Hill is a great proponent of the theory that you earn what you believe you are worth. If you aren’t happy with what you make, he suggests you do more than you are paid for and that will lead to more pay. However, he also goes on to say that part of going the extra mile is to know when you are in a situation that won’t meet your needs. At that point there is nothing you can do but change the situation.
The first time I heard the concept “you make what you think you’re worth,” I was 24. It was told to me by a boyfriend I met in acting class in New York. Between his accent and his piercing green eyes, his worldliness and sense of adventure, he was the most exciting person I had ever met. He was here from England on a work visa, earning what to me seemed a staggering amount at the time–$40 per hour. I was waitressing for paltry compensation. I’m sure that by now he is fabulously wealthy, while I’m still struggling with the concept he introduced, and that Napoleon Hill’s book reinforces.
Lately I’ve had a great opportunity to go the extra mile—giving script evaluations.
When approaching a script, I remind myself this is a very important job. Even if it’s a first draft, the script in front of me represents weeks, months and sometimes years of work. It’s an honor to be trusted by the writer to give feedback to help them strengthen the script and realize their vision. I take the responsibility very seriously and I do my best to get the feedback as helpful as I possibly can. I consider it my job to complement the writer on the accomplishment, to be honest about what the work needs, and to encourage the writer to leave the conference feeling inspired and hopeful, motivated to get back to work.
Of course that won’t always happen. Some people may feel criticized, others defensive. Some won’t gel with my communication style. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who modeled the right blend of giving it to me straight without ever making me feel bad or stupid. He also was a great model for going the extra mile, as he would always go above and beyond his responsibilities to go over my work. Now it’s my turn, and I hope to empower other writers by going that extra mile. That means reading the script carefully, at least twice. Then I go through the process of evaluation, and give the writer specific guidance on what steps they can take to strengthen the work going forward. As I’ve been trained, I begin every conference with what works well in the script, and end with congratulations on their accomplishment.
At this writing, I’m a beginner, having only gone through the process five or six times. Each time it gets easier. Every time I evaluate a script, be it a feature or TV spec or an original pilot, first draft or twenty-fifth, I learn a lot. No matter how rough the draft is, in each script there is something that works; and no matter how good it is, there is always a way to improve on it. But it’s in the process of articulating my interpretations and recommendations that the inner workings of screenplays are revealed. I recognize myself and my own process on the page. There is no question that breaking down scripts makes me a better writer.
For years I have read about successful screenwriters who started as readers and that it played a large part in helping them work out their own process. I feel like I’m already a better writer, and I’ve only done a few! Imagine how much I’ll have learned when I’ve done a few hundred. Of course it won’t do any good unless I regularly go that extra mile in my own writing. And as much as I sometimes wish I could ignore the other important aspects of my life, I can’t: family, home, exercise, social life, spiritual practice, nutrition. Everything I do well makes me a better writer and everything I neglect puts more obstacles in my path. It’s difficult to find balance, but too important not to keep trying. I’ll probably be working on time management until the day I die.
The question becomes, how much is all this hard work worth? How much am I worth? And the answer is… A lot. A whole lot. As long as I’m willing to go the extra mile.