by Greg DePaul (@GregDePaul)
Before you pay some script consultant (including me) a bunch of money to read your latest spec script and give you notes… and before you take that sexy new writing class at the school of professional studies of your choice (Write an Oscar-winning Screenplay in 8 days!)… and before you buy the latest software that purports to write your screenplay for you (which you know isn’t possible, yet you buy it anyway)…
You should join a writers group. Today.
I know what you’re thinking: the last thing you want to do is get together on a weekly basis with a bunch of other screenwriters, read each other’s work, and give each other criticism. Writing is hard enough as it is. You don’t want to hear why your stuff won’t sing. It saps your morale. You don’t need to get dressed down by a bunch of hacks. Right? Wrong.
Here’s five reasons you should get your butt into a writers group as soon as possible if you want to break into the entertainment industry as a writer:
1. Competition improves you.
Here’s my rule: Never be the best writer in the room. That means I go wherever better writing talent can be found and I make friends with it. If better writers can be found at the bottom of the deepest ocean, then I’m putting on a wet suit. OK, that was hyperbole. I don’t scuba.
But I do attend writers groups regularly. In fact, I’ve co-founded a couple of them, such as The Stillwater Writers Group in NYC (See stillwaterwriters.com). There I regularly meet with lots of smart, talented writers. Which is great because when the day ever comes that I find I am the smartest or most talented screenwriter in the room, I should move on. Nothing to learn there. Might as well find better writers to hang out with, and fast.
2. You need notes.
Yes, I know you think you don’t need notes on your latest spec script. And I know notes can hurt. Nobody wants to be told how badly their writing stinks. Certainly not me. But you must ignore the vainglorious voice in your head that tells you to turn away from criticism. Ignore it and kill it dead.
You absolutely need to hear some other screenwriter tell you how badly you handle exposition or how clunky your dialogue sounds. Otherwise – as we both know – you won’t change it. You’ll assume it’s the bee’s knees, perfect in every way. And, as a result, that bad exposition and clunky dialogue will send your script to the bottom of the readers’ pile as quickly as you can say, um, quickly.
3. You will socialize with folks that can help you advance.
Here’s a little fact that, well, isn’t a fact — but I’m gonna tell you anyway because it’s as true as the mother-loving day is long: You need other writers to respect your work. Especially those writers who are respected for their work. Because some of them will have agents, managers, connections, etc. And they might introduce you to those important people. Remember: nothing will happen for you as a screenwriter until somebody important respects you. And they need to read you before they can respect you. See how that works? It’s a circle, but it’s a circle that leads to screenwriting glory.
4. Criticism is a dish best served warm.
By this I mean it’s really, really helpful to get notes from someone whom you actually know. Or even better — someone whose writing you know. That’s why, by the way, you should consider getting feedback on your latest comedy spec script from, say, me, Greg DePaul – which you can do by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and inquiring about my rates — as opposed to someone who’s not me, Greg DePaul. I’ve written screenplays that were sold and produced. Therefore, I’m the guy who can tell you what to change to make your comedy better.
And if you’re writing a thriller, get notes from someone who’s done that. Maybe they’ve sold a script and maybe they haven’t. But if you’ve read their work in this awesome writing group that I’m encouraging you to join or start, then you’ll be familiar with their writing chops. And when they give you notes you will have adequate context with which to consider them.
5. Four seemed like a lame number of reasons so I added a fifth.
But now that I’m here, let’s add the sanctity of marriage to the list. After all, I met my wife in a writers group. And you could do the same — but with someone else, of course. My wife is taken.
Seriously, writing groups are the bomb. I’ve been in a lot of them over the years and any success I’ve had is directly attributable to my involvement in writers groups. Whether you have actors read the scripts out loud or writers read them beforehand and give notes in person, the exposure and criticism are absolutely necessary for screenwriters, veteran and aspiring. Most of the successful screenwriters I know have been in writers groups for years and swear by them.
So go join a writers group today. Call me in a year and tell me how it’s going. Who knows? Maybe your group will look like mine, which you can again view at stillwaterwriters.com. It took me three years to get going, but it was totally worth it.
Screenwriter Greg DePaul wrote Bride Wars and Saving Silverman. He has sold screenplays to Miramax, New Line, Sony, MGM, Disney, and Village Roadshow studios. He teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, and his book Bring the Funny: The Essential Companion for the Comedy Screenwriter comes out this summer on Focal Press. You can learn more about him and his book at gregdepaul.com and bringthefunny.com. And Yes, he is available for script consultations.