Eric Haywood has spent over a decade writing for network and premium cable television series including ABC’s Private Practice, Showtime’s Soul Food, NBC’s Hawaii, and the Fox drama Empire. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricHaywood.
Something about my previous post has been bugging me.
Last time, I talked about many of the ways writers shouldn’t attempt to network via social media. Then it dawned on me how easy it is to simply tell people, “Don’t do this. And don’t do that, either.” But since this blog is all about providing practical, actionable, I-wish-I’d-known-that-sooner advice for writers, I figured it’d only make sense to share a few of my thoughts on how we should be networking online.
As I said before, social media can be an incredibly helpful tool for writers, because it grants us easy access to countless people who are already doing the things we want to do for a living. And it’s free, which makes it more of an enormous gift that we really shouldn’t abuse or take for granted.
So how do we maximize this gift without blowing it? How do we connect with established professionals in beneficial ways? Here are some tips, many of which I actually use myself. But please – I insist that you take each of these suggestions with a grain of salt, as they’re not intended to comprise a simple “checklist” that will lead directly to a writing job if followed to the letter. That said, I think it’ll make for a good starting point.
1. Be Yourself
Now, you’d think this one would go without saying... but you’d be wrong. Despite its imperfections and limitations, I’ve found that social media is a great way to get a feel for most people’s personalities. Some folks reveal themselves as quite funny. Or smart. Or can make clever observations about the most mundane things. The point is, a savvy writer should be using social media to attract attention (i.e. networking opportunities) by doing more than just hounding people for job hook-ups or script feedback. Show people that you’re an interesting person aside from the fact that you’re (presumably) a great writer, and that’ll probably lead to online interactions that can blossom into full-blown offline relationships.
DISCLAIMER: I'm certainly not suggesting that you constantly hammer someone with witty jokes on Twitter or Facebook in hopes that they'll notice your comedy writing chops. If your only purpose for being on social media is to sniff out people who can advance your career, rest assured that the folks you’re targeting will see you coming a mile away. And that’s a major turn-off. Which leads me to my second point…
2. Ask For Nothing
This one’s critical. Many writers and showrunners are incredibly giving of their time and experience, and don’t mind offering all kinds of advice and “pro tips” from their years in the business. You should be soaking up all this information without interpreting it as an open invitation to eventually wrangle a job interview or notes on your latest spec.
Granted, there are some showrunners who make a point of opening themselves up to questions from time to time. And if you happen to come across such a person, I say go for it. Avail yourself of their generosity. You probably have a ton of questions that you’ve been dying to ask a working professional, so ask away. But try and pace yourself. In other words…
3. Slow Your Roll
Attempting to monopolize someone’s time will make you stand out in all the wrong ways. So if a writer or showrunner answers your question or offers you a bit of career advice, try your hardest not to bombard them with a dozen ten-part follow-up questions. Asking one or two well-thought-out questions will make you seem far more professional than blindly firing off several. And while we’re on the subject, I’d strongly suggest that you…
4. Avoid Incredibly Vague Questions
No matter how much someone might be inclined to help you, there’s very little they can do with a question like, “I’d like to be a screenwriter. What advice do you have for me?” It’s so broad that it's virtually meaningless. So when someone asks me that question (and trust me, they have), I just think, “I have no idea. I don’t know anything about you, your circumstances, your experience level, where you live, if you’re willing to relocate to where the work is, or anything else.” And a potential networking door suddenly closes because I'm not inclined to sit there wrestling with a question that looks like a massive time-suck on my end. So if you haven’t done the most basic level of research into how to get your writing career going, the best thing you can do is use social media as a way to…
5. Watch And Learn
Keep in mind that it’s perfectly acceptable to not reach out and try to connect with people until you’re ready. Yes, the competition for writing jobs can be pretty fierce, but if you’re still at the earliest stages of your career, you should simply be absorbing all the information these various writers and showrunners have to offer. Some have even posted links to their early spec scripts, which can be a true gold mine for the writer-in-training. But if and when you finally do make a personal connection with one of these working pros, I implore you to…
6. Never, Ever Say #FollowBack
Just don’t do it. There’s no easier way to mark yourself as unserious. People will follow you back (or accept your friend request, or what have you) if they find you interesting. Period. It’s not the kind of thing you can just demand. That said, it’s totally okay to…
7. Tout Your Accomplishments
Did you win (or place very highly) in a screenwriting competition? Complete a recent draft of your new script? Have a successful showrunner or network meeting? Post it! Tweet it! That’s the whole point of social media, isn’t it? And if you tweet these things using #scriptchat or #tvwriterchat or any of the other screenwriting-related hashtags floating around out there, it’s a sure-fire way to bring yourself into contact with like-minded people. And that’s where networking begins. So there’s no need to be shy about the things you’ve done, as long as you…
8. Resist The Urge To Spam
I know you’re super-excited about That Thing You Just Accomplished, and you want the whole world to know. But if I glance at your Twitter timeline and see that you’ve tweeted twenty people the exact same message you just tweeted me, there’s no way in hell I’m clicking the link you just sent me. Not because I want to punish you for spamming (okay, yeah…I actually kinda do), but because I can easily see that you’ve taken a thoroughly unprofessional, scattershot approach to calling attention to yourself and your work. So post your accomplishment on your timeline, Facebook page, Instagram feed, or whatever, incorporate the right hashtags, and if you’re lucky, you might eventually get noticed. Most of us tend to prefer discovering new things on our own, rather than having someone shoving their achievements down our throats. And even if you don’t have anything of your own to talk about at the moment, you can always…
9. Offer Help
Social media isn’t just a one-way street, with you being the recipient of all kinds of useful information. You, too, have the power to help other people, so why not use it? For example, let’s say you just found out that a writing fellowship, film festival, or director’s workshop just announced its call for submissions. Or maybe a big-time TV writer is making a personal appearance and giving a talk or doing a book signing. Even if you’re not in the position to take advantage of it at the moment, spread the information to other people who might benefit. Just pass it on, and soon you’ll be connecting with other like-minded people with whom you can build relationships. And the reality is, while some of those relationships might bear fruit, many will not. And that’s okay, because sometimes you just gotta…
10. Respect The Chemistry
You don’t get along with everyone you meet in real life, and there’s no reason why your social media relationships should be any different. So if you’ve tried each and every one of these tips, and that writer or showrunner you’ve admired for years still doesn’t seem responsive to your attempts to bond via the internet, don’t take it personally. Maybe they disagree with your political views. Maybe your profile picture reminds them of their ex. Or, most likely, maybe they simply respond to people at random and have been too busy to notice you in particular. Again, don’t take it as a personal slight. There’s probably still a ton you can learn from them that can make you a better writer, which should be your real goal anyway.
All right. I hope this helps. Next time, we’re going to get back to the nuts and bolts of the TV writing business by exploring the ins and outs of the dreaded staffing season.
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