It was a dark and stormy night, metaphorically speaking. Six of us, all aspiring screenwriters, were gathered at the Perfect Cup, a cozy neighborhood cafe on Chicago’s North Side.
We were a gloomy, woeful bunch. Week after week of writing and rewriting and rewriting again for the thirteenth time and none of us seemed near that most elusive of goals?first sale. Thanks in no small measure to the group’s feedback, we had polished our screenplays until they gleamed, but they still weren’t what the producers and agents wanted. They were looking for edgy but safe, original but familiar.
Our group had begun its life five years previously as a workshop at CineStory, a national screenwriters’ organization. When our 12 weeks were up we decided to continue on our own. I thought that we were all dedicated to the same cause?becoming professional screenwriters.
But without the incentive of knowing we were paying to do this, the level of commitment quickly waned. Three or four meetings into our experiment and there were only two of us left?Diane Berz, a playwright turned screenwriter, and myself.
I jumped in and decided I would be the one to resurrect our sinking ship. The trouble was, I didn’t know the first thing about organizing a writing group. I’d never even belonged to one before. But how hard could it be?
Damn hard, I soon discovered. Maybe in L.A., where screenwriters swarm the cafes like medflies on an orange grove, there are people beating down the doors to join a screenwriting group. But here in the Midwest people are too busy engaged in real work.
The most frequent response I get when I tell a Chicago native that I’m a screenwriter is an incredulous, “You can make money at that?”
Undaunted, I continued to market our group at every opportunity. One meeting twelve writers showed up. At other times, it was just Diane and I staring at one another across the table, wondering if this was worth it.
Every writer who attended regularly saw at least some improvement. Our scripts were placing in contests and even getting nibbles from producers and agents.
Through trial and error we determined how frequently we should convene. Some L.A. groups meet every week, but those are for people writing full-time. Here, every three weeks seems to work well.
We encourage group members to bring in 10-20 pages of whatever they’re working on. Twenty pages translate into a page a day over three weeks. That’s doable even for a writer working a demanding job.
Three weeks after that dark and stormy night, we were back, maybe not full of high hopes, but at least with another 20 pages under our belts. Whether you’re writing in Hollywood or in Chicago, that counts for something.
The group meets at the Perfect Cup, 4700 N. Damen Ave. For date and time of the next meeting, contact Eric Diekhans at email@example.com.