I remember my first night at Monday Writers Group. My friend Kyle, who had moved out here relatively around the same time as me, told me about it. “You would love it.” So I decide to check it out. Kyle meets me outside Dane’s apartment in West Hollywood and we walk in together. We are the first to arrive. The front door is open and we walk into the main area where we’ll have the meeting. It’s a small space, with plenty of over-sized couches and fans (he doesn’t have air conditioning and it’s very hot…I wore shorts but I should not have worn this long-sleeved thin sweater). Dane chats it up with us, making fun of me when I say that I’m much older than Kyle (well I am – four years). He’s happy to have a girl here – apparently I’m the only one.
Four others arrive and our group makes seven. Kevin is probably the youngest in his striped polo shirt. He immediately unwraps snacks and sets cupcakes out – it’s very cute. Ray arrives next – the oldest in the group. He seems quiet and almost shy at first but then talks a mile a minute when anything about film is brought up in conversation. He’s one of those nervous, awkward people I love – and he’s brought a bottle of wine. Hmm, I didn’t bring anything. I didn’t know I was supposed to bring something, I’m sorry. Dane jumps at my apology to let me know that it’s not OK. He’s quite the jokester. Then Blaine walks in. I don’t notice it at first, but as the night goes on, I realize he sounds just like Woody Harrelson. And actually, he looks a little bit like him, too. “It’s my curse and my blessing.” I guess he’s heard this a few times. Casey is the last to arrive – a little late because we’ve already gone around and done introductions. (It was really only for my benefit since everyone here knows each other.) I learn that all these guys – even young Kevin – are very experienced and knowledgeable in the writing field. The more I hear, the more intimidated I feel.
I’ve always liked writing. My first job out of college was as a local sportswriter. Then, on the day my boyfriend, Mike, and two other friends started the drive from New Jersey to California, I decided to start a blog. Just to document the experience. Once we arrived, I thought that would be that, but I had a following at this point and really, just enjoyed writing every day. So I’m not sure exactly what to bring to this group. I’d rather just share a blog I’ve written, but Kyle mentioned that there is a lot of screenwriting, so I bring along a short that I wrote with Mike about four years ago. Neither of us knew much about screenwriting, but we were excited about shooting a short, so we decided to write something that I could act in and he could direct.
Dane has his laptop connected to the TV for us all to see, so he first plays a short film. He had Casey in mind when he decided to show it because it somehow reminded Dane of a project Casey is working on. He prefaces the viewing by explaining to Casey that he’s not comparing the two, only that Casey might like to see it. Alright, Dane, just play the thing.
It’s really good. I watch it at home and enjoy it even more the second time. It’s sad and relate-able and the score and narration are awesome. It’s beautifully shot, too. I thought this was for writing in general, but it’s really geared towards screenplays. These guys don’t just write – they make movies. We talk about the film, and I’m glad I feel confident about giving my opinion. They all have a lot to say – but they all want to listen, too. It’s definitely a safe place.
Or is it? Now we’re going to read our script. And yes, I brought copies with me. It’s about 15 pages. I’m suddenly nervous and almost don’t want them to read it. I pass around the script and assign everyone roles – three roles and one narrator. A reading of my stuff, and I have to just sit here and listen. Ugh. I’ll have that glass of wine now, please. As they get into it, I find myself cringing. When it’s over, no one says anything, like they’re waiting for permission from Dane. He first asks me how it felt to hear it out loud. Well, it’s not as good as I thought it was when I first wrote it… I was getting embarrassed.
And then they let me have it. One by one, they go around the room and give me feedback. I can tell they are being very careful with what they say to me, like they’re walking on eggshells because they don’t want me to cry – or just never come back. I’m actually loving it. I mean, yes it’s hard to hear some of it, but I agree with pretty much everything they’re saying. One thing they keep repeating, is that it’s too on the nose. I’m not giving the actor or the viewer any credit. I hate hearing this because it’s the last thing I want to do. I hate when I’m watching something and it’s spelled out for me, like I couldn’t have figured it out. And now I’ve written a piece that does exactly that. I also haven’t given my actors any credit. Mike and I have spelled out their actions and their feelings. It’s not up to us. We have to leave it to them to decide what to do with the words on the page. It makes sense; I know this, but knowing it and writing it are two different things.
It’s Casey’s turn. He starts going through the script page by page to let me know what doesn’t work, and in some cases how to make it better. Dane interrupts him to check in on me. “Hold on, how are you hearing all this? Are you OK with it?” Now I’m beginning to suspect that this isn’t because I’m the new person, but because I’m a girl. Yea, I’m great with it. I’m an athlete, I’m used to constructive criticism. I appreciate everything you guys are saying. Casey continues. Collectively, they all agree on most points, but they each have a little something different to contribute. I can’t believe everyone is thinking so much about something I wrote and trying so hard to help me with it. It feels kind of awesome. They’re all long-winded, and I notice one person is always trying to interrupt and give his two cents. Please, by all means, don’t fight over helping me!
We spend a lot of time on my script. When it’s over, I have a new feeling about my script. It’s crap. There’s either a lot of work to do, or we should just start over. Now it’s Kyle’s turn. He’s written a short piece for tonight’s session. He actually wrote the 5-page script earlier today. Afterwards, everyone is giving him feedback. I realize it’s not because I’m a girl – they’re talking to Kyle the same careful way as they did with me. I have an opinion, but it’s not the nicest thing to say, so I keep my mouth shut. But then Kyle asks the question. “I really just want to know what you guys think of the story. Do you like the story?” And I can’t help myself. I tell him. I don’t care that she died. And I don’t care that he killed himself.
I feel everyone’s eyes on me and Casey starts laughing. “Wow, after I was so careful about what I said to you!” I innocently shrug my shoulders like it was perfectly nice, honest feedback. But I guess it was a little harsh. Kyle doesn’t mind. I didn’t think he would (or maybe he did and just didn’t show it, but no, I really don’t think so).
And the meeting is over. It was an inspiring night. Everyone here is so excited about writing and it’s nice to be surrounded by that. I’m excited to become a better writer. I’m excited about the prospect of writing screenplays. At this point, the idea of writing a feature is not even on my radar, but I’m looking forward to shorts!
Lindsay Stetson is a former collegiate field hockey player and sports journalist who is currently writing, producing and acting in the web anthology Conversations In Cars while working on feature spec scripts and her acting career. She’s on Twitter (but only technically) @LStet