Sunday, September 4, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 7 of 7

An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #7:

Written by Alan Chin

With three novels published, I spent four or more hours per day promoting my books, all the time thinking there must be an easier way. Then a fellow writer told me I should become a screenwriter if I didn’t like promoting. Screenwriters write movie scripts, sell them to studios, and the studios do the promotion. That sounded great to me. And how difficult could it be writing movie scripts? I mean, I’ve sat through volumes of movies thinking: I can do better than this….

I started by taking a college-level screenwriting class, which gave me the basics on formatting and structure of screenplays. I then joined a group of screenwriters who met once per week to critique each other’s work and help each other through the process of writing and polishing their screenplays. It was a fun group of talented writers, and with their help and encouragement I began to learn at Concord speed. At first I found it difficult to write screenplays. One has to strip away everything except what is shown on the screen. No long descriptions, no internal dialog, no telling what the characters are feeling. Only showing, mixed with dialog. You have to strip away all the flesh of a story until there is nothing left but bones.

I found that I loved that process, because it drove me to analyze the heart of the story, and also of each subplot. Then came the hardest part, making sure that specific turns in the story happen on specific pages. Movie scripts are incredibly structured, and industry professionals expect certain plot points on certain pages. It’s maddening, yet I began to relish the challenge of it.

In a little over a year I produced two screenplays, Daddy’s Money and Simple Treasures. Now came the time to sell my scripts to a studio. I now believe that for an unknown writer, it is perhaps a million times harder to get a movie professional to read your script than it is to get a publisher to publish your book. Nobody wanted to read my scripts. I spent a year before I finally managed to convince an indie producer/director to read Daddy’s Money. He loved it, even wanted to make the movie. The problem? He had no extra money to do the project. It takes millions to make a movie, and few people are willing to gamble that kind of money on an unknown scriptwriter.

I’ve spent a few years banging my head against producer’s doors with no result. During that time I wrote another screenplay, Flying Solo, and published another novel, Butterfly’s Child. I am now in the process of rewriting my screenplays into novels because I have lost confidence that I will ever see them made into movies.

I keep writing both screenplays and novels, and I keep promoting my books on the internet each day. I occasionally ask myself how much longer I will keep working to produce my stories, and more importantly, why I produce them. With all these many hours of work, it seems there must be more to it than the gratifying pleasure that a well-written story brings, both in the reading and the writing.

I know the answer, but to explain it I’d like to share a letter from a reader I received back in April of this year. I’ve gotten to the point where I regularly receive emails from readers telling me how much they enjoyed my stories, and although I love reading them, I no longer get too excited over them. But every once in a while one pops up in my inbox that is special. I’d like to share one with you that came shortly after the tsunami hit Japan earlier this year. She is talking about my novel, The Lonely War, and my offer to send all profits during the months of April and May to the Red Cross Japanese Relief Fund.

Dear Alan,

So beautifully written, and so very bittersweet. Thanks for what you did with it. I got it at the beginning of the month so that the funds could go to Japan. I should have had two boxes of facial tissues handy before I started reading though...I went through one and had to resort to drastic measures (papertowels, lol). Bravo.

For myself I'm declaring this week Alan Chin week. Because right now you're my own personal newly minted hero. Thank you for helping me remember that each person can make a difference.

May You Be Well,

And I responded to her with a heartfelt, thank you back, for helping me remember why I write. Because it’s true, whether it’s donating money, lending a neighbor a hand, or simply capturing with words the truth you find in your heart and sharing that, one person can make a difference in the world.

This seven-part series tries to chronicle how I became a published writer with a reputable publisher. It’s actually the path I took to make a dream come true. Reaching a new goal often means letting go of something you cherish. I gave up a seventeen-year corporate career with a highly esteemed company. How did I do it? I simply took the first step, then followed my heart. I’ve learned my craft as best I can, and I keep leaning each new day. Most importantly, I didn’t let any setback stop me.

What I hope you glean from my experience is that it is possible to follow your passion. And when you do, good things happen. Don’t wait for time to become right. Face your fears, make a plan, and take the first step.

You can find out more about Alan Chin and his books at

1 comment:

James said...

People don't realize how rigidly structured most screenplays are. I didn't realize it until I read ; some very good points in your blogs. Most people think writing is the hard part but you seem to realize that selling the stories is. Anyway, it's all good fun in the end. Best of luck.