(week ending 11/1/19)
A few days ago I got an email from a client. He was in Los Angeles some weeks prior, had some really good industry meetings, but had since gone back home which is when…
“Touching base with you to help me keep that feeling of connection to the town. It’s takes a little effort to keep focused on the goal when you live in a town of 8,000 and your friends nod and smile politely but don’t quite understand what it is that you actually do. I don’t even bother trying to explain the ins and outs of the trip, I just say it went well.”
Perfect way of summarizing why your writing community is so key when it comes to building and sticking with your writing career. But I don’t think the writer wrote this to me just to illustrate this.
Full disclosure: This is not the first time I am writing about this. I put up a blogpost about this very subject a few years back, but this stuff is SOOOO important, it bears repeating.
I can’t tell you how many times a writer told me that he stopped telling his family or friends – who are not in the industry – about the evolution and small wins of his screenwriting or TV writing career because he’s tired of being asked when said family or friend will see his name up for awards, let alone up in light at the local box office or over on Netflix. To the outside world, those could be the only measurements for success. And that can become so frustrating.
Which is why… Writing community is EVERYTHING. It’s the difference between sticking with it, or letting the writing fade away because sometimes the Oscars and Netflix could not feel further away; it’s the secret ingredient to becoming a better writer, to pushing yourself, to staying connected and keeping on track. I know, it sounds like a lot, but over the years, I’ve seen just how important that community can be.
Case in point: When I started out as a career coach, I had a slew of both local and remote writers. And all these years later? I still work with some of those same L.A. based writers, many of whom have graduated to the next stages in their career.
But writers who are not in Los Angeles, who came to work with me way back when? Sadly, most of them, if not all, for one reason or another chose to quit. Turned their attention elsewhere. Or just let their passion evaporate. It’s not because they didn’t start out with the same amount of passion, focus, talent and dedication as my L.A. writers; if I had to diagnose why so many writers chose to walk away (other than this being an inherently challenging business to make it in), I would guess that it had something to do with the fact that they engaged in something that was isolated from everyone around them; they didn’t have other writers to connect with about their journey, a place where their excitement and frustrations were completely understood and seen, so sooner or later most of them just put it down, because in the end, it made life easier.
Don’t worry, this is not a blog post about why you have to live in Los Angeles to be a successful screenwriter. But it is about recognizing that in order to push forward with the writing, in order to make sure that you consistently work on your career and your craft, and in order to give your screenwriting career a fighting chance and really stick with it, you’re going to put your screenwriting community in place and keep it in tact so it can help you meet deadlines, give you a place to vent your frustrations, and move your screenwriting career forward, no matter the challenges that come your way.
There are a million places to start building your screenwriting community: Writing classes, which you can find anywhere, whether or not you’re in L.A.. Meetups. Local writers group. Screenwriting events like the Austin Film Festival or the WGA’s WGFest that happens in late March. Online groups and forums like Stage 32, Roadmap Writers, or any of the other options out there, including those groups on Facebook. Hell, I know a number of writers who’ve built a real community for themselves with nothing but a Twitter account in their capable hands.
My friend Marissa Jo Cerar, whose credits include The Handmaid’s Tale and 13 Reasons Why, once told me:
“Navigating this business can be tough, especially if you don’t have a great support system who understands rejection and the amount of work a screenwriter must do to finish a script. It can take a year (or longer) to finish a script, and it can “die” in 2 weeks (or less). That sucks. You need people by your side who understand just how much it sucks, and who will inspire you to keep writing. My writers group offers unconditional support, and we’ve seen amazing successes in the two years since we’ve formed. We help each other break stories, craft stronger characters, and when we have a crappy day we know there are six other writers we can call who will get it. So….if you can form a writer’s group, do it!”
Screenwriting is a challenging profession, often done in isolation, that much more so before you break in. It’s hard when there’s no one to talk to about it who would really and fundamentally understand the challenges of this thing. So if you really want to make a go of it, make sure you have a strong community to turn to, one that can provide support, understanding, feedback and accountability, and help you become a better writer, a smarter business person, and keep you in the game.