STUDENT BLOG: The Power of Persistence

By Dan Levinson

Our ProTrack student, Dan Levinson, discusses the approach that helped him secure a three book deal with Jollyfish Press, without an agent or manager.  His debut novel Fires of Man was released in June 2014.

As a kid, my dream was to be a fantasy novelist. Books were my bread and butter, my constant companions. I wanted nothing more than to share the myriad ideas contained in my own mind with the rest of the world.

Years later, I emerged from NYU’s drama program, where my dreams of writing had been briefly replaced by the allure of acting. As I contemplated my future, I knew that writing was still where my heart lay. What, then, to do with this excellent dramatic training I’d received?

Why, I’d write screenplays, of course!

Back then, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I’d write a brilliant comedy script, sell it for a million dollars, and life would be just grand! Never mind that I’d never written a script before; I was ready to conquer the world!

Months later, things weren’t going as planned. While my first script managed to place in a handful of contests, this was as much beginner’s luck as anything—the power of the uninhibited writer. No preconceptions, no rules; just great jokes and a couple excellent, truly ridiculous characters.

As I sought to follow up my first script with something far superior, I made the mistake that most young writers make, focused on structure, on rules, on finding a “golden formula.” I read Syd Field, and Robert McKee, and many others. I transitioned from writing comedy to drama. I wanted to write that perfect screenplay, yet the more I tried to do that, the less and less success I found with my work. Still I continued to push, to fight, to write! What I didn’t understand back then was how much I was learning—as much “what not to do” as, indeed, “what to do.”

Craft is a constantly evolving process. Every single word we write—good or bad—contributes to our growth.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to return to writing fiction. I penned an utterly derivative piece of urban fantasy that, while containing a few novel concepts (pun intended), was largely a rip-off of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files.” I garnered a few requests for the first hundred or so pages from literary agents, but nothing panned out.

So I kept writing. I went back to screenplays again, and traveled to LA for one of the many pitch fests, touting what was certainly one of my better scripts—a dark, twisty legal thriller about a young man who confesses to a crime he didn’t commit, and the brilliant, yet damaged lawyer who defends him. It was at this point that I was enrolled in one of Jacob Krueger’s courses, and all the things I’d learned heretofore began to coalesce. Inspired by the principles I learned from Jake—to write organically; to make character paramount; to produce pages, sustainably, no matter the quality of content—I finally began to find my way.

In the month before I went to Los Angeles, I went back to the first chapter of a story I’d created as a teenager—one that had always inspired me. I’d even made an effort to adapt it into a TV pilot years prior, but it never worked the way I wanted it to. Armed with my new perspective, I wrote fervently, like a man possessed, completing four chapters prior to leaving for California. Then I went, pitched, and returned. The entire process solidified one thing for me.

At this point in my career, fiction was what I most wanted to pursue. I felt a passion for it; a fire. It had been my childhood dream, yet it took me that long to come full circle. But I have no regrets. I needed that writing experience! I wouldn’t have been prepared to do the work without all that had come before.

And, truly, I never would have even arrived at such a place if I hadn’t pursued screenwriting to the very end. It was the persistence to keep going, to seek out new teachers like Jake, to drive myself to constantly improve, that brought me to such a conclusion. It finally began to sink in that all of this was one gigantic learning experience.

I asked Jake if he knew anyone that shared his philosophy, yet worked with fiction writers. This led to me becoming the pilot student of the studio’s private coaching for novelists. I worked with the wonderful Linda Roberts, and got my novel in shape to submit to literary agents.

I could claim that the book deal came immediately after, but that’s simply not the case. I queried agent after agent; again, I had a few requests for material, but nothing serious. At this point, however, I had learned the importance of persistence! It would have been so much easier to get my back up, and say, “They just don’t get my work!” Instead, I took all the feedback I received to heart. I continued to refine the manuscript. I sent more submissions. Then more. And more.

And lo, and behold, something wonderful happened. My persistence paid off.

Now, I stand here, secure in my book deal, and optimistic about representation for yet another project. The prospects look very bright. I have many people to thank, among them Jake, Linda, my parents, my friends, and all my many inspirations. But more than anything, I credit my own unyielding drive, my persistence.

Persistence not only to keep writing, but to keep improving. If we hope to succeed, we cannot fall into the trap of thinking our own words too precious, too perfect to let go of. We must accept that as artists we are ever imperfect, aspiring to perfection, yet never quite achieving it. For perfection doesn’t actually exist; it’s simply the bar we must set for ourselves, so that we can persist in trying to reach it.

Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop improving. Persist, and success will find you, too.

Interested in learning about the ProTrack program that Dan is in? Click HERE to find out more about this special 6 Month Screenwriting Program.

DAN LEVINSON is a Long Island-based fiction writer and librettist. His fiction works include the Young Adult fantasy novel, The Ace of Kings, and the horror novella Bright Orchards. His debut novel, the sci-fi war drama Psionic Earth, came out in Spring 2014 from Jolly Fish Press. He is contracted for two sequels to be released in the following years. His musical, Bathory, a historical look at the political machinations behind the story of the “Blood Countess,” was co-written with his brother, composer/lyricist David Levinson, and was a NYMF finalist in 2009. You can learn more about Dan on his website.


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