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So you are a writer – but don’t enter writing competitions?

on Fri 4 Dec

So you are a writer – but don’t enter writing competitions?

We’ve all been there.

That dreaded point in a conversation when you have told someone you are a ‘writer’ – and then are stuck to tell them what it is you have actually done recently. Until you have actually finished and exposed a project out for criticism and people to see, you cannot say you are a ‘writer’ – you are simply someone who dabbles in it in their spare time.

Maybe it is just me, but I’m fairly sure I’m not alone in saying ‘I do not try hard enough’. Recently, I have missed three deadlines: The Blue Cat screenwriting competition, the National Poetry Competition and ‘Twisted’ for the Create50 project. I was fully aware of each competition, made great progress early on in my writing – and then I simply let life get in the way of what I consider to be my true vocation. Whether it be deciding to have a round of golf, go the gym, or take an extra shift behind the bar, eventually everything culminated into - nothing… My projects went nowhere and so far no one has seen them.

Are these good enough excuses?

I am probably being too hard on myself, after all, I am doing a screenwriting course at Bournemouth University, and “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” right? However there are several other students who have managed to enter, be shortlisted or even win competitions, as well as doing their coursework too. Does this make them better writers than me? Not necessarily. It does however make them more motivated – and motivation is by and large the ultimate key to a successful writing career.

Let’s look further afield.

To put things into perspective, I will turn to the sport of boxing as an example of what motivation is, how us writers can learn from one of the sport’s greatest moments.

You may of heard of Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, and if you haven’t you will almost definitely of heard of ‘Rocky’ - the billion dollar film franchise that is largely considered to have gotten its inspiration from a 15 round fight between Wepner and maybe the greatest boxer of all time; Muhammad Ali.

Entering the bout Wepner was a 40 – 1 underdog, widely considered a journeyman Heavyweight who surely wouldn’t trouble Ali. But then, against the odds, in the 9th round Wepner became only the third man in history to record a knock down against Ali, and what then ensued was a rage filled pummelling on Wepner that lasted well into the 15th round.

Despite all this hardship though, Wepner kept on fighting – he may have wanted to quit (who wouldn’t!?) as each devastating punch landed with pin point accuracy, but he was determined to keep on contending, and courageously did so.

Until, with only 19 seconds left on the clock, Ali knocked Wepner down, and the referee called off the fight after deciding Wepner was in no fit state to continue. However, just look at the video of this 15th round and consider for a moment Wepner’s determination as he desperately tries to clamber up the ropes to see out the fight. All energy has been sapped, his legs don’t work anymore, his brain and body literally are out of sync as his senses have been completely rattled; but the one sense that remains is that ‘never say die’ mind-set to finish what he started. Which is extremely commendable.

He may not have won the fight and been Heavyweight Champion of the world, but he will be remembered throughout history for his perseverance.

How does this all apply to us writers then?

Now, let’s look at the story of Sylvester Stallone, the writer of ‘Rocky’.

Before the world wide success of the franchise, Stallone was a struggling soon to be father, with only $106 in the bank. However, he had a great idea for a screenplay, and so in less than 4 days he wrote a feature film spec script, creating a lead role for himself to play in the process and hopefully get himself out the hole he and his wife were in.

Some would say this is a naïve solution to his monetary problems; and a better use of his time would be to get a ‘proper job’, but Stallone persevered, committing himself to the vocation he loves - and even resorting to selling his beloved Bull Mastiff to keep afloat.

This ‘dogged’ determination, for want of a better word, is – much like Wepner – the key to his success. Even after being made several offers to commission the film, Stallone repeatedly turned down the offers the studio was making, insisting he play the lead role. Not surprisingly, United Artists were sceptical, why would they take a chance on this “nobody?”.

But then, at the 1997 Academy Awards, ‘Rocky’ went on to win Best Picture – and the rest is history.

So what’s my point?

In his career, Chuck Wepner had to undergo over 300 stiches and 11 broken noses and Sylvester Stallone even sold his dog in order to enable him to keep writing a screenplay in the hope it could drag him out from the gutter. Both these men persevered, and now each share a crucial part in the legacy of ‘Rocky’ – immortalised forever in the evocative statue of the legendary character, set in an eternal pose of victory outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

So, if you are anything like me, with big dreams of becoming a writer or filmmaker, but so far have failed to see things through, bear in mind these two remarkable stories of overcoming the odds, and next time finish your screenplay, short story or poem and put it out there. You may not win any competitions, but like Wepner, you will always have the satisfaction of seeing something right to the bitter end, and to succeed in the film business, this is the kind of mentality you need to have – full on commitment to your idea.

So do you have an idea?

If yes, then why not start by entering the Film Expo South short script competition. The winner will eventually get to have their film made, and who knows where that might lead to? The deadline is soon – 30th December, but as I said, Stallone wrote ‘Rocky’ in less than 4 days, so what’s your excuse? This is only a 5 minute script: 

And by the way, for any one wondering, from the money Stallone made from ‘Rocky’ he bought his dog back, and the dog ‘Butkus’ seen in the film is the very same one.


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