The Business of Screenwriting: The Importance of a Writers Group

There’s that image of a writer. Sequestered in a room. Struggling over a blank piece of paper. Crumpled pages strewn about. A cup of booze nearby. Disconsolate, despairing, and down in the dumps like… this guy:

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The thing is about Hollywood, it doesn’t have to be like this. For example, if you write for TV, especially sit-coms, they have this phenomenon called the “writer’s room,” where as far as I can tell, everybody just sits around, eating snacks, cracking jokes, and generally having a grand old time like this:

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No, not your typical writers room.

Well, maybe not exactly, but the fact is there are a ton of writers in Los Angeles. And if you work in features or TV, you run into writers all the time. Restaurants, grocery stores, your kid’s school, the car wash, tennis courts. So while you can choose to write your stories in total solitude, you also have the opportunity to avail yourself of something that can be a real benefit: A writer’s group.

There are all sorts of writers groups in L.A., many shapes and sizes — a few of them I found online here, here, and here. What I want to talk about is my kind of group.

My kind of group is all working writers.

We are friends.

We get together socially every few months.

We email frequently.

We call each other to kvetch.

We celebrate our victories and support our cohorts in tough times.

We float potential story ideas to one another.

But what the group is most fundamentally about is reading pages.

You may remember a previous TBOS column: Never send out a script before its ready.

Question: How do you know when it’s ready?

Before you go out to studios… before you go out to producers… even before you to out to your agents and managers… you go out to your writers group.

You need that read. A careful considered read from writers. Writers who are professionals. Writers you trust. To tell you the truth. They should have the ability to know what works… and what doesn’t work. They should be able to articulate why it works… and why it doesn’t work. And if you’ve got a really good writers group… they will have suggestions on how to possibly fix your story problems and make your story better.

Of course part of the deal is you read their scripts, too. And you’re expected to be just as honest, just as insightful, and just as helpful as they are.

When you’ve got a great writers group, it’s like that old saying: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Writers groups aren’t just for plebes either. I remember reading an LA Times article years ago about some local writers groups with top notch professionals that had been together for decades. Indeed I would imagine that almost every screenwriter, even A-listers, have a core group of people they entrust to read their scripts-in-progress.

Of course, you can start a writers group before you break into Hollywood. If you do, the absolute number one priority has to be their ability to understand story and analyze scripts. You may not even particularly like them, but if they give you an honest, informed and professional read, that is gold.

If the star align, the fates are at your back, and you get the right writers group, the experience can be a lot like this:

For links to dozens of writing groups around the world, go here.

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

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To read more articles in the Business of Screenwriting series, go here.

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