Happy to help

A few of my writing colleagues got in touch with me this week, each seeking input on a few assorted topics.

One was asking for my thoughts on their short script.

Another asked for my advice regarding how to approach some business and legal issues of working with a director.

I offered what guidance I could for both, and both expressed their gratitude.

Similarly, I met with another writer friend who offered up some great suggestions and guidance for potential ideas regarding other avenues for my scripts.

I’m definitely not the type to go around saying “Got a problem? I’ve got the perfect solution!”; maybe more “Don’t know how much I can help, but I’m certainly willing to give it a try.” Most of the time it works out, along with the occasional totally unexpected but still positive results.

A lot of this wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t taken the time to establish and maintain a professional relationship with each of these writers. It’s how I operate overall, and a practice I heartily recommend every writer do.

Although writing is primarily a solitary activity, that doesn’t mean you have to stay isolated. Connecting and interacting with other writers is beneficial on several levels. Any help or boost you can offer another writer is always appreciated.

Same thing for when the situation is reversed and I ask another writer for help. Got time to read my latest draft? Could you look over this query letter? You’ve worked with this person before – how did that go?

A hashtag I frequently use in social media is #WritingCommunity, because that’s exactly what it is. I may not be the most active or vocal member, and sometimes it takes me a little longer to respond than I like, but I take part or help out when possible.

I’ve enjoyed it, look forward to continuing to do so, and hope you do too.

-A friendly reminder that my book GO AHEAD AND ASK!, INTERVIEWS ABOUT SCREENWRITING (AND PIE) VOLUME ONE is now available in both print and ebook formats.

Still a thing?

That little paper box full of extra cards is tucked away somewhere

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on the Telling The Show podcast to talk about networking as it relates to screenwriters.

Over the course of the discussion came this question: in pre-COVID times, it wasn’t uncommon for a writer to have a business card. Does a writer still need one?

I thought it was a great question, and had to really think about it.

My initial thought is probably not, especially due to how most networking is now done online, and most writers have their phone with them, so contact – or at least reaching out – can be practically instantaneous.

What good is having a card to hand out when you’re practically isolated and there’s nobody around to hand it to? These days you’re more likely to connect with somebody via a social media platform, so you’ll probably do everything via email and/or texting in order to set up meeting one-on-one.

A lot of writers now have a strong online presence – websites, blogs, an account on Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, etc., so it’s significantly easier to get in touch with somebody to strike up a conversation, or at least establish a professional relationship.

Keeping that in mind, in-person interaction is slowly coming back, so if we get to the point where you show up at a venue where you don’t know anybody, and then have some nice conversations with people, would you want to have a card to hand out, or be comfortable asking for their email address?

There are exceptions, of course. A majority of writers tend to be on the introverted side, so dealing with a real live person can be somewhat intimidating. This makes online networking easier for some people. Somebody quiet and shy in person might be more involved or outgoing on a Zoom call or on Twitter.

Just as an example, I recently tweeted a compliment to the hosts of another screenwriting podcast regarding the interview they did with a high-profile manager (I also included the manager in the tweet). Both hosts and the manager liked it, and another writer friend of mine added in his two cents, leading to a brief discussion among all of them.

I didn’t do it because I was trying to suck up to the hosts or hope the manager would offer to read something; it was because I liked what I’d heard, and wanted to let them know that. Would I have achieved the same results if this had been done in person? I’m going to go with “slightly maybe, but probably not to the same extent”.

Online interaction is one of the things I encourage for writers seeking to expand their network. Nobody’s going to get to know you if you hang back and stay quiet. Become involved. Join conversations. Just make sure to be polite, civil and respectful.

There are forums and group chats to take part in, as well as lots of screenwriting groups on Facebook. I find the smaller ones to be better because the members tend to be more experienced, more mature, and of a more rational temperament.

Networking and interacting has really changed, especially over the past few years. But one thing remains the same: online or in person, business card or no, be the kind of person you’d want to know.

The writer’s GPS: always recalculating

The road to screenwriting success is a long and hazardous one, filled with constant obstacles that make you constantly second-guess yourself, doubt your judgment, and even make you wonder if you’re even headed in the right direction.

Trust me, we’ve all been there.

And the longer the journey takes, the longer it seems like anything good is going to happen – if it happens at all.

Who doesn’t know a writer who’s made some progress, only to have things stall out, making them question if it’s worth continuing on, or are just so fed up that they throw up their hands up and say “That’s it. I’m done.”?

As someone who’s been at this for a good number of years, again – totally been there.

There’s a part of me that always feels bad when I hear somebody say this sort of thing. Thanks to social media, I’ve been able to follow many a journey, offering congratulations on successes, and encouragement for the bad times.

So when I’m engaged in an online conversation with someone, and they talk about being so frustrated that they’re ready to chuck it all, I go into pep talk mode with the hope it helps replenish their reserve of strength to keep going.

No idea how effective these are, but I keep trying.

And just like these writers, I feel that way sometimes too. I accept there’s a chance it might not happen, but the optimistic cheerleader in me is quite stubborn and keeps pushing me to stay at it. That, and I like writing too much to stop anyway.

There’s also the realization that my road to success may not be what I initially set out on, and is totally what I make it.

If things don’t seem to be going my way, and often times they’re not, I’ll take a step back and explore what my other options are.

Queries not getting any responses? Read requests fizzling out? Contest results not attracting any attention? The industry constantly saying “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Frustrating, so I’ll try something else.

I’ve got a phone with a movie camera in it, and my computer has basic film editing software, so I can take a stab at making a short film. It might not look great, but it’s something.

Bonus – the $ I’d normally spend on contests can now be put towards a film budget.

I’m fortunate to be connected to some local filmmakers. I can ask if they need any help with their projects. No qualms about being part of the crew, and it’s a great education in filmmaking.

(If the filmmaking opportunities are somewhat limited where you are, maybe see this an opportunity to start laying the foundation to create them.)

I’m extremely fortunate to be connected to writers literally from all over the world. I can ask for feedback on my scripts, and offer to reciprocate.

Since a lot of my scripts are of a visual nature, there’s the possibility of turning some of them into graphic novels. I know a few writers who’ve done this, so I could talk to them about their experience and get their advice and suggestions.

The dream to see the stories we create on the big screen is powerful, and what drives a lot of us to do this. The sad truth is it most likely won’t happen for a large percentage of us.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, or that it’s the only way it can happen.

You’re going to keep getting knocked down. It’s up to you how many times you’re willing to get back up and try again.

Reading for reading’s sake

This week I opted to give myself a bit of a break among the writing and outlining sessions, and read some scripts just for the hell of it. Admittedly, some of them had been in my “to read” queue for quite a while, and right now seemed as good a time as any to finally get to them.

No notes. No feedback. Just sitting back, relaxing, and losing myself in the stories.

They ranged from a horror to a historical action, a western to a drama based on true events.

And each and every one was fantastic in its own unique way.

It also helps that these are the works of some excellent writers to begin with, so that made the overall experience that much better.

If I’d been asked when I was starting out if I could ever just read a script, I’m not sure if the answer would have been yes. I suspect I’d’ve been too concerned with thinking “what works in this script?” and “what can I learn from this?”

But the experience that’s come from reading and writing scripts has enabled me to look at a screenplay as more than an educational document. I can see solid storytelling, strong plots, three-dimensional characters, snappy dialogue, and all the other elements.

All of those elements combine to make for some darned good scripts.

It’s one of the best pieces of advice when a newer writer asks “How can my scripts be better?”

READ SCRIPTS!

There’s a vast assortment from which to choose, making it super-easy for you to customize your reading list.

And to take it one step further, numerous members of the online screenwriting community would be happy to share or swap scripts. You just have to do the work in finding something that piques your interest. Believe me, they are definitely out there.

If your schedule allows, try to make the effort to read one to two scripts a week. You’ll be glad you did.

(you + ideas) x plan = 2022

As we stand on the cusp of a brand spanking new year, do you know what you want to accomplish, writing-wise?

More importantly, do you have a plan on how that’s going to happen?

I’m finding that it really helps to take a realistic approach, focusing more on the things we can actually control, rather than the things we would like to happen.

Knowing your own productivity and output, how many scripts do you think you could write/rewrite?

For me, I’m looking at 1-2 new ones, and 2-3 rewrites. Might be a bit of a challenge, but still doable.

I’ve also noticed an increase across social media of writers offering to give notes to other writers, so that’s something also easily achievable. Doing that once or twice a month benefits both you and the other writer, and a lot of the time the other writer will reciprocate, so…win-win.

Lots of writers are also directors or filmmakers, so maybe making a film or a short is part of your 2022 to-do list. Count me among that number. Got a horror-comedy short I’m just itching to make, and have started the ball rolling to see that happen.

No matter what you’re hoping to accomplish this year, I hope you not only do that, but also manage to enjoy yourself along the way. You should be getting as much out of the journey as you do finishing it.

And keep in mind that while you might be flying solo on a project, you’re definitely not alone. Just about every other writer out there is going through the exact same thing. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, advice, or feedback, or to offer it.

Win-win, remember?

Here’s to a phenomenally productive 2022.