“Screenwriting is one of the world’s most notoriously elite and inaccessible industries.” But, as Cal Newport notes in How to become a star screenwriter, that doesn’t stop thousands of wannabes making their way to Los Angeles every year. Most of them are following the standard career advice of:1. Learn the basic techniques (by reading, conferences, etc.)
2. Persevere: get your head down and keep writing and re-writing your blockbuster. As thousands of wannabes do this every year, and most remain wannabes, Newport adds this further advice: 3. “Immerse yourself in the world of screenwriting, getting as close as possible to scripts people like, and the people who like them. Furthermore, continually extract lessons from your exposure to apply to your own writing.” Read Newport’s exposition of this advice below and apply it to preaching:
People don’t like this advice because it discounts their dream of writing the next Lethal Weapon during their lunch break. It requires, instead, a complete change of lifestyle and a risky dedication to mastering a tricky craft.In short, screenwriting requires an apprenticeship, and this is why most working writers have stories that start, like Thomas, with an entry-level industry job — not the writing shelf at Barnes & Noble. I had lunch earlier today with some executives from Ford. (I’m penning these words from the Detroit airport, after giving a talk at Ford’s Center for Innovation and Research.) Listening to their insider take on the automotive industry, a curious fact caught my attention: It can take 15 years to master the skills necessary to work the equipment in the tool and die industry. I think this little piece of trivia provides an elegant way of thinking about becoming excellent in competitive industries, such as screenwriting: It’s not just hard work combined with some easily learned tips — “show, don’t tell!;” “use a three act structure!” — it’s a craft. And learning crafts takes not only time, but exposure to master craftsman. The more I encounter examples of people building remarkable lives by becoming excellent, the more I discover that this model of craftsmanship is alive and well in our modern age. This offers interesting food for thought. When contemplating your own field, ask yourself: are you the wannabe screenwriter reading how-to guides on the subway, or are you, like Thomas, throwing yourself among the masters, and proclaiming: I know nothing, but you do, and I’m not going anywhere until I do too?