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The Dangers of Winning a Little

January 21, 2016

So the screenplay for Robo4ce continued to perform well in contests as 2015 rolled into 2016; in addition to its finish as a top 3 finalist in the Final Draft Big Break contest, it reached the semifinals of the Reel Authors Screenplay Contest, was the Animation finalist for the Park City Table Read my Screenplay competition, and is still an active semifinalist in the SoCal Film Festival screenplay contest.

For the statistically inclined, of the 17 contests I entered it in this year that have come to some level of public announcement, it’s made at least the semis in 10, the finals in 7, and won its category (or won outright) in 5. To a new guy those numbers look pretty good.

Here’s why that worries me.

In the vast majority of fields of human endeavor, in raw game theory terms, there’s relatively little payoff for being better than “good enough.” This is not because most humans are inveterate slackers–though I don’t dismiss that possibility–but because complex systems, left to themselves, are going to naturally end up that way. In evolutionary terms, it boils down to the punchline of the joke where the guy is putting on running shoes and tells his buddy “I don’t have to outrun the bear.”

That carries over into things like commerce, industry, and other necessities of modern survival. If you have two assembly lines, one of which is set up so that it will go faster if everyone is really good at their particular jobs, while the other is set up so that it will go at the same speed so long as no one on it screws up, I promise you that second one will be in business long after the first one dries up and blows away. For most purposes, the prospect of predictability is more important than that of excellence, and it’s waaaay easier to maintain.

(In a way, this is probably a good thing, as half of the human race stubbornly remains below average, and throwing them out of work would lead to unforeseen consequences See: upcoming Robopocolypse. But I digress.)

The arts are not like that.

“Good enough” to be considered for publication or production doesn’t cut it. Here, everyone wears running shoes. Including the bears.

1024px-Brown_bear_(Ursus_arctos_arctos)_running

Like this but with Nikes. Size 38EEEE.

When I entered Robo4ce in its first contests nine months ago, my goal was to get an idea of where I stood in the field. Okay, maybe it was more along the lines of determining whether writing screenplays would be a total waste of my time. I’m happy to say the answer seems to be No. I’m even happier to say the screenplay has room for improvement, which I’m currently working on (with nod to Howard Allen at scriptdoctor.com)

Because I’m not trying to sell one screenplay. I’m trying to sell the next one too. And the novels. And the rest of my creative output, so long as I keep on outputting it. Maybe it’s because I’m still haunted by the words of a long-ago girlfriend–you make the world’s best first impression–or maybe it’s because I know how often writers struggle to make their first real sale and then run out of gas. In any case, the sophomore slump is a real thing, if you let it be one.

I would prefer to make an even better second impression.

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