What if I made that decision instead? What if I went with that agent or publisher? What if I didn’t lose that contact?
The trick is not letting these “what ifs” become regrets. And for me that is many times hard to do. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but many times in my career I’ve made decisions more out of my own “vision” of what I wanted to be, as compared to the opportunity in front of me. And in all of those moments I have walked away wondering if I had just shot myself in the foot.
Here, let me give you an example… We’ll start with one of the funny ones…
So I was living out in LA for a year and I was shopping around my screenplay PERMANENT SPRING SHOWERS (think of it as LOVE ACTUALLY and CRAZY STUPID LOVE, before people starting making a lot of romantic-comedy films like that; I was three years ahead of that trend if you can believe it). Anyway, I had an agent call me about the script.
The agent said she loved it and wanted to meet with me to discuss representing the script. I said great and I made an appointment to stop by her office (By the way, for future screenplay writers reading, THIS is why you live in LA if you want to work in movies). Her office was on Wilshire Blvd. and I showed up early.
When I knocked on the office door I was greeted by a large barking dog. It was a one-room office, but here is the kicker— She had inflatable office furniture.
Yes, balloon chairs.
Until that moment I thought they were just an urban legend, but they were real. They were right there and not only were they right there, she has asked me to take a seat on one!
So carefully… awkwardly… I eased myself down onto one…
It squished under me.
I thought it was going to pop at first like one of those games you would see kids playing with balloons on Bozo back in the 80’s, but it didn’t. I then began to worry about my keys in my jeans. Could they somehow create a slow leak and I would get closer and closer to the floor? Or would the leak sound like a large whoopie cushion?
Anyway, she began a prepared speech to me about how she has a contact at Dreamworks, and if I agreed for her to represent me she would make the call and meet with him tomorrow about it. She saw potential for the work and thought it would be an easy sale… and throughout the entire discussion I am wondering if I put my weight down just right and fast on the seat would the chair and I both go up?
Suddenly, there was silence and I realized she was waiting for my reply. The agent with the big dog, in the one-room office with the inflatable furniture was waiting for me to say something.
Looking back I understand why I said no thanks, made an excuse and left. Who wouldn’t? I was a grad student writer at USC with my future ahead of me, why would I want to start off my career like this? That office wasn’t the image I had for my career and my scripts. Yes, my arrogance took over… but there was balloon furniture!
OK, but there is the other side I didn’t consider. Maybe someone like this would fight for me and my work more than an established agent. She might have needed me more. Maybe she really did have a contact at Dreamworks; to be honest, I didn’t have her backstory, she could have just started the agency after a successful career someplace else. There is a lot of “what ifs” in this.
Yes, there are agencies that come and go every day and some are respectable and some are shady (For example, if they charge you= shady). But she didn’t ask for a dime from me, just a percentage if she worked out the deal…
Anyway, that is one example, of what I mean. There are more serious examples I can give. Here is one:
Quickly, I was represented by McIntosh & Otis for five years (Yes, I was lost in an established agency for years with no results, so the other side isn’t as great either), and they kept telling me what they wanted me to give them in my books; but I wanted to be a more experimental writer (I like it when a writer surprises me in the telling or in the tale; I wanted to do something new, nothing too artistic or pop- just new). Why didn’t I just write a mystery or a fantasy, just to start my career and then go back to what I wanted to write later? I could have done it . The agency and I both knew I could do a “normal” book… but I didn’t.
And that is just one serious example, I can think of a half dozen quickly of missed possibilities (What if I tried to work more aggressively in TV, etc.).
See, right now I am burdened by “what ifs” and I feel like if I want to move forward in my career, I need to accept them and learn from them. I only have so many feet left to shoot.
But her furniture… was… balloons!!!