What you really want to know – a writing coach answers your unspoken screenwriter coaching questions.

By Lucy Hackney

I’ve been working as a coach for Script Angel for over a year. I’ve seen it burgeon and grow and felt how incredibly rewarding it is to be able to give one to one attention to writers and help them hone their craft and focus themselves professionally.

This is an article I’ve been wanting to write for some time having worked with so many wonderful writers from incredibly diverse backgrounds and with mind-blowingly different writing projects. As well as keeping me on my toes in terms of what is happening in very different genres of film and TV, it’s also given me a deep understanding of the areas of concern people have on signing up to ongoing professional support like this.

Screenwriter Coaching Hayley McKenzie and Katey Michaelades
Hayley McKenzie with writer Katey Michaeledes

So you’re getting to the stage with your writing where you’re pretty sure you need professional feedback and you’ve seen or heard about Script Angel; maybe you’ve met Hayley or one of the team at an event. It looks promising. But it’s a big commitment and you’re still full of questions. You can call and have a chat with Hayley to be sure but there may be some questions you don’t really want to vocalise.

I think these would be the ones I’d be brooding over if I were in your shoes;

Q. Will you understand me?

I’m sure we’ll get on straight away but I’ve found that it takes a couple of sessions to get to the stage where we really see where the other is coming from. In the first session we’ll spend a good deal of time discussing your work thus far and your aspirations. Then, when you send in the work you’ve done over that first month we can change gear and specifically discuss that work. It’s from that stage onward that I’ll find I start to understand not only you as a writer from the words on the page, but you as a person behind those words. And that’s when the one to one screenwriter coaching approach really pays off.

I think the Script Angel strategy of one to one sessions over a longish period is the best bet you have of being understood.

Q. So are you going make me learn some set rules and formulae? I’m not keen on that idea; I’m an artist not a mathematician.

Script Angel doesn’t adhere to any particular set of rules about how to construct your script and I’m mightily glad of that, believing very profoundly as I do there are many ways to skin a rabbit. However, everyone needs a way of building and analyzing their work and I can and will be asking you to do that. If you want to build a cathedral you don’t begin by putting one brick on top of another in a random field. If you want to paint a masterpiece you don’t start painting at one corner of the canvas. You work out your vision. You plan. You do trial sketches and notes. You check you’re going to capture what you really intended in the first place.

Q. Who am I? I’ve lost my way and my feeling of identity.

You’ve written one genre, then another, one idea took off then it felt a bit dated, then you had a bit of interest in another direction…you’ve totally lost any sense of self as a writer. It happens all the time and I think it’s one of the pitfalls of being a solo worker; too much time in your own head and too much time trying to be everything to every possible buyer. This is one of the things Script Angel should be able to help with most. The answer is; yes, we can work it out; the writer and coach talking about your instincts, what makes you want to be writer and what’s coming across on the page.

Q. I’m going to bring in a short pitch and want to have a polished script after six months. That’s okay, right?

We believe in being honest and realistic with our writers. We want the work you do with us to be of as high a quality as you can make it and that does take time. An experienced, sought-after professional writer wouldn’t develop a new idea to final draft in six-months so if you’re dashing them off all the time you might want to consider the word “dashing”. If you can only stay with us for a limited time that’s totally understandable but it’s probably going to be a case of going away with really solid foundations to the project and newly acquired skills to finish your work rather than a finished product.

Q. I don’t want you to be too critical. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this. I’m sensitive.

I know. Heck, I’m sensitive too. And I’ve never met a good writer who isn’t. But if you actually want to get something out of this process you do need not to be too defensive. It sounds tough but it’s a lesson you absolutely need to learn in order to work professionally. Act defensively when your script gets picked up by a producer and sadly you won’t last the day. Of course stand up for the heart and core of what you believe your script is about, but listen, be open minded, show a willingness to try different approaches. Perhaps the overall motto is Pick Your Battles.

Q. I don’t want to be talked down to.

Of course not. I wouldn’t dream of it. So bear in mind; I’m not Lord Sugar and this is not a job interview, you do not have to impress me. You do not need to tell me when we video-call for the first time that you’re getting masses of interest from Hollywood and Netflix if you’re not really (If you are, you can give me a few sessions). Then as we go forward you don’t need to tell me you understand what I’ve just asked of you if you don’t (I can get a bit metaphorical when I think on my feet sometimes), you don’t need to tell me you’ve found the month’s task dead easy when you were sweating over it night after night. All of that just slows down the vital process of us communicating with each other.

I respect you as a writer going through the inevitable struggles of development and building a screenwriting career. We can speak as equals; let’s start there.

Q. I don’t understand where I’m going wrong; I’m at my laptop for 5 hours a day and I get through reams of paper every month? Why isn’t it working?

There are loads of rules and prompts out there for writers suggesting you should be tapping away on your keyboard eight hours a day. Well, I personally think that’s all wrong. If you’re doing that you’re going to be typing the first thing that comes into your head. I want you to be thinking and doing notes and typing a bit and thinking more and asking yourself if it works and thinking about that and then typing it up. There is no Oscar for most typed screenplays of the year.

Q. Will you actually care about me as a writer?

I think I can speak for myself and every one of my colleagues in saying that we care intensely about you making progress. For instance, I rarely read your work on the same day that we speak; I’ll always want to give myself that overnight brain-processing time to unlock problems that might be blocking the project we’re working on. I’ll puzzle over it for hours, never just the time it takes to read.

I’ll research and ask advice of colleagues to find useful examples and contacts. We pool our collectively considerable experience to try and find the best answers for you. Do I think of you as just another client? No. Do I care a bit too much? Probably.

That’s why you might find I ask you very searching questions about what it is you’re doing as a writer. I want you to bring me stories that you in turn really care about, not stories you hope might sell. We are going to spend a lot of hard working hours over the course of several months grafting over a project so you’d better believe in it.

Q. Can you make me a better writer?

It’s a difficult one this; Not I, nor anyone can make you into something you’re never going to be, but as with all art, writing needs not just talent but craft (and blood, sweat and tears obviously). What we can do is show you ways of honing and developing that craft.

Together we can work out different techniques and approaches that best suit your style and projects and to tackle the areas where your writing is weaker. We can brainstorm together, flip things on their head, ask questions that get to the heart of what and who you’re writing about…and although I can’t always be with you through your life as a writer (you’ll be glad to know!) you can take those skills of challenging yourself away with you.

Click here to find out more about how screenwriter coaching could help you.

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Hayley McKenzie