Article · Interview · Writing Craft

David Congalton: tips from a screenwriter

David Congalton once sat behind a fellow writer, Catherine Ryan Hyde. She had unexpected, sudden success when her book Pay It Forward was adapted to film in 2000. She even received an invitation to a White House reception. Congalton spent the evening consumed by feelings of intense envy, instead of being happy for the author’s success. He grumbled to his wife, “Why is she successful, but not me?” His wife’s response was matter of fact. Ms Hyde had done the work, paid her dues, and she deserved her success.

David had moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a professional writer. He spent a decade dreaming up crazy concepts to break into the commercial market and writing bad screenplays and unpublished novels. After a house fire and the death of five pets, he developed a niche as a pet writer. He got married and became a popular radio show host but it was not the best-selling success he’d imagined. His brother constantly asked when he’d go back to his real job as a teacher. Eventually, Congalton agreed but when he announced his decision to stop writing to his friends they challenged him to try one more time, with the caveat that he write about something he knew well.

Well, Congalton had twenty-seven years of participation in writer critique workshops. His earliest endeavors were filled with amateur writing mistakes. He had real life examples of obnoxious and humorous attitudes from aspiring writers. Mostly, he could parody himself.

He wrote a screenplay about a writing critique group. The group has an encouraging “All for One, One for All” attitude—until the least seasoned, least educated member experiences sudden success and the rest of the group becomes envious. The movie was released as Authors Anonymous. Now David Congalton can say he’s done the work and paid his dues. He treasured the thrill of the movie premier, seated beside his once skeptical brother in an auditorium filled with actors, producers and directors. But that was one evening over many years of writing. For all the other evenings, David Congalton can say for sure:

  • Don’t give up on your dreams
  • Don’t let anyone else define your dream
  • Write what you know
  • Be happy when others are successful

This article was compiled from a presentation David Congalton gave at the California Writers Club – Inland Empire Branch in April 2014.