Writing is often a solitary activity, so any human interaction regarding your story should be encouraged. Writers groups may be a way to gain new perspectives, clarification and opinions of your work.
Selecting the right writers group for you can really help elevate your writing. However, be selective in which one you join. There are a few things you need to consider when joining a writers group:
1) WHAT DO YOU WANT TO GAIN?
Do you want your screenplay critiqued or do the same to other writers? Are you looking for other writers to help break your story and help others do the same? Do you want to road test a new story concept? Or do you want to simply discuss screenwriting and films in general?
2) HOW BIG IS THE GROUP?
Technically, you need at least two people to form a group. However, the more people you can bounce ideas off, or can read your work, the better. I find 5 – 10 writers per group to be a manageable size. Groups with more members tend to become unmanageable and groups with fewer members may offer writers with limited value.
3) WHO ARE THE MEMBERS?
My general rule is to join a group where either every writer is at least at a similar level of competence. It often helps to have a few writing rock stars in your group. Otherwise, go for a mix of writers you can mentor and writers that can mentor you, so you can develop your craft as well as give back.
4) WHAT ARE THE MEMBERSHIP CRITERIA?
What are the entry requirements? Perhaps every writer must have written a first draft or have a produced credit? Are the members aspiring writers on their first screenplay or their tenth? Is there a cost? Do the members have industry connections? Define the expectations for each member.
Join a group that understands and appreciates your writing style and therefore can offer better feedback. If you’re strictly into period drama, a slasher writer may only offer limited feedback. If you write in several film genres or for TV, you may want to join several writers groups. But don’t over commit.
6) HOW WILL YOU MEET?
Will it be at a physical venue, teleconference, email or via webcam. Personally I prefer face to face time. It’s easier to reschedule virtual meetings than physical ones.
7) SETTING AN AGENDA
Personally I prefer each meeting has an agenda to avoid wasting time. For instance, discussing feedback on a particular script or pitching a project. Also allow each member a specific timeslot. Also set long term goals, such as writing a draft within a specified period.
Keep every member accountable. Homework may be to write a particular scene, read a script or provide written feed back on a fellow group member’s script.
9) LEGAL STUFF
Should members be required to sign confidentiality agreements? This is a tricky one and every lawyer I have spoken to gives a different answer. It depends on the dynamics of the group and how formal it is.
If the purpose of a group is educational and there is no implied intention of writers collaborating, then you may be able to avoid such agreements. Other lawyers consider these agreements a must. However, your work must be in a tangible fixed form to be registrable. Ideas, suggestions and feedback from group members don’t generally qualify them to claim any authorship rights of your work. It depends on the situation and your acceptable level of risk.
Define a membership code of conduct. At the very least any forms of abuse, rudeness or disrespect should be banned. If a member doesn’t pull their weight, let them know. Have a process for disciplining repeat offenders.
If you don”t you don’t like a piece of work, acknowledge this to your colleagues. You may still be able to offer useful feedback.
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