Last Monday I wrote about forming a screenwriters group nearly five years ago, a group that incidentally is still going strong. I also offered up some tips for how you can form your own group. Today I will expound on that
It is my belief that anyone who is going to be part of any group must bring value to the group. Sounds like a simple concept but you’d be surprised how many people are all too willing to show up and take rather than give. There is nothing that will get you on my bad side quicker than being a selfish taker. If you bring little to no value then you will either be removed or you will quickly realize you don’t fit in and will leave yourself.
That is the fundamental rule Monday Night Writers Group operates under – bring value or go home. I love Mondays because I love the people in Monday Night Writers Group. That is how it should be so make sure it is and it starts with you, the leader.
The easiest thing that everyone can offer is thoughtful feedback when people share pages or full scripts. I tell everyone who comes for the first time that I expect them to be vocal and to offer honest, thoughtful opinions. No wallflowers please. If you can’t be bothered to voice an opinion that shows real insight and thought then why bother coming? I cannot emphasize enough how important giving feedback is, bringing awesome snacks, beer or wine is a close second (nobody is going to kick out the guy that always brings a large pizza, trust me).
No matter where you live, community is important so when you become part of one or build one from scratch you really value it. When you live in Los Angeles community becomes crucial. I don’t know how you could survive as a creative person in this town without some kind of community to support you because there are so many moments of “almost” and “maybe” and “it’s not for us” (or “you’re not for us”, especially in the case of actors). So whether you start a filmmaking or screenwriters group (ours has become both) or whether you build a close knit group of friends who are in the same fight as you, make sure to build, nurture and be part of a community.
That is exactly what I decided to do, build a community of screenwriters who could push each other to get better and while we have had members come and go, the group itself remains, meeting every single Monday night.
That first meeting long ago I asked people to either bring in a quick pitch of what story they would be working on or to bring in no more than three pitches or ideas that they could present to the group and ask for opinions and help brainstorming. As I recall, everyone had at least one idea they really wanted to write and so we began, as a group, to work out a plan to succeed.
Our structure was aggressive but not too much so. We gave everyone three months to finish a draft and required each writer to share pages at least every other week. We also assigned a partner to each person so that you had someone to keep track of you and you them. It was a great system, provided that I (as the leader) kept up and kept everyone on track. I found that if I got behind the group got behind and if I didn’t do my homework then others wouldn’t do theirs. You really must lead by example. If you are the leader then lead.
Since that first meeting, I have learned a lot about how to run a group and how to structure it. I would suggest that you set some rules right up front regarding participation, attendance, feedback, sharing pages, showing up on time and what the consequences are if people violate the rules. You are trying to build something special and that means you need folks to buy into the concept or leave. No great team is built with people who don’t give a shit. Create inspired enthusiasm in your group.
Some things to consider…
PARTNERS – we have always been successful during periods where we assign people to be partners with someone else, just to check in once during the week between Monday meetings. This almost always brings more overall productivity. Right now, I am working on a feature script with another member of our group that we plan to shoot ourselves. I am working on a spec script, a feature length comedy with another member of our group and I have weekly skype conversations with another member of the group who is my accountability partner. Partner with someone to up your chance of being productive.
GROUP GOAL – In April we ran a challenge for everyone to either finish the project they were working on or start and finish a new project. Everyone had the last week of March and all of April to get it done and we built a spreadsheet in Google Docs that everyone could access. The spreadsheet had a spot for each person to put the number of pages they wrote that day and it kept a running total so you always knew where everyone else was at. We wrote almost 700 pages as a group that month with most finishing a draft.
READ – Not only should you read drafts that group members finish but you should read professional scripts, as many as possible, as group homework. Do this regularly and use the first minutes of the next meeting for everyone to talk about the script and what they thought.
ACCOUNTABILITY – when people say they will meet a deadline hold them to it. When group starts at a certain time then make sure you start and set a standard so that people will not be late. If someone needs to miss group then set a rule that they really need to let you know and it is unacceptable to cancel at the last minute. Sure things happen but when you have flaky people thinking it is okay to cancel or just not show up then your group will fall apart. Also, make people call or text ONLY YOU to cancel. Do not let people send out group emails because you will see other people opt out as well when they see someone cancel and this stuff will end your group.
BE A LEADER – Man up and make decisions. Be transparent and solicit input but this is not a democracy. It can’t be. I know you want to be everyone’s friend but they will respect leadership. Don’t be their boss just lead and have structure and do what you say and hold them to it. Trust me, if you are a good leader you will have a team of people who want to go to battle with you.
I have a lot more thoughts, I am sure and I will share them as time goes by.
I encourage you to reach out to me if you have questions or comments. I have received a few tweets and messages from people this week who were very intrigued by our Monday Night Writers Group with some even asking if they could join. The answer is maybe but probably not right now. I am always mindful of the chemistry we have as a group and making sure that I continue to cultivate an environment where everyone trusts they can be vulnerable because they are safe here. As I get to know some of you via twitter, email, facebook or whatever then I am sure I will extend invitations to some of you to audit or sit in when space permits. But don’t be shy about corresponding with me and even asking to come to group.
In the meantime, we can use this blog to run a version of Monday Night Writers Group. Any questions you have just tweet or email me and I will gladly do all I can to answer and help.
One last thing about Monday Night Writers Group, I chose Monday because it is the first day of the week and I wanted to get things started with a bang. Don’t let your week pass without investing into your creative self. Persistence is an important part of being good and successful at something. You can do it.
Dane Reade is an admitted knucklehead, writer, actor, storyteller and managing editor of The Tiny Protagonist. You can connect with him on twitter @TheUrbanHobo or via @TinyProtagonist