The X-Factor For Screenwriting Success: Your (Screenwriting) Community
I am an observer of the human experience. Always have been. And nowhere do I get to indulge this particular proclivity more than I do in my work with screenwriters. Add to that the fact that I love numbers and stats and facts and figures; after all, my mentor was known for even tracking conversions for his annual July 4th party invites. What can I say? I am a sucker for all that stuff. So when I see something working for my writers, generating real results that I can track, I get excited.
Over the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of observing many writers in a variety of group scenarios, from meet-ups to writers’ groups, from support groups to mixers, come together to create their screenwriting community. Let’s pause for a moment, let’s just define what it is that I’m talking about when I talk about a Screenwriting community: To me, a screenwriting community refers to the writer’s immediate nucleus of like-minded creatives and, hopefully, knowledgable mentors, in which they can engage and participate on a regular basis, from which they will create a support system, and within which they will gain knowledge and insight. And what I found with writers participating in such communities regularly has been consistent across the board: The screenwriters who chose to offset the inevitable isolation that is an intrinsic part of writing have not only elevated their skill set, but also increased their understanding of the industry, became stronger presenters of themselves and their work, upped their game and, across the board, took one huge leap towards going professional.
Lets look at the specific ways in which writers develop, improve and grow when they embrace the importance of a screenwriting community and become active, consistent members in writers’ groups, writer-centric support groups or meet-ups:
- Improve your craft
When you surround yourself with like-minded people practicing the same craft you, unavoidably, challenge yourself to become better at the craft yourself. Of course, not everyone is going to be on your level; some will not be quite as far along, while others will be much more advanced. But if you introduce yourself to a broad enough community, you will find those with similar sensibilities, interests and skill levels. Sharing pages, receiving feedback and exposing your work is the first step (after learning the craft, of course) to becoming a better writer. With a growing community and like-minded individuals now in your life, you will find more and more people who write in your format (film or TV) and genre from whom to get invaluable feedback.
- Grow Your Network
Your network starts with other writers. The more writers you know, the more familiar you will become with other industry events, screenwriting opportunities, worthy contests and events, and much more. You will have counterparts with whom to engage in discussions about content in the space, and from whom to receive recommendations about what you should be reading, viewing and listening to. Crowdsourcing information, rather than a simple google search, will more often lead you to opportunities that will yield results, be they screenwriting instructors, worthwhile events, services to take on and much much more. Over time, I’ve seen screenwriters turn to their community of trusted screenwriting confidants for everything from title suggestions to legal insights. Having a network to turn to becomes an indispensable resource.
- • Decipher the Industry
The entertainment industry is a dynamic, living, breathing space. And as such, it is forever changing. Some properties become hot, other cold, while new trends emerge and players rise and fall on a regular basis. In today’s competitive screenwriting climate, a screenwriter simply can’t afford to arrive at their big break or promising opportunity without industry know-how and understanding. Connecting with other writers, hearing their experiences, and witnessing the lessons they are learning prepares you for industry challenges that will surely come your way. And even if you won’t know EVERYTHING just yet (which, naturally, you can’t) you will in the very least have a knowledgable community to turn to when it’s time to make the most of a promising opportunity or face your own industry challenges.
- Know what you don’t know
One of the big challenges for many writers is this: you don’t know what you don’t know. Therefore one of the great benefits of participating in meet ups, groups, etc. is listening to questions and challenges others bring up that you never thought to ask or explore. I can’t tell you how many times ongoing writing clients of mine participate in my group classes and reflect on how enlightening it was for them to hear the answers to questions they never thought to ask. Hearing the challenges others are confronted with opens you to a world of information you might not have known you needed. This makes you a better informed, more knowledgable and ultimately more compelling professional in all of your screenwriting pursuits.
- Get inspired
Sometimes, when it’s challenging to build and maintain momentum, to get excited about the craft or feel confident about the business, it takes the observation of other creatives’ experiences and productivity to get inspired enough to accelerate your own work. For this, community is key. Ongoing discussion with your active community about both craft and business can help you find new ways into the work, identify new tricks for getting unstuck, create a safe place to explore insecurities and frustrations, and step up your game on both the creative and strategic front.
- Become an expert presenter
The more you talk about your work, the better you will be at presenting and discussing it, right? The same assumption applies to discussing your personal story and the writer that you are. Therefore, logic dictates that the more opportunities you create for yourself to discuss, in person or in writing, what you write and who you are, the more you will ultimately have to step up to the plate, and therefore grow more at ease presenting log lines, ideas, personal narratives and even pitches. The truth of the matter is that all of these things, that often wind up being casually presented even in the most professional settings, require a lot of practice. For most, talking about their work, discussing log lines and even digging into a personal narrative can not only be uncomfortable but straight out horrifying. Creating a safe environment of other screenwriters with whom to discuss your work and explore loglines, pitches and personal narrative will allow you to become a stronger, more confident presenter when professional opportunities arise.
- Accumulate friends, advocates and confidants
Over my many years observing writers in group settings, I’ve seen many participants who have little in common outside of the craft they work on and the group they take part in become, in time, one another’s saviors. One such example that springs to mind is a case in which a writer was going through very tough negotiations with a producer who was choosing to draw a very hard, very uncomfortable line. The writer found himself flustered, overwhelmed, and eager for support. He reached out to two writer’s group members, who ultimately talked him off the ledge and helped him bring the situation to a level-headed resolution. The bottom line is this: The more people you have in your corner, the better off you will be. Not everyone understands the logic and the necessity of this crazy screenwriting journey, so getting a few more people on your side will only make the journey easier, the challenges more bearable, and the whole thing, potentially, even a lot more fun.
While most of my blogs on matters such as this end with a general summary and some next-step recommendations, this time I’m going to do something different: Rather than implore you to do something on your own, I am going to put my proverbial money where my mouth is and tell you that all the reasons above are exactly why I just launched my Screenwriters Support Group, a group that meets online once a month for the purpose of building community, creating support, uncovering insights and emphasizing connectivity. If you have local groups that you can join, by all means, go for it. But if you read this blog, want to build your screenwriting career but are not sure how to get going? Just CLICK HERE and join in!