What if you’ve already made a bad mistake?

Be That One In A Hundred is a compendium of just about every common and major “mistake” aspiring screenwriters make (the quotes around “mistake” mean a mistake in the views of industry people) as they pursue professional careers.

So, let’s say you bought the book (Thank you!), and you started reading it. 

You came to an industry comment which absolutely, perfectly describes a really bad, boneheaded thing you’ve already done.

So maybe you’re thinking, “Now what do I do?”

As the book says, people in the industry have long memories, they talk to each other, and some of them keep written records on aspiring screenwriters who have contacted them. So hoping that they just won’t remember you probably isn’t the best approach.

If you did something similar to the guy who called me a “Mother******” because he couldn’t figure out how to attach a script file to an email, you don’t have a lot of options. Sure, apologize. But I very quickly, I put his email address in my spam filter and saved our email exchange to a file without his name in it, then deleted the original email exchange. I did that to obliterate him from my life.

Shortly thereafter, he realized what an idiot he’d been. I read his emailed apology in the spam filter software (Mailwasher; it allows you to not only review before batch-deleting, but bounce emails, too), and then I clicked the “delete” button with the bounce option checked. So his apology email was sent back.

I figured that he was entitled to one nasty, but he used up two nasties and one stupid in his two vicious emails, so I don’t want anything more to do with him. It’s pretty likely that a producer or agent or screenplay contest manager would react similarly. Maybe not a screenplay contest manager, because there’s money to be made forgiving nasty idiots, but a producer or agent wouldn’t ever want to hear from you again.

If he’d sent that email to a producer or agent, then what he could do – and this would probably work – is to write and email under a pseudonym from now on. Along with the apology and never doing anything mean or stupid like that with an industry person again.

Suppose your “mistake” was a script with a lot of typos or bad grammar under the “they have people to fix this sort of thing” assumption?

What I’d do – and I have done this when I’ve made a truly dumb mistake like the one* described below – is immediately correct it just once (such as by sending out the query or the script or the whatever communication again, corrected), leave it at that, and let time pass.

* The one…Several months ago, late at night, when I was tired and rushing to get the job done, I sent an email blast out to 74,000 people for my screenplay proofreading service, and in it, I spelled “proofreading” incorrectly.

Not just in the email, but in the subject line, of all places. In one of the first three words of the subject line, where it was pretty hard to miss.

A number of people responded with mocking catcalls and nasty emails. Good for them. I deserved it. Wow, what a stupid mistake! Especially considering the fact that I’ve been a professional writer for 51 year and an editor for 48.

However, one screenwriter, who saw both the original and the correction, hired me to proofread and provide notes, and he seemed very satisfied with my work afterward.

People do understand and forgive honest (but reaaaaaalllllyyy stupid) mistakes like mine. We all make them. Own up, fix it, move on, and hang onto that feeling of utter humiliation as a life lesson – not to beat yourself up with, but just to remember not to do it again.

So what if your “mistake” was sending out a juvenile, dumb, copycat, insipid script? Accept the feedback which seems to be asking, “Are you really that incompetent?” and grow a bit. Write a better one.

The other really bad mistake (not just a “mistake,” but a really bad one) is responding to negative feedback, especially with a negative remark of your own. Yes, it hurts to have your work trashed. You simply have to accept that it’s going to happen.

For example: when I owned Creative Screenwriting Magazine, I wrote a few commentaries for it. I’d hired a very good copy editor, and I turned a commentary over to her before letting it be published. I did so to set as an example to our article writers, some of whom were too-sensitive screenwriters who didn’t like having their magazine copy touched. With all those years as a writer and editor, my writing was just SO good that I didn’t really need a copy editor.

Or so I told myself.

Well, she edited it to shreds. My first (silent and all alone) reaction to her doing the job I’d hired her for was outrage.

Then, I reread all the substantial improvements she’d made in my work, and … “Well, huh! This reads a lot better, come to think.” And I knew from long experience that I’d be the one with the byline who got the credit for her very fine copy editing and rewrite work.

That’s a thing to remember. If “they” give you feedback on a script, and then the movie is good, you get the writing credit for the work they did thinking about how to improve it.

Say “Thank you” for feedback. Always say, “Thank you,” and stuff the angry remarks.

And thank you for reading this far.

If you think Be That One In A Hundred might help you advance your screenwriting career, you can click on the “ORDER THE BOOK” link above.

Bill Donovan