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Why Aspiring Hollywood Writers Fail

truby screenplayA breakdown of screenplays entered into a recent screenwriting competition was analyzed to see what types of screenplays got passed over. Professional Story analysts, (people who read and rate scripts for the studio) were chosen to rank the scripts, and then crunched the numbers.

They found that science fiction and comedy were the two genres of scripts written by aspiring writers, most apt to fail.

I imagine the problem with new writers trying to write feature length comedies had to do with a) maintaining a consistent tone and b) inability to write funny dialogue that feels natural.

You kind of have to know the rhythm and logic of why dialogue can be funny and still conversational at the same time. People, who are funny in real life, may not be funny in a way that translates into movie dialogue.

The other most screwed up genre written by newbie writers was science fiction. I’m guessing this is because sci-fi can be so original and weird, with its concocted netherworlds that have their own special rules, that new writers think almost anything goes in that genre.

Analysis of the other scripts showed the third most common failed script written by rookies, was a movie basically about themselves and their friends with little or no real plot. No doubt, they heard somebody say “write what you know,” and they did so.

John Truby, one of the big screenwriting gurus (up there with Robert McKee and Syd Field) has another take on failure in writing for Hollywood.   He refers to screenwriting as the “most difficult craft in the world” and contends that it takes a lifetime to master.

What he is sort of right about, in my opinion, is that it takes a “serious commitment, “to master screenwriting. It takes a significant commitment of time and motivation to become a professional writer.

This means integrating the idea of being a professional writer into your personal identity.  It becomes part of who you are.  Always be thinking about stories, characters, story arcs, and dialogue.  You are comitted to writing many, many scripts over your lifetime.  It’s not about writing one “killer” script and getting rich.

Truby also talks about aspiring writer’s wrong-headed priorities.  Instead of asking how can I make my script better, many of his students jump right to “how do I sell my script?”

He characterizes the average aspiring screenwriter as someone who writes one or two screenplays that don’t sell and they just keep writing with the same tools without learning new ones. Then after years of not selling, they generally give up.

In my opinion, if you want to write professionally, it’s always a good idea to think of yourself as a “writer for life.” You are constantly learning of better ways to write.  Even if it’s not how you earn money, it’s about spend time going to see films, read books about writing, read screenplays, take classes, read blogs and pick up tips from other writers.

I would advise new writers to write for TV. If you like to write comedy, write TV spec scripts for shows like Modern Family, or Silicon Valley. If you like drama, horror, or science fiction, write a spec for CSI, Law & Order SVU, The Bridge, American Horror Story or Homeland.

There are lots of jobs available in TV. You’ll learn as you get paid 6 figures.  The more you write, the more you will learn.   This is not to say, of course, that the quality of tv writing is any better or worse than feature writing.  It’s just my opinion that here are more opportunities in tv. 

Lots of people have made the transition from TV to film, look at Woody Allen, James Brooks, Aaron Sorkin, and J.J. Abrams.


If you have questions about writing your spec feature or TV script, contact me for a free consult to discuss the steps it takes to write your way into a Hollywood writing job, just click here.


Image credit: Creative Commons, Eurabia sample, 2008, by Joe Flood, is licensed under CC By 2.0

Why Aspiring Hollywood Writers Fail

David Silverman, MA, LMFT

A lot of careers can really knock you around. The compettiion is fierce, in graphic design, architecture, you name it -- especially in creative careers in Hollywood. Writers and performers get slammed with rejection constantly. If you're going through something -- anxiety, addiction or depression -- I help people like you get through it. And thrive. Let me help you get your dream back on track.

Please check out my website: My story: my brother grew up with a severe case of OCD, and while I just a kid --- in family therapy with him, I witnessed a miracle as he was transformed, and now is enjoying the life he deserves. I went to Stanford University to study Psychology, and USC Film. I've worked in FIlm/TV and experienced high levels of anxiety, and got slammed with rejection myself. I learned how to get through it. Today, I love to help people to regain the lifestyle they deserve.

David Silverman Psychotherapy

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APA Reference
Silverman, D. (2014). Why Aspiring Hollywood Writers Fail. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Dec 2014
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