New Writers on Writing

Here at SWN, we firmly believe that writing is a collaborative process. It’s about sharing ideas, processes and supporting one another. 

Our new blog section is about new writers being open about how they approach writing, their successes, problems they encounter and how they keep motivated.

How To Maximise Your Time As A Screenwriter

by Victoria Bajic @uktori – Screenwriter and chocoholic. Writing by day and eating by night.

When you ask an industry professional ‘how can I become professional, jobbing screenwriter’ most people give similar advice; network, research the industry and key players, be savvy and know what’s being made, get an agent, write, produce and direct a web series, write, produce and direct shorts, script read, enter competitions, watch a film or pilot a day, oh and write scripts – tonnes of scripts because if that producer is already making a thriller you need to have a comedy, or a horror in your back pocket! And you probably need to work a full time job to pay bills and not starve.

So after film school I set to it. I had my list of all the things I needed to do every week. I fell short every day as there wasn’t enough time but I finally got a break when a producer at a networking event asked to read my script. Yes, finally! The only problem was I’d spent so much time networking I hadn’t finished the script.

I learnt from my mistake and focused on writing, just writing. This worked for a couple of months until I completely lost momentum. I had no reason to write and I had no idea what people were looking for. Writing began to feel like a chore because I had no reason to write it, I wasn’t on a deadline and I wasn’t networking to give me that buzz to go home and write all night.

So now what? After a few years of trial and error I perfected my approach. I set out the original, gigantic ‘how to be a professional screenwriter’ list in front of me. I wrote next to each item how much time would need investing, and then I assigned a percentage as to how much it would benefit my career. I was honest with myself about what I actually wanted to do. Shorts and web series are pivotal but I wasn’t interested in directing or producing and both are huge commitments. I crossed them off. It was a scary decision but it allowed me to fully concentrate on what I wanted to do.

I dwindled it down and I picked the top 4:

  • Write
  • Network
  • Script read
  • Research the industry

I devised my weekly calendar and allocated them time.

65% of the time I spend writing. Writer’s write. Simple.

15% to networking. However, this time I changed my approach. I decided to be a little more choosey in which networking events I attended, and now I actively request meetings with producers and key players, asking them if I can buy them a coffee to ask their expertise. It takes less time and it’s more direct.

15% to reading scripts. I learn A LOT from reading scripts but I always put it off left to my own devices, so I decided to volunteer and provide coverage for a few different companies and competitions.

Then the last 5% to being informed. I cut this down dramatically by signing up to newsletters such as Variety Breaking News. They email you every day the headlines, you can click to read more if you’re interested, but otherwise it takes no time at all to be informed every day.

Why feedback is essential for a screenwriter

by Natalie Lancaster @NatLanc – Natalie is a professional copywriter and journalist, and is in the process of writing her first screenplay.

As an aspiring screenwriter, tapping away on my first script did feel a little like talking to myself. Which is most likely how it should be in the early stages. But for me, this was working only up to a point. I felt I needed to meet up and talk with other aspiring writers and get some honest feedback – and not from friends and family. I wanted to talk to others in a similar place to myself. People who understood the medium, the lingo, and could offer stronger feedback than “that’s great honey!”.

So I signed up to a free online scriptwriting course, and it was okay, but still not quite right. It all happened online and it was really good to interact with other would-be screenwriters… but, the course was short, and there were no ‘experts’, just a strict outline of what needed to be completed each week, and feedback from fellow participants.

Which is why I started searching for something close to home, that wasn’t exorbitantly expensive. For me that’s Scriptwriting North, a scriptwriting group in Manchester. It’s a small group of eight writers with an expert (Beth) to guides us.

Each week we bring along a scene, or a piece of an outline, a draft of a submission, whatever we are working on at that time. We let others read out our work, and offer each other feedback on what we think is working, how to improve, or change, to move the screenplay forward.

I’ve found it incredibly worthwhile. And, be to honest, a bit painful. The first time I heard my dialogue read out loud, by an almost stranger, confirmed what I had been thinking: it wasn’t working. But the next time I listened to one of my scenes read out, the process was easier to deal with (and I didn’t shake as much, or go as bright red, always a bonus!).

On top of listening to people read my work, I received great comments on what they thought worked, and what they thought of the tone of the piece. For me it pointed out that the tone didn’t hit the mark, but the idea was a solid one. So now I know that, I can make changes, because although I may sit alone at my keyboard creating a universe, eventually I want to share that universe with others, and getting dialogue and tone right is essential to getting the script from my head onto the screen.

I know that sharing my work, listening to other people read out my scenes – and listening to their work and creative processes – will make me a better writer. The reason I know this is because after my first month of going to the group, I’m already improving. I rewriting scenes, questioning my original outline, and revisiting scriptwriting blogs and books with fresh eyes.

Some people may not need that feedback on their screenplay, but for me it’s invaluable. I’m part of a group of people who are supportive, and understand the process. All the feedback is constructive – nobody is there to trash another’s work – and being able to join in the creative flow of someone else’s work feels good.

I’ve never been in part of a writer’s room, but the energy and buzz feels how I imagine one to be like. So if you are starting out on your screenwriting journey, I would heartily recommend finding a writing group that’s close enough to where you live or work (so the travel doesn’t wear you down), is affordable (so you can keep going), and feels right for you.

So where do you find time to write?

Aisha Rangasamy- Screenwriter and long listed writer for Alfred Bradley Award 2015

Oh the guilt. Thanks to the group I often get that question when I’m about to present pages of work. Because I have to have a deadline. Because I could write more but I’m too lazy.

So …. thank you! Thanks to my fellow writers for the terror and shame that has spurred me on to never turn up empty handed. The solidary writer cap has never been my bag. I need to be pushed and prodded and disheartened and encouraged and told to just get on with it. But mostly, I have to have a deadline.

Speaking of deadlines…  during one of the sessions the group was nagging …. hem …..gently  encouraging … me to enter the Alfred Bradley Bursary competition. At the time I was working on something that wasn’t anywhere near ready so Beth started listing projects I’ve abandoned… hem… been developing over the years.

In two weeks (pressure deadline – even better! ) I turned a 90minute TV Drama that had never quite worked in to a 40 minute radio play that mostly worked, which I submitted.

It only mostly worked and I didn’t win BUT I got long listed or got to within the top 10% of entrants. I was also invited to the prize giving where after a terrifying half hour of networking I managed to get an invitation to send my next script to a member of the BBC writers room direct.

Next deadline – getting it finished before he forgets who I am!