No Success Without Failure (And Fertilizer!)
I began the month of April revved up and committed to writing my first screenplay for this year’s Script Frenzy having decided to adapt my new novel, “A River Runs Wild” for the big screen. While never having written a screenplay, I felt that I got off to a good, albeit slow, start once I got the hang of the specialized format (completely different to writing plays, which I have been doing for more than 30 years!), and was able to focus on translating my story from paragraphs into dialogue and concrete actions. But the first five days brought little fruits as I was only able to manage writing a total of four pages (four pages per day is the recommended pace to end up with a 100-page screenplay at month’s end).
On day six, my older children arrived from Spain to spend their spring break here in The Netherlands with Wendy, the girls and me so it became even more challenging finding time to set aside for writing. Then on day eight, each and every one of my family members, myself included, came down with gastroenteritis which had us all bedridden, weak and unable to do much more than sip tea and wait patiently in line outside of the bathroom door.
On day ten, when I should have had penned more than 40 pages, I decided to give up on “A River Runs Wild” and start from scratch with a new screenplay. Well, not exactly new as it was the original idea I had wanted to write for Script Frenzy but changed my mind at the last minute. So on day 10 I began a completely new screenplay, whose working title was “Bella,” and was a suspense drama about a toddler kidnapped from a train when her father falls ill. I only managed to get five or six pages done on this when on day 15 I realized that any hopes I had for completing the screenplay by month’s end had all but evaporated, and rather than continuing knowing I probably wouldn’t finish on time, I made the decision to stop and withdraw from this years’s Script Frenzy.
But by no means does the story end there.
This experience, like all experiences, serves to teach many valuable lessons, both about creativity and life, and those lessons are that we can’t always have total control over either. But there’s another valuable lesson here and that is that failure is not a finite or permanent thing. Failure is just one step in the long process we undertake towards achieving success. Failure is the fertilizer that helps our endeavors to grow, and without failure there simply would be no success. My playwriting teacher at DePaul University, Ron Mark, taught me that. He used to tell us that it’s just as important to write the bad stuff—the shit, as he so eloquently put it—because that’s what fertilizes the good stuff that’s waiting for the ideal conditions before it sprouts up.
So while I’m pulling out of this year’s Script Frenzy, I refuse to look at it as a total failure. On the one hand I’ve discovered that I can indeed write a screenplay and have a couple of good ideas to pursue, and on the other, this failure is just one of many I’m certain to encounter on this new journey of screenwriting, and coupled with the scores of creative failures proudly displayed on my literary mantle-place, this one will be in good company.
And finally, as the dust of failure settles around me, I am pleased to say that I have begun two new writing projects, a short story that will be tilted “Shallow Water,” and a play called “Devoted,” that I will work diligently to complete in short order.
Onwards and upwards!