Screenwriting and Marathons
So this post is based on posts on two other blogs, which got me thinking.
The first was by Craig Mazin of The Artful Writer, a professional writer, who says that in his eyes the idea that "screenwriting is a marathon" is not true at all. Not only that, he goes on to say that if writing feels like a marathon to you, then either there's a major problem with your script, or you're not cut out for writing screenplays.
Mazin goes on to define what he is thinking about, talking about what it means when he gets antsy or bored or tired when he is writing a screenplay, and how it needs to be fun and exciting to write if it is to be fun or exciting to watch. Mazin says "If you repeatedly find yourself dreading the work, if you keep praying to find yourself at the end of the process, if you view the second act as some sort of Bataan Death March, then it’s time to hang it up. Screenwriting is hard enough to do when you want to do it. If you’re dealing with a lack of will at the same time, what’s the point of torturing yourself?"
Disagreeing with this is MaryAn Batchellor on her blog, Fencing With The Fog, who points out that her son is a runner, and he loves running -- it's not torture for him.
I think that the problem here is defining what a marathon is -- and in realizing that screenwriting is a lot more like a marathon than most people want to believe.
I think that Mazin is right, when he says that if you are bored and antsy or tired when writing, you need to ask yourself if there is a problem with your story and that maybe you should question what you are doing. And clearly, if Mazin sees marathon running as something that is torturous, then he shouldn't be a marathon runner. Because marathon running does take work, you need to get out there day after day, and train your body, and its often a lonely, internal life, pushing yourself, trying to keep the discipline.
But I guarantee that marathon runners love what they do. They don't see it as boring or torturous, because if they do, then why do it? Marathon running is certainly a lot less lucrative than screenwriting is.
But screenwriting is a hell of a lot like marathon running. Because it's about putting in the work, and intensively training yourself -- maybe not your body, but your mind. It's about discipline, and pushing yourself, and being willing to do it because you love it. Screenwriting is a lot like marathon writing, because you should only do it if you are called to it -- and if you are called to it, then "marathon running" isn't a negative idea at all.
So I think the metaphor is a very apt one, if you attack it from the right direction.
Unfortunately, too many screenwriters think they are in a sprint. If you go to Wordplayer or other online writing websites, you'll see many variations of the question "I finished my first script, how do I get it to an agent who will sell it for me?"
The honest answer? You don't. Write another script. Because if you've just written one screenplay, you're not even running the marathon yet. You are still training for it. Writing the first script is like finally taking your interval training up a notch; instead of running 5 miles a week, now you're running 10.
Real marathon runners run a lot of miles every week. 25, 50, 75, 100. For years and years.
Learning to write screenplays is a process. Every screenplay you write teaches you something. Every time you rewrite it, and refine it, you learn something else. It's training. It's learning.
And sure, some of the scripts that people write when they are training wind up selling. Some people have natural ability, or a great commercial idea that they execute well enough to sell it. It's nice when it happens. It doesn't happen all that often.
It's even almost sad that that's an option. Because it seems to offer a truncated goal. To bend and torture the marathon metaphor further (because it is a good metaphor), it's like telling a runner that they should train for the marathon, but if they are lucky they'll find a portal five miles in that will take them right to the finish line. So everyone is looking for the portal. Everyone expects a short cut.
The problem with screenwriting is that it's so undefined. If we were doctors, there's a certain amount of study and information that you need to learn; it's taken for granted. If you don't learn it (hell, if you don't want to learn it) then you're not a doctor.
The way marathon running ISN'T like screenwriting, is that it's a lot easier to know if you are good at marathon running or not, because there's a clock. You can't fool yourself into thinking that you are better than you are.
But sometimes screenwriting is sort of like the guy in the desert, who runs around without a watch. Even though sometimes he takes a day off, or knocks off at noon to play golf, he tells himself that he's ready for a marathon, because when he runs he hardly ever breathes hard any more, and never walks.
He doesn't realize that he'd still be coming in about two hours behind the leaders.
If you don't think that screenwriting takes as much work and discipline as being a marathon runner, than you are in the wrong business. If you don't love the work and the discipline, then you are in the wrong business. Craig is right about that.
But he's wrong about the metaphor. It's a good one.