Over at John August's blog, (A screenwriting blog that's obligatory for writers of all medium,) had a guest blogger recently who made some interesting points. She won a student Oscar (the screenwriter's version of winning Writers of the Future,) got all sorts of interested producers with her amazing short film, and so went out immediately to start her career in Hollywood. I think a lot of us think like that: all we need is a door to open and our career will be off at a sprint. We'll write the next big story, get famous and buckets of money will fall from the sky. It worked for Harry Potter and Twilight, right? Hunger Games, anyone?
The big problems, however, came when she started meeting with producers who all asked her "what else do you have?" She'd never written a feature-length script before and she had nothing in the works that related to the short she'd made. When she realized people were expecting to see award-worthy feature-film scripts along with her award-winning short film, she just wasn't ready for it and it hurt her career options.
I think a lot of us contemplate our careers like many deluded actors do: our job is sort of to just exist, maybe putz around and go to parties until we "make it" or "get discovered" or whatever it will take to get us famous. One day we'll have that agent or editor who'll make us rich, and that pesky writing thing that we're supposed to do first will hopefully take care of itself. The problem is, it's never worked like that for anyone, ever. Even actors don't get the big break the way Disney Sit-coms made us believe: Getting a Broadway lead is never as important as getting the next one, and I'm sure we all remember famous Youtube clips that made someone a house-hold name for 15 minutes before they disappeared into obscurity. It's like all us on the internet told them the same question the screenwriters and authors get: "Great stuff, but what else have you got?"
Want to know how why Harry Potter and Twilight became so famous? Because they were series: J. K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer walked into that office, put down a finished manuscript and said "This book will sell millions, and I'll do it again with book two, three and however many more I decide to write." (maybe not exactly like that, but the metaphor works and it's a compelling scene how I imagine it.)
Everything we make must be amazing. Twenty bad manuscripts will never be as good as one flawless manuscript. Once we've got a perfect story, though, the question becomes "Great, but what else do you have?" What else are you working on? If there's one thing New York taught me, it's that no one cares how talented you might be: they want to know what you've done already, and what can you promise to do for them in the future.
This isn't a sprint, it's a life-long marathon. Work hard, find a way to make money in the meantime, and prove you've got what it takes from experience. No amount of talent will take the place of experience, and no amount of promise will take the place of completed works. Run fast, run hard, and run knowing success will come at the end, not the beginning, of your race.