Rich Amberg, assistant professor of media, journalism and film, stresses work-shopping your writing with others. He notes that this is usually difficult for screenwriters. We may be introverts, but millions of people should see our scripts. Feedback is crucial.
I am one of those writers that finds work-shopping difficult. Not because my screenplays don’t need it (they often do). Rather, because I’m very uncomfortable being the center of attention, particularly when such a vulnerable part of me is on the table.
So when Rich told our advanced screenwriting class that the grad students had an extra assignment (meeting with Missouri State alumna Kay Alden) to discuss our current projects, I wasn’t completely thrilled.
Kay is the epitome of the screenwriting dream. She was a writer on “The Young & the Restless” for more than 30 years (and a head writer for almost 10). That kind of stable work is unheard of for a screenwriter. She’s one of MSU’s most successful alumni in the film and television industry.
So not only would I have to workshop my project — something I was already uncomfortable doing — I would have to show it to a writer with an almost unimaginable amount of experience. That terrified me.
Getting over my fears
I decided to show Kay the series overview of a sitcom I’m writing in advanced screenwriting class. I sent it to Rich ahead of time, who sent it to Kay to make notes before our meeting.
Our meeting came. Kay’s daughter, Conci Nelson, pulled out her iPad and my page, covered in notes.
I could’ve died right there.
I’m my own worst critic, but in that moment, I thought my worst fears were confirmed. My idea was horrible and I should quit screenwriting because I’m a horrible writer. (That might be a little dramatic, but, hey, I want to make movies — I need a good sense of drama.)
Conci being at the meeting was not something I expected, but something I very much appreciated. Kay brought Conci along, she explained, because Conci has more experience with the current film industry.
I was very nervous that another successful woman would be picking apart my idea, but my fears melted away when Conci and Kay began to work with me. These women are intelligent and knowledgeable and it was clear right away that they wanted to help me succeed.
Establishing my confidence
For Midwesterners who have never met someone from the West Coast before, let me tell you: It’s an experience. Conci and Kay were both vibrant and energetic and self-assured. They did a lot of the talking, which I appreciated.
It could’ve been overwhelming, but both women perceived when I was getting overwhelmed. They gave me constructive criticism, but they also instilled in me something that I have a lot of trouble with when it comes to my writing: confidence.
It’s important, Conci told me, to be confident in my work, because if I don’t believe in it, why would anyone else? Kay and Conci then pointed out the strengths in my idea that I hadn’t considered before.
Hearing that I had smart instincts from these two established women was exactly the kind of support that I needed. The idea I’d presented was something I’d begun to get discouraged about. It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in my own head, listening to my own doubts.
Every writer feels this way at a certain point of working on a project, and successful screenwriters have to push past that emotion.
I left my meeting with Conci and Kay much more self-assured than when I entered. As a woman hoping to work in the film industry, meeting with these successful, kind, encouraging women in the same field left me feeling very optimistic.
I’m still not crazy about the idea of work-shopping my screenplays. Still, I’m a little more confident in my writing, to the point where I want feedback rather than trying to hide from it.