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Level Up Part I: Community

January 12, 2022
9 min read time

There’s nothing worse as a writer than feeling like you’ve hit a wall. Or worse, a plateau. That dreaded, sinking feeling that maybe you’ve gone as far as you’re gonna go. The good news is, whether you’re still in the early days of building a portfolio of your work or you’re trying to crack your dozenth pilot or feature, there IS a way out of this funk.

Actually, there are multiple ways out of it, because there are multiple possible causes behind feeling like you’ve lost creative or career momentum.

This series will dig into five areas of screenwriting that are pivotal to a fruitful and resilient career. By taking an inventory of each area, you can then assess what’s working for you and what isn’t, and refine your M.O. going forward with the tips and to-dos that follow.

So let’s get started by taking a look at the first of five areas to upgrade in your screenwriting game:

YOUR COMMUNITY

Even if you’ve got a screenwriting partner or are already in a writer’s room, writing can sometimes be an exhausting, isolating, emotionally draining, and even existential-crisis-causing pursuit. Your personal contribution is sitting there, in between your ears, and it’s up to you to dig around in your mind to find and bring that raw gold to the page. So having a strong community can make or break you when the going gets tough.

Here are a few different ways to find, foster and improve your writing community.

TAKE A CLASS

If you’re looking to connect with other writers and build your network, a class is a great place to start.

Yes, this is one of the few options on this list that costs money, but it also comes with the most structure, and the promise of—hopefully, at least—a strong outline at the end of your sessions. Also, you won’t just be meeting fellow writers. You’ll also be building a connection with your teacher, so choosing the right class and instructor is a key part of getting the most out of this option.

A few great class options to check out:

The Comedy Lab

Jen Grisanti Consultancy

The Writing Pad

UCLA Extension Screenwriting Classes

JOIN SOCIAL MEDIA WRITING GROUPS

Social Media has a lot of cons, and if you avoid it like the plague, I salute you. But there are still a few great ways to engage and build your writing community through it. Here are a *few* places to explore to kickstart your online writing community:

Reddit

r/screenwriting

Facebook

The Inside Pitch

LA TV Writers

The Writer’s ARC

Writers Mafia - Comedy

Writers Mafia - Drama

Zero Draft Thirty

How do you build community in these groups? Ask questions. Ask to swap scripts with other writers. Share your wins and struggles. Comment and support others. Like anything in life, not every group or avenue may feel like a good fit, but if you genuinely invest in these communities, you’re likely to make a few new friends and partners in crime over time.

NETWORK

So say you’ve taken some classes, and you’ve joined all the social media groups. You’re commenting and sharing, but still feel like you’re not getting much back. The next option is to actively network.

Networking can feel like a dirty word. To a lot of introverted writers especially, it can even feel a bit sleazy. But it’s important to reframe what this word means. You’re not trying to sell yourself to others or trying to get a sale out of them. You’re just being yourself, and seeing if you have a connection with another person in the industry that could grow into a long-term working relationship.

Seek out people you admire. Writers a few steps ahead of you. Ask if you can buy them a coffee, or lunch, or if they might have time for a Zoom. This was all a bit easier pre-pandemic, because when you offer to cover a meal, it’s a lot easier for a busy writer, manager, or exec to accept, since we all gotta eat. But still, reach out. Set up chats. And see what happens.

One clarifying note here—don’t try to force a connection if one isn’t happening. Your career is not helped by people who know you. It’s helped by people who click with you so deeply that you’re the one they think of when opportunities come up. That’s not something you can force. And it’s also not something you can rush. So keep your expectations realistic. A networking relationship you make now could lead to a staffing or pitching opportunity two years down the road. So make sure you’re investing in the relationships and the journey and not just the outcome.

FIND COMPETITION FELLOWS

As online classes make screenwriting knowledge accessible to more and more writers, screenwriting competitions are receiving more and more entries. When the numbers hit a certain height, with only one or a few winners, you’ve really got to rethink what you’re looking to get out of competitions.

One undervalued aspect of submitting your scripts into competitions is the community you can find there. And I don’t just mean by attending the accompanying festivals.

If you place in any competition, even as a quarterfinalist, you can seek out your other quarterfinalists, reach out, and ask to trade scripts. Better yet, set up a coffee. You’ve got their name and the title of their script, and if they’re celebrating their placement on social media using hashtags for the competition, it shouldn’t be too hard to find them.

Introducing yourself to your competition fellows is a great way to build your community because you’re meeting writers at your same level. And by connecting with them, you can essentially create your own “graduating class” that you can go through the ups and downs of the industry with.

JOIN WRITING GROUPS

Whether you build your own group with the writing connections you’ve already made, or you form one by posting a request or search in social media groups, there are two key elements to a healthy and successful writing group:

1. Make sure everyone is on the same page regarding expectations.

2. Remember that not all groups are going to be the right fit, and even the ones that are a good fit may not last forever.

If you can take these two points to heart, you’ll save yourself the mountain of confusion, stress and hurt that leads to many group breakdowns.

ACCOUNTABILITY BUDDIES

If a writing group is too much time or trouble to schedule, another option to richen your writing community is to find an accountability buddy. Whether you decide to meet weekly or twice a year, finding a 1:1 partner you can check in with on goals and struggles is a great way to stay productive and build connections.

FORM SOCIAL WRITING GROUPS

At some point in your writing journey, you’re not going to need another writing group. You’ll have people you trust for notes and accountability, but you may still be missing out on that group feeling. In that case, I recommend scheduling a Zoom or meet-up with a bunch of writers you love…to do and talk about anything besides writing. The non-writing adventures you have will meet your need for socializing and give you great life experiences to write about, without the pain of doing notes on 12 scripts if you don’t have the time.

SEEK OUT MENTORS

Fact: Mentoring is one of the best ways to grow as a writer. There are so many elements to a successful screenwriting career that you can’t find in a book or online. Truths that you either learn the hard way or get passed along to you from those ahead of you. Finding a good mentor is hard, so let’s break down a few things to keep in mind when looking for a mentor:

Writers are busy, and if you’re seeking one out because they’re ahead of you career-wise, it’s probable dozens or hundreds of other writers are also looking to them for advice.

Mentoring requires a good chemistry fit. Not every mentor will be right for every writer, and finding the right fit can be as hard as finding a best friend or soul mate. Don’t let that stop you from looking, though!

Mentoring can sometimes begin with imbalanced expectations on both sides. Open communication from the outset about the time and attention that can work well for both people can help prevent a mentorship from fizzling out. 

Some mentoring may last a lifetime, and other mentor/mentee relationships may only last a few months. Be open to adjusting as needed.

A lot of mentoring can start off slowly and may never even take on the label of mentoring.

Some mentorships may be paid. There are career consultants and coaches that charge for what is more or less mentoring and passing along advice. Some of the biggest growth in my writing career came from a paid mentorship with a director I adored. If it’s the right person, it’s worth it.

So with all these elements to consider, how can you find a mentor? To ask, or not to ask? Here are a few options:

  1. Ask someone you know *well.* And when you do ask, share your expectations —or a spectrum of your expectations—along with a temporary time frame to try out the mentorship. Whether you want to meet monthly or just check in every three months, giving them this info upfront will allow them to make an informed choice.
  1. Don’t specifically ask to be mentored, but rather seek out coffees and Zoom chats with writers, execs, consultants and teachers you admire and look up to. Over time, if these chats become regular, if you’re able to ask advice and develop a connection, well then even without the label, you’ve got yourself a mentor.

  2. Seek out career coaches, creative consultants, life coaches, and paid mentorships. They’re out there, and if you really need a strategy boost session, regular check-ins, and support, the investment will be worth it.

And finally, a great way to build your writing community…
 

INVEST IN MENTEES

Pay it forward. Keep an eye out for any writers a few levels behind you and give them your time and attention. It’s possible the writers you mentor could be the ones to staff you in the future. At the very least, they can be great friends and an invaluable part of your writing community.

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