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STORY BROADS: 6 Things I Learned When I Found My Screenwriting Community

Finding a screenwriting community can help you improve your writing, motivate you when you're down, and improve your career.

Cameron Chapman is a Stowe Story Labs alum, freelance writer, author, designer, screenwriter, and filmmaker living and working in Vermont. She has sold four short film scripts to date, was a quarter-finalist in the 2016 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards for her short script Wildflower, and is currently in pre-production on her first feature. Follow Cameron's website and her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @cameron_chapman

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Confession time: I’m not what you would call a “joiner.” I never was. Team sports, clubs, fundraisers...I’ve never really been into all that. I’m happy to do my own thing, figure stuff out by myself, and usually play the lone wolf role.

I mean, I’m not a hermit. I have friends. But I never cared about developing a professional network.

Except sometimes, having a professional network (especially one that ends up overlapping into a personal network), is nice.

My regular friends can’t help me out with things like loglines. I ask them to read a script and they’re like “it’s good” or “I don’t get it.” They can’t speak to things like marketability, structure, or any of the myriad other things that actually make a script stand out among the thousands of other scripts out there.

Photo by Tim Marshall.

STORY BROADS: 6 Things I Learned When I Found My Screenwriting Community by Cameron Chapman | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

I’m fortunate to be a part of two amazing screenwriting communities. The first is the community that has formed around Stowe Story Labs, where I started out as a participant in their inaugural year and have since turned into a regular volunteer. I’ve formed some amazing connections and friendships near and far through SSL.

And through one of the connections I made at Stowe, I found the Story Broads (or rather, they found me). So now I have these two amazing communities of other screenwriters and filmmakers, with some overlap between the two. And I can’t imagine what my writing life would be like without them.

Writing is such an internal activity. Even those who write with partners still do much of the work in isolation. But filmmaking is collaboration. And the best chance of success lies with those who can find a community to embrace.

You also learn a ton about yourself and your work when you find your tribe. Here’s a rundown of what I’ve learned in the past few years, since discovering my SSL and SB communities.

1. Loglines aren’t that hard after all

I used to dread loglines. I hated writing them, and never felt like I could contribute to conversations about them.

But now, through learning about how other filmmakers (David Rocchio, one of the founders of Stowe Story Labs, in particular stands out) have created loglines that have actually gotten them interest, I’m way more comfortable writing them. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel like the ones I write for my own work stink, but I’ve helped others rework theirs and feel pretty awesome about some of those.

2. Support is invaluable

Getting support from other screenwriters and filmmakers is so incredibly important. You don’t realize it until you have it, and then you wonder how you ever got along without it.

I’ve been lucky to get supportive and encouraging words not only from other screenwriters and filmmakers at “my level” (aka, starting out) but also from people who are established in the industry. Every bit of encouragement and support helps me keep going even when it feels like it’s hopeless/I’m a hack/I’ll never get anywhere.

3. Peer feedback is cheaper than professional feedback

Hate to be crass about it, but when you’re starting out as a screenwriter, getting feedback is super important. You can’t write in a vacuum and expect to improve. You need to find out what other people think of your writing.

I’ve paid for feedback from pros before, and I’ve found it to be generally useful. But it can also add up quick. And when you’re going through draft after draft after draft of something, those $65-$200+ feedback rounds get a little prohibitive (the term “starving artist” comes to mind).

Having a group of peers to turn to for feedback is much friendlier to your wallet and, in a lot of cases, the notes are just as valuable as the ones you get from the pros.

4. Giving feedback is valuable, too

Getting notes on a script helps you to improve that script. But giving feedback to others can help make you a better writer in general. Learning how to read with a critical eye and identify issues with a story are all key parts of improving your craft.

And when you do peer feedback sessions (either formally in a group or informally on a case-by-case basis), you’ll get plenty of practice reading other people’s scripts and giving them notes. Spend the time learning to give useful, honest, and tactful feedback.

5. We’re all in this together

It can be easy when participating in a screenwriting lab or group to constantly be looking at the mentors or more established attendees as your ticket to success. But those people often already have their network. And with the exception of some rare cases, there’s only so much they can (or will) do for your career.

Don’t spend all your time networking with them. Instead, network and build relationships with everyone. You have no idea who will be the next Spielberg, or who’s going to be the head of a major studio in ten years. If you’ve had a good, supportive working relationship with that person, then they’re going to be much more willing to help you out.

The same goes for you. If you find that you’re the one with massive success down the road, remember the people who were there for you along the way, who were rooting for you without regard to what you could do for them. Those people are your real tribe.

6. It might take awhile to find a good fit

I’ve belonged to a ton of different forums and groups over the years. Some were good but not active enough to hold my interest. Some were downright horrible and soul-sucking experiences. Some were okay but never quite fit.

Some I’m still part of but don’t consider them to be my “tribe.” They’re just groups I pop into once in awhile, lend support or a helping hand when I can, but don’t really form relationships with other members.

That’s all normal. Hardly anyone finds the right community on their first try. And you may grow out of communities along the way, or find that your priorities change as your career progresses.

The point is to keep trying to find your group. Keep participating. Try online groups. Try offline groups. Try local groups. Try groups that are scattered all over the world. Find networking opportunities in your city, at festivals, and anywhere you go. Once you’ve found the people who are truly your tribe, you’ll realize that all the work you put into finding them was totally worth it.

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