Monday, June 8, 2009

Writing groups

One of the best decisions some friends and I have made this year was to start a writing group. See, all of us fancy ourselves writers, and like all writers, often the hardest thing for us to do is to force ourselves to write. I'm sure many of you know how it goes - you've got a notebook full of ideas, maybe even a few treatments, but when it comes time to translate that into dialogue and descriptive action paragraphs, somehow something always manages to come up and steal our time.

By starting a writing group, we've been able to establish firmer deadlines. It's easier to make yourself write when you've got seven other people nagging you for your pages, and giving you feedback as you go. The way we started was everyone came in with a pitch or two or three. Some people had full treatments, others just had a premise, a logline and a vague outline of the structure of the film. We all gave our feedback, and either pushed the writers to turn in a fleshed out treatment, or helped them develop their idea further until they were ready for that point.

If memory serves, we started this the last week of January. To date, four of us have completed at least one full draft of our screenplays (one or two of those are already on draft two or further,) another writer is very close to completing his first draft, and the remaining three are hard at work on their first acts. Impressively, each script is developing differently, and - at least in my opinion - there are no "duds" in this bunch. In fact, I'm incredibly envious of at least two of the ideas being worked on.

Writing normally is a very lonely venture. One sits in a room alone and tries to fill a blank page. Sometimes it's all too easy to get stuck, and then fall into a rut of writer's block. A good writing group won't let this happen. If someone's stuck in our group, either they bring their problem to us on their own imitative, or the group reaches out and says "How can we help?" Already, the group has put its collective brain to use in getting several of us past our problem spots. It's like having an entire writer's room help you through a rewrite. Solutions are presented and debated, and often lines end up being drawn. The group doesn't always agree - some ideas have been met with equal parts enthusiasm and incredulity - but on more than one occasion, a struggling writer has gone home, and emailed the others to say "Thanks for the session tonight... I think I know what I have to do now."

Feedback. To some writers it's a dirty word, but a smart writer recognizes that eventually he's going to push his baby out into the world, and he's probably not going to be the most objective judge of its quality. So before Mr. Wannabe sends his script off to CAA, don't you think it's a good idea he has a few people look over it to make sure it all holds together?

Certainly, every writer is only hoping to get one kind of feedback - positive. This overlooks the fact that negative feedback can help make a script BETTER. One thing I admire about my group is that the criticism is never personal, but the other members don't mince words when it comes to weak points. I know that if I get a glowing review from this bunch, I've earned it, and it makes me feel more confident about the quality of my script.

And when it sucks... well, those people have been there to say, "You can do better - and we're going to make sure you MAKE this better."

Screenwriting groups - they're like AA meetings... but you can still drink!

1 comment:

  1. I remember when I lived in Des Moines, I was in a group of mostly journalists who wanted an outlet for creative writing. It was fantastic.

    Then when I moved to LA, I dropped in my friend's writing group a couple times. It was filled with people who were dedicated to becoming professional film or televisions writiers. I eventually stopped because the quality of writing was so bad, I didn't want the feedback of the group.

    I guess it's all about the people.