Thursday 19 April 2012

How can I meet other writers?

As has been mentioned elsewhere, I struggled to make contact with other writers when I was first starting out. I'm not your smooth, chatty, man-about-town type. I do have some things in common with James Bond, but most of them are imaginary. 

In my early days, I attended industry events and listened to people. I attended seminars and training days, and listened to other people. I went to lunches, where I did a lot of listening. Eventually I'd done so much listening that people, having talked themselves out, asked me about my writing. And so it began.

When meeting a criminal mastermind's enforcer, I always stand with my hands in my pockets, like James Bond.  (Don't try this with producers. They'll suspect you of playing pocket billiards, and worry it could result in complications at meetings.)
One thing led to another. A few years ago, some of the people I met established a writers' group in Adelaide. At the first meeting, a stranger informed us that he wrote a new screenplay every week. He was a screenwriting ninja. A guru. A kung fu master of the black art. Then he asked us, "What's a Treatment?"

That was my introduction to the curious fact that (the idea of) screenwriting attracts a percentage of weirdos. I started this blog as a place where new writers in Adelaide could make contact online. Some great people have come along since and are now part of one of the three screenwriting groups meeting in Adelaide. 

When a criminal mastermind is about to cut me in half, I pretend to know his story, like James Bond. (Don't fake story with producers, though, they'll test you on theme and structure and, if they detect BS, you'll have sliced up your own career.)
Most of the new contacts have been lovely people, but there were some others. Like the guy who announced his presence, but refused to answer any questions about his experience and areas of interest, saying instead that he would be the one asking all the questions. He followed that with a series of e-mails in which he expressed his growing dissatisfaction with my level of service. My favorite bit was this:
Can you pass my email to someone else at Adelaide screenwriters for me to communicate with because clearly we are unable to communicate and I am asking that you personally do not email me ever again. Due to you not understanding me in the past, I will say it again; this means that I never want to hear from again Henry.
If they don't understand you, it is clearly the fault of the audience. Find yourself a different audience.   Screenwriting 101. 

For the rest, a few tips to help you get started:
  • Don't be afraid of going up to strangers at industry events, and saying, "Hullo. I'm Joe Bloggs. I'm a writer." I met people doing that. I had to get used to them calling me "Joe," but it was worth it.
  • At your first meeting with other writers, avoid mentioning your problem with the gamma beams from Jupiter messing with your mind. 
  • If you believe writers' groups are part of a conspiracy to steal your ideas and exclude you from the Hollywood Millionaires Club, you're probably right. Don't give them the satisfaction. 
  • It's okay to impress other writers by providing a long list of famous writing teachers with whom you have a special relationship. They might check up, though, so it's best if you only mention people you have, in fact, met at least once.
  • Try telling the truth about your lack of experience. All the famous writers started out having written nothing and knowing nothing about screenwriting. Then they learned. Often in company with others.
  • If you experiment with the random use of phrases like "Excuse me," "Please," and "Thank you," they might teach you the secret handshake.
  • Instead of claiming to have a black belt in screenwriting, admit you've never even seen a professional screenplay, and only have a single, half-baked idea for a movie that you got from watching something on late-night television that you're now hoping everyone in Hollywood has forgotten about. We all start out from where we are.
  • Writers' groups work best where there is a high level of trust among the members. This trust emerges from respect, a common interest, and the willingness of people to make themselves vulnerable by speaking openly about their ideas. 

This rant was inspired by a combination of my real-life experiences as a screenwriting blogger and a post on Write Here, Write Now by Lucy V. Hay, called How Do I Make New Contacts? It's short but good. Go read it now. 


Anonymous said...

Ah Henry, you really are a treat!
Great post!!

Kathy said...

Hey, that's me you're ranting about!

Only kidding. Keep up the hilarious advice, Henry, some of it will sink in.