Screenwriter Gone Rogue

Definition: Rogue [as modifier] – an elephant or other large wild animal driven away or living apart from the herd and having savage or destructive tendencies: a rogue elephant.

Going rogue sounds so rebellious, like I’m a wild woman who refused to follow the rules of the herd. Look at me! Out here by my savage self, doing whatever destructive things I want! No one to stop me!

Take that, TV career!
Take that, TV career!

In truth, it’s lonely and I miss the herd (aka screenwriters). So why did I leave a moneymaking career writing cartoons to become a starving artist writing a novel?

Leaving the TV biz seems crazy considering how hard I’d worked to break in: volunteering, schmoozing, working grunt jobs, writing spec scripts*, and even going back to school for more training. Finally, I got my first writing gig. I was in! For the next few years I had a fabulous time writing kids television shows, but soon it was time to further my career, go from episodic freelance writer to story editor or even series creator. To do that, my agent advised me to write another spec script and a pilot script for a series I created. Good advice. I definitely needed to do those things to become an uber-successful screenwriter!

But I just kind of… stalled. For months I worked on a spec script, something that should have taken me mere weeks to complete. I didn’t want to do it. I felt if I was going to be writing for free, if I was working on an example of my writing, that it should be a story I wanted to tell, not a mock episode for someone else’s creation. But that’s what the industry needed from me. I knew that. So why was I resisting?

I changed gears and created original teen series ideas. I’d always wanted to write for teens. I still read teen books, and was a HUGE fan of novelist-turned-screenwriter Rob Thomas of Veronica Mars. However, I created serial series with endings. Not episodic series that could continue indefinitely, which is what the TV networks wanted. It was anti-TV, my obsession with solving protagonists’ deep issues and wrapping up their stories. That was film territory. Or novels.

Wait a minute… had I been trying to write novels all along? It wasn’t just that my series ideas always had endings; I also preferred writing prose. My favourite stage of screenwriting is the outline, when one writes the story scene-by-scene in paragraphs of prose. Yet most screenwriters look forward to writing the first draft when they get to put dialogue in the characters’ mouths. Not me.

Gasp! I was a novelist in screenwriter clothing!

But why couldn’t I be both? Did the two disciplines have to be exclusive? My colleagues proposed I write television and work on a novel at the same time. But television is a demanding business. If you’re not working, you need to be pitching**. Heck, even when you are working, you need to be pitching! It’s not the kind of business one can approach half-heartedly. Plus, I didn’t want my novel to be a side project that would take decades to complete. I wanted writing novels to be my job.

So long, TV.
So long, TV.

So I left the herd. I work part-time transcribing documentary / reality show footage to pay the bills while I hone the craft of writing a novel. About once a year, a screenwriter friend asks me to pitch on a show they’re story editing, and I write a couple episodes. I’m immensely grateful for that. Not just because of the money, but because I miss the camaraderie of television, bouncing ideas off fellow writers and getting feedback. Writing a novel is lonely. That’s the worst part of going rogue and leads to my most “destructive tendencies” – self-doubt and indecision.

That’s where the Write On Sisters come in. Though we live in different cities (I’m up here in the wilds of Canada, a savage elephant escaped from the zoo, trampling stories and stomping in the mud of my own brain), we support each other on this crazy journey. And by sharing our failures and triumphs on this blog, hopefully we’ll provide support for all of you out there who have also gone rogue to follow your dreams.

Next Up from Heather… How different is writing a novel from writing scripts? Let’s just say I’ve had many moments like this:

What have I done?
Oh no, what have I done?!

 

* Writing a spec script = writing an episode of an existing television series, not for money but to demonstrate your writing skills to producers / showrunners. If the spec script is good, they will likely hire you.

** Pitching = either a) episode ideas to TV shows in pre-production in hopes of being hired to write episodes, or b) original series ideas to producers and networks in hopes of them buying your show idea.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

2 thoughts on “Screenwriter Gone Rogue”

  1. Love your message of hope! Yes, writing a novel is a lonely job, and I am with you when you talk about the destructive tendencies of self-doubt and indecision. Reading your words makes the job less lonely – thanks!

We love comments and questions.