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Taking Screenwriting Contests and Fellowships in Stride

September 20, 2019
4 min read time

When you enter a screenwriting contest, you’ll have high hopes of being discovered and lauded for your work, with visions of development meetings and possibilities of “breaking in” or finally getting noticed as a screenwriter and becoming one of those “overnight success” stories.

But if your script doesn’t do as well as you hoped, here are six ways to bounce back and forge ahead with your screenwriting career:

  1. Give yourself permission to process how you feel

First off, give yourself permission to process any feelings you might have about not placing in or winning a contest. It can be a blow. Really. You get excited about submitting, and hope and dream about winning. Who doesn’t? So make sure to give yourself time to recover. It’s normal to feel let down. We just don’t want you to get stuck there.

To recover, process your feelings about it in a safe, non-public place, like writing out your thoughts in a journal or talking to a close friend, coach or mentor. (Don’t complain publicly though; you always want to have a professional presence in the screenwriting world.)

  1. Remember that you’re ultimately in charge of your screenwriting career

Also remember this: You are in charge of your writing career, not others. It’s up to you to make smart decisions about your craft, training, writing, career, branding, marketing and business. It’s not about what someone else does, thinks or says about your writing, it’s about what you do to elevate your craft and get your work noticed.

So even if your script didn’t perform the way you had hoped it would in a contest, remember that there are also other ways to get your work into the hands of industry professionals, including querying, pitching, developing a social media presence, branding and building industry relationships.

  1. Be excited for your fellow writers

One of the best ways to shift your perspective about contests is to view other screenwriters’ successes as successes for all of us. The better writing that’s out there in the world is ultimately a source of both inspiration and opportunity for everyone.

Think about all the great television out there right now; there appears to be an increasing demand for high-quality content. So the better the writing profession does, the better we all do.

Plus, we know that writing is rarely the “overnight success” it appears to be. Assume that contest winners worked hard to get there, and that they deserve the reward for their hard work. Instead of feeling jealous, admire them. Learn from them. What did it take for them to get there? What was amazing about their scripts? What can you learn from and implement in your own writing and career?

  1. Try again

Year to year, the number and quality of entries in a contest can vary. There are only a handful of winners of any given screenplay contest, so you have to take that into consideration when you’re setting your sights. If there’s a glut of scripts in a particular category, competition is steeper. And even if your script placed in an earlier contest, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will place or final in the next one, because now you’re competing with an entirely different pool of writers.

However, this also means that you can always try again in another contest or another year, because the number or quality of entries may be different in the next go-round.

  1. Take this as an opportunity to make your writing even more amazing

While you’re at it, take this as an opportunity to make this script (or your next one) even more amazing. If you received feedback from the judges, study it. Decide what works for you and what doesn’t. Look at how you can elevate your script to its next level of greatness. And look for other ways to get it into the hands of the industry professionals who are waiting for a story just like yours.

If you didn’t receive feedback on your script, now might be a great time to ask for feedback from a trusted professional.

  1. Remind yourself why you’re writing in the first place

Last but far from least, remind yourself why you’re writing in the first place. You’re writing because you’re a writer, right? Because you love the art and craft of it. The storytelling. Because you’re called to write. A single contest is just a small blip on the radar of the entirety of your writing career.

Time to get back to work.


Your weekend writer’s assignment

If you’re feeling some contest heartache or disappointment, do some journaling about it or talk to a friend. Then look for ways to shift your perspective and take the next steps to bounce back. You might start by reaching out for feedback to help you make your script magnificent, or work on developing the next steps in your marketing plan for your script. What other ways could you get your script out into the world? And have fun with it. This is the business of screenwriting, after all!


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