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What The Tide Brings … On The Writing Biz & Patience

A reader sent in this request:


As both a Buddhist and a new pro writer, I think you may have a unique angle to discuss the patience needed while working towards that big break.

I currently have a script in two pro writer-producers’ hands as I work on getting more exposure for my screenplays, and yet the feeling that “no one cares” gnaws at me sometimes — despite the positive signs and reception I’ve received.

Could you talk about your own past frustrations and approach to this thorny issue in an upcoming blog?

Patience is hard, very hard … I’m still working at it myself … LOL! I would add that being a new father has taught me A LOT about patience and a lot about myself.

Okay, lemme see if I can share what I’ve learned thus far on writing from a Buddhist perspective …

I’m far from a perfect Buddhist … Really, there are many others who probably know more, though I’ve been calling myself a Buddhist for years, and I read the books and do meditations when necessary, I’m not the Dali Lama, I think I’ve got a looong way to go as far as enlightenment … LOL!

Just wanted to make that disclaimer.

I guess the thing I can share with you is, since you have a script out there now is that from a Buddhist* standpoint, none of us really have control over anything, in the end.

Really that sounds a bit cruel (and it doesn’t mean one should send out a sloppy script filled with typos) but it’s part and parcel of Bill Goldman’s “nobody knows anything” … Even the fact that I write, while it seems like I have control over it, it’s really a delusion … it only feels like I’m in complete control, when the reality is, I’m probably never going to have complete control, or mastery, as that perfection is unattainable … one can only strive for it.

Other than my effort and concentration, there is nothing else I can do other than the work … I only know what I know now, I can only learn what I can learn now, etc.

Get me?

If you think about where you were five years ago, if you were writing then, and how different you are now … that can put it in perspective … I can remember clearly five years ago and how I thought I had this writing thing figured out … and looking back, I knew FAR less than I know now … which makes me wonder … what do I NOT know now that I will know five years from now?


So that keeps me humble, and keeps me sane (well, as sane and humble as I can be now, anyway)… because I haven’t failed, when someone rejects a script, I haven’t failed because I haven’t learned everything there is to learn yet … right?

That’s what I try to do, anyway.

So when you send a script out there, you literally have to let it go … it means, it shouldn’t matter if they read it, it shouldn’t matter if they like it, you’ve set it free, it’s got its own life now.

That’s the key, I think, to patience … of course, easier said than done, right? LOL!

I have scripts out there, too. We all do. But I don’t worry, most of the time, if they’re being read or not. In fact, I actively try not to think about it most of the time … I try, it’s not easy but if you can lick that, you’ll find you’re much happier.

Most Buddhist thought means you have to try and remove desire from your actions (ego-based desire) so when you’re writing something, you shouldn’t be thinking … this script will make me a million dollars!

Which seems at odds for anyone writing a screenplay - LOL!

But really, if you can remove that sort of end-game thought during your process, you’d be surprised at what might happen. Because what happens after you write a screenplay, no matter how well it’s written, what happens is out of your control.

I learned this the hard way in theatre, with plays … I’ve written plays I’m enormously proud of, plays I think could stand with any other play out there by anyone … plays my friends love. But I’ve never had the same career in theatre that some of my friends have, and the one play** I’m most proud of, never really got attention on a broad scale.

I was angry about that for a long time, I mean, even my friends would tell you … now I simply accept that my playwrighting career was what it was.

I did what I did, loved what I did with it when I could, and the end result was not nor was it ever in my control.

Tibetan monks spend days making these beautiful murals with colored sand pebbles, large intricate pictures so beautiful that they bring tears to your eyes … they spend months on them … and the minute one mural is done, you know what they do?

They take a deep breath and … blow it all away.

Months of work, gone in an instant. Because when it was done, it served its purpose, and they start anew. They’re not looking to make money off it, not looking to get famous, only breathing and working and living in the moment.

What does this mean?

Well, you’ve heard the old trope, the journey there is more valuable than the place you want to go, right? That applies here.

I’m reminded of the quote from CAST AWAY, a really great film, an end speech that was very Buddhist in nature:

Chuck Noland: We both had done the math. Kelly added it all up and… knew she had to let me go. I added it up, and knew that I had… lost her. ‘cos I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So… I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I - , I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over *nothing*. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

This is great advice for writers, too … once you give a script out, you have power over nothing, in a business sense (again, don’t take that to mean you shouldn’t act professionally) … you cannot control what people will think or like, whether they’ll buy it or make it, nothing.

All you can do is keep writing and breathing. Because who knows what the tide will bring?

As for me, on a personal level, when I found out the Samurai Lady was pregnant with my son, I walked away from the business and took a full time job. Because I was worried about providing for him, I stopped worrying about my writing career. I still wrote, but I didn’t stress about my status as a writer, if that makes sense. A few months later, I got offered a screenwriting job … a dream job, actually, for me, and I think it happened in part because I was no longer obsessed with desire about it.

Listen though, don’t get the idea that I’ve achieved nirvana or that I haven’t been bumped and scraped along the way since … like I said before, I can only know what I know now and I can only learn what I can learn now.

I ain’t gonna lie to you, it’s hard, you bet it’s hard, and I ain’t gonna act like I don’t get blue when someone doesn’t like a script I wrote, or I don’t get a gig that I want … hell yeah, I feel things, it definitely hurts. The idea that Buddhists don’t experience emotions is a bit of a myth … All Buddhists do is try and pierce delusion and desire, if that makes sense.

But pain is pain***. Work is work. Rejection is rejection.

But I try to keep it in perspective, and love that part of this thing I’m devoted to means that I take those shots in the chops … If I never got hurt or burned, if I didn’t have to start over again and again with each new thing, it wouldn’t mean anything.

And if my life changes and I decide to do something else for a living, that’s cool, too. It’s not all about me, especially now that I’m a father, if it ever was.

But in the meantime, I work hard, try to learn what I can and keep breathing …


And remember -

Michael Jordan didn’t make his junior varsity basketball team in high school, and it crushed him … it really crushed him.

But in the end, it was one of the best things that could have happened to him.


*There is a lot of great writing on Buddhist thought and principles, it’s a vast philosophy … the essence of it all comes back to the Four Noble Truths, which are, in my own clumsy words:
1) Life is suffering
2) Suffering is caused by desire (or delusion, depending on your interpretation)
3) There is a way free of suffering to enlightenment
4) That way is the path of the Buddha (I’ve really butchered the summary, I’m literally doing this in the twenty minutes while my son naps) also known as the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path (which you can google) is mainly concerned with Right action, Right speech, etc … it’s about making the right choices as opposed to egotistical ones.

In writing about this, the vastness of how much I don’t know, and how far I have to go as a Buddhist, it’s hitting me pretty hard. I plan on meditating more on this later. Perhaps I’ve been remiss in terms of progressing as a Buddhist. I can probably do more.

**That play, one of those that many people close to me admire, began previews in New York on September 7th, 2001. During our previews we got standing ovations. We were to officially open the following Tuesday, the 11th.

The show kept running, but everyone, and ourselves included, were thinking of other things for awhile after that Tuesday.

***Don’t take this to mean you should be happy when someone stabs you in the back or rips you off, not at all, just keep it in perspective and vow not to work with that person again … Bear in mind, that will happen, it happens to everyone, it’s happened to me, sure, and once by a person I called friend, and it’s always going to hurt.

But don’t let that define you.

Don’t be defined by your pain or impatience.

Be defined by what you do and who you love.

Okay, I think I hurt myself with this post, I’d better go now.

7 Responses to “ What The Tide Brings … On The Writing Biz & Patience”

  1. Alex @ Happiness in this World Says:

    Hey, Josh,
    Just like to raise two points: 1) in Nichiren Buddhism, at least, the idea isn’t to divorce your desire from your actions, but rather to pull out every stop you can to achieve your goals while chanting about them, all the while realizing that what you narrowly define as success may not be, and that just as beneficial as achieving your dream is the growth you go through in fighting for it. 2) While I agree we don’t really have control over anything but ourselves (and sometimes not even that!) we definitely have INFLUENCE over outside things and can exert it powerfully to achieve our goals. Without control, of course, nothing is guaranteed, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to exert all the influence we can. Where we get into trouble is in thinking our happiness DEPENDS on our achieving any one particular goal.

    Really like this post; especially the last line about Michael Jordan!


  2. Joshua James Says:

    Hey Alex,

    I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts …

    1) As you know, we disagree on Nichiren Buddhism and certain aspects we’ve discussed in the past … for what it’s worth, I myself think suffering is less about desire and more about delusion … and that’s simply my personal take … I addressed Buddhism in obviously broad strokes for the purposes of this post.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to strive to achieve, obviously, or to want to do something (even monks *want* to do something, they want to achieve enlightenment) … I think it’s important to look at *what* one is striving for and more importantly, *why*, if that makes sense … it’s splitting hairs and we’re not that far apart, I think.

    Where I get a little gunshy with Nichiren is the constant “magical thinking” refrain, the wish-fulfillment, you chant for what you want and you get it … while I understand the concept (and it is, ironically enough, the same as THE SECRET) and I think visualization and its tools (like in The Secret, for example) can be valuable tools for a person working on healing themselves, for me the whole process is more nuanced than me wishing I was a professional basketball player and acting like I am … I know you are very aware of the distinction, but for a person who is already struggling with delusion, magical thinking (a la the Secret) can hurt a person, add to the delusion problem that meditation is supposed to clear up … just my opinion, of course.

    2) Well, I agree with you on this, though I’d point out that there’s a difference between influence and control … one is not the other, nor is influence necessarily the kind of influence politicians have, etc … but you bet, the root of Buddhism, in my own opinion, comes down to cause and effect … and when you look at it that way, we must have some influence over things, just like outside forces influence us. So we agree!

  3. Luzid Says:

    Thanks very much for this post, Joshua. You’re more enlightened than you give yourself credit for — this was very helpful.

    For me, it’s not about the million-dollar sale, but being able to spend more time writing… which will necessitate breaking into the business.

  4. Alex @ Happiness in this World Says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Magical thinking is a constant risk, especially for people who still follow the mantra of “chant for whatever you want and you will get it.” And absolutely, I completely agree: delusion is the cause of suffering, not desire.


  5. jodi Says:

    hey–I think you hurt “me” with this post. I think I was on the verge of letting ego get in the way again. Letting go is hard because it just means you start to grab again. Maybe it’s just a process.

  6. Mystery Man Says:

    Great post. I loved it. My idea of being patient is starting a new script that’s better than the last one. Hehehe… Hope you’re well. Keep the articles coming! -MM

  7. Joshua James Says:

    Thanks everyone …

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