The Working Writer Tips

Read these 7 The Working Writer Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Screenplay tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Building Relationships

Once you've made contact with an industry pro, it's time to start building a relationship.

The best relationships happen naturally. It's the difference between a blind date where the partners are comparing each other against a list of criteria, and a more relaxed evening out with someone whose company you truly enjoy. The first is a forced and artificial situation. Each partner is only focused on what they think they want and need from the other person, and that only causes stress. The second is more natural. The partners are open to learning about each other. This allows space for a true relationship to develop.

A friend of mine is one of the smoothest networkers I know. Her secret? She's truly interested in other people. When she asks about someone's projects or interests, people sense her sincerity and enjoy talking to her. She's also a confident professional, and she speaks charmingly and passionately about her own projects. She approaches everyone in the spirit of exchange, and she's never pushy or aggressive. As a result, she's very well-connected and well-respected.

Most of us don't have her natural ability for flawlessly balancing business and pleasure. We end up coming across as too shy, too aggressive, or too desperate. Find a person whose people skills you admire. Go with her to a couple of events and see if you can pick up any pointers. In the meantime, here are a few tips to get you started:

Nobody likes to be bombarded, especially in a social situation. Let a relationship develop and the business will follow naturally. "Don't overwhelm producers with your scripts and ideas. Stay calm," says screenwriter Andrew Bennett. "Wait for them to ask what you're working on. That's your cue to segue into your pitch."

Show interest in others. Ask them about their projects—and pay attention when they talk! Never make someone feel like there are more interesting people in the room to talk to. Even if there are.

Invite a pro to lunch. Keep it friendly. Tell them you respect their expertise, and you'd like to learn more about the business. Approach people the right way, and you'll find they're quite willing to share their experience with you—especially if you're picking up the tab.

Whenever you make a good contact, stay in touch. Send a congratulatory note when their newest movie opens or an update with your latest contest win. Be judicious, however. Don't spam people on a regular basis.

Let people get to know the real you. After all, it's your unique point of view you're trying to sell, isn't it?


Six Degrees Of Separation

Making it in Hollywood takes talent and skill. Without connections in the industry, though, you stand little chance of success, however brilliant your work may be. Unfortunately, you don't have connections. Or so you believe.

A popular theory states any two people can be linked to each other through at most six other people. It's called six degrees of separation. If you don't have any connections to a Hollywood player, you probably know someone who knows someone who does. Sit down and make a list of everyone you can think of with even a remote connection to the film industry. If you can't think of anyone, start with a list of everyone you know, period. Then contact everyone on that list. Tell them you'd like to learn more about the film industry, and ask them if they know anyone you can talk to. If your drycleaner's son once worked on the local TV news anchor's deck, get his name and approach him. He may be willing to contact the news anchor on your behalf. And who knows whom the news anchor knows?

Approach this exercise in the spirit of educating yourself about the business, and you'll be surprised how willing people are to help you. Whatever you do, never be pushy, desperate, or rude. If someone is unwilling to make a connection for you, let it go. If you force them to give you a name, they'll probably warn that person about you. If you back off, they'll remember you as a class act. The next time you ask for their help, they just might say yes.


The Long Haul

To the blissfully unaware, being a screenwriter has a wonderfully glamorous ring to it. No boss, no schedule. Parties with moguls and stars. And just think of the money you can make once you sell that script!

Of course, you know better. You know the average overnight success takes 10 years to happen. You're willing to pay your dues and you're not about to jeopardize your future by marketing an unfinished and unprofessional script. You love to write, and you especially love the entire universe of screenplay craft, from the wonders of the three-act structure down to the nitty-gritty of formatting. You're committed and persistent. You're willing to work day and night if necessary, willing to sacrifice things other people take for granted—weekends, sleep—for your career. No wanna-be, you're in it for the long haul. You're the bona fide, genuine, real deal.



Behave Like A Professional

We writers are an odd lot. We spend most of our time hunched behind a computer screen, tapping away 'til the wee hours, fueled on caffeine and talking to ourselves. Is it any wonder we lose some of our social graces?

As comfy as those week-old pajamas are, sooner or later you'll have to bathe, cut your fingernails, and face human beings. You'll want them thinking you're a professional. Here are some guidelines to follow:

Be courteous to everyone you meet. Never talk down to an assistant, snap at a reader, or belittle a hat-check girl. Besides being good manners, it's also good business sense. You never know where that person will end up in a year from now. Hat-check girl today, movie mogul tomorrow. Hey, it could happen. So spread good karma. Be nice.

Show backbone. Being courteous doesn't mean being subservient. Confidence and self-possession are charismatic qualities. People will respect you if you can express your opinion with assurance. So go ahead and speak your mind, politely and respectfully. And show even more confidence by keeping an open mind and listening to others.

Be easy to work with. Hollywood may be full of divas, but nobody really likes them. If you're a mega-star, guaranteed box-office hit, you may be able to get away with it—for a while. But as a novice writer, forget it. Review tip #3, A Collaborative Art, and leave your high horse in the stable.

Separate the professional from the personal. As a screenwriter, you'll be praised, rejected, replaced, rewritten, fired, and re-hired. Your script will be lauded, altered, butchered, crucified, and scrapped. It's just the way it goes. Don't take it personally.

Value and nurture your reputation. Write amazing scripts. Be reliable. Deliver on time. Communicate when you have a problem. Be supportive of other people, rival writers included. Refrain from gossip. Give credit where credit is due. Create miracles.


Learn The Business

It's time to switch roles from writer to business person and educate yourself about who's who and what's what in Hollywood.

Learning about the industry should be an ongoing process for all writers. Here are a few tips to get you started:

• Read the trades (Variety, Hollywood Reporter)
• Keep track of fellow screenwriters. Subscribe to magazines like Written By and Creative Screenwriting.
• Surf the Web. Visit the home pages of your favorite movies.
• Watch television programs like E! and others that cover show business
• Learn the names of the major players—heads of studios, influential agents, and other powerbrokers.
• Look up movies you love on IMDB and find out who produced them (see tip #88).
• Learn who just sold what to whom through subscription services like Done Deal Pro (http://www.donedealpro).
• Read screenwriting blogs.
• Get a job in the industry, even an entry-level position.
• If you live in L.A., get out and socialize. Go to screenings, workshops, coffee houses, and parties.
• Study show business history.

Develop a system for keeping track of everything you learn. Create a file of the people you research or meet. Include their position and contact information, their credits, some biographical notes, and their connections to other people. Be equally diligent about keeping track of assistants and low-level executives. You never know where they may end up some day.


Stay Balanced

It takes an obsessive, stubborn personality to make it as a screenwriter, but it's important to remember there's more to life than movies. Certainly there's more to your life than screenwriting. Sure, you have to isolate yourself to get your work done, and yes, I understand you're on deadline and Christmas isn't happening this year. But if you systematically neglect other aspects of your life to chase a "written by" credit, you may live to regret it.

Stay connected with family and friends, and use the social time away from writing to rest and re-arm your writerly mind. Pursue varied interests, hobbies, and sports. Develop a flexible life rhythm, working harder on some days and easing off now and then. Take care of yourself by eating well and exercising regularly. Allowing yourself to recharge and refresh your perspective will go a long way toward keeping you level-headed, happy, and balanced as you navigate the shark-infested waters of Hollywood. After all, you'll need your stamina and strength. And getting out and living it up will give you new material to write about. (Ha, and you thought you weren't working!)


Networking And The Internet

As an American living in Paris, my screenwriting life wouldn't be the same without the Internet. I've taken classes; found events in L.A.; made screenwriting friends; joined forums, meet-up groups, and critique groups; discovered the Paris-based association DreamAgo; and even landed this book assignment—all over the Internet.

Use the Internet to meet like-minded people, develop your craft, and learn from the pros. Join networking rings like, or build a page at or Do a Google search for screenwriting forums, blogs, and critique groups. Or create your own Web site and encourage people to come to you.

Two warnings:

• Don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Scams abound. There are lots of unscrupulous people out there claiming to be agents or running contests but who are only interested in taking your money. Do your homework, and use your judgment. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Walk away.

• Be careful not to spend more time surfing than writing. As wonderful a resource as the Internet is, nothing will do more for your career than putting your butt in that chair and writing, writing, writing.

The next time you're taking a stroll through cyberspace, stop by my Web site,, and say hello. I'd love to hear from you!

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Alexis Niki
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