Taking a cue from Craig Mazin during last week’s Scriptnotes podcast, I went in search of an article written by screenwriter Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean) called “Throw in the Towel.”
Originally published in 1998 on Rossio’s wordplayer.com, one of the first Internet sites for screenwriting, the column is not so much about when to cease your writerly ambitions, but that you should throw in the towel “RIGHT NOW”:
Just do it. Now. Think of how good it will feel. Be decisive. Free yourself, this instant, from the fever dream, from the slow agony of your doomed-from-the-start efforts. A clean break. Then you can go out into the world and start living a real life. Travel a little, get a job at something you can actually do, something that takes you out into the sunlight, something that lets you meet people, be a part of something real. The end of the paragraph is coming up, and I’m telling you, you should do it RIGHT NOW—and I bet, deep in your heart, you already know the reason why. One simple and overwhelmingly incontrovertible truth. BECAUSE YOUR LIFE WILL BE BETTER FOR IT. Please, pause and just give it five seconds’ thought, before you go on. Be honest with yourself, for once, before it’s too late. And just admit the truth: at the center of your being, you can’t deny that this is right.
If you think Rossio’s tone is tongue-in-cheek, it’s not. Not entirely, anyway. The article is a brutal read because it preys upon all our worst fears as writers such as having nothing but mediocre ideas, being falsely told that our work is good, and (in the case of Hollywood screenwriters) being too old to work in this young person’s game.
Fortunately for me, I took the time back in December to fully assess the question, “What if I quit writing?”
The short answer is that I know I can’t; this craft is what I was meant to do. Only with that understanding I could read Rossio’s verbal onslaught, acknowledge the truth in his logic, and not blink as I stared down the barrel of his gun. As Crain Mazin nicely summarized Rossio’s conclusion: “Well, if you can ignore all that, then maybe you have a chance.”
So read it and see how you sweat under the lights.
UPDATE: DON’T throw in the towel.