is. Own your personal challenges. It’s all about having clarity of choice. Don’t waver. You can do this.