Community-Building for the Timid
Remember the pre-cell phone days where landlines reigned supreme? As a 90s kid, I sure do. I remember that every time the phone rang, my heart struck with fear.
Would today be the day I’d be forced to pick up the phone and … GULP! ... actually talk to somebody?!
I’ve always had trouble meeting new people. For starters, I’m pretty shy. To this day, I clam up whenever a waiter asks me for my order or, god forbid, the grocery store bagger tries to strike up a casual conversation with me. Even though writing dialogue is my favorite aspect of screenwriting, my mind goes blank in the real world.
I’m also very introverted. I feel the most energized when I’m by myself, and I get the chance to explore my own inner world. It’s why I love writing—every session leaves me recharged. Conversely, I feel the most depleted in a room full of strangers. Every time I have to attend a major social event, I make sure to block out the next day for some mental and emotional recovery.
Between my fear of talking to strangers and my exhaustion from social events, it’s no surprise that I had zero motivation to meet new people. In fact, I tried to avoid it at all costs.
You can imagine my horror when I was told, in order to succeed in the film industry, I was going to have to network … a lot.
Immediately, images sprang to mind of people chatting at bars, confidently introducing themselves to hotshot industry folk, smooth talking their ways into jobs. Things that felt impossible for me to even attempt.
I realized there was no way I could move to L.A. and just start making connections. I didn’t have the personality for it. Thus, I decided on a much safer route: grad school.
I’d always made friends in school environments. Not a lot of friends. Okay, maybe just one or two ride-or-die people I’d hang out with 24/7. But grad school would be different. I’d be surrounded by people with the same passions and interests as me. Expanding my network would be easy … right?
Once I was in school, I quickly realized that, even though we were all interested in film, we weren’t all interested in the same types of films. There were films I loved that other people hated—and vice versa. We also all had different perspectives on the industry and different work ethics we committed to.
Naturally, cliques formed. I tried my best to get close to certain groups, but after a while, I realized I was never going to fit in. In hindsight, I realize it wasn’t anybody’s fault (friendships can’t be forced). At the time, however, I felt like I had failed.
So many professors, alums, and guest speakers emphasized the importance of building your network and finding a group of people to link arms with. Over and over again, I heard the familiar adage that this industry is all about who you know.
I took a long, hard look at my network … of two people. How is it that I went to a school specifically for film and ended up with so few industry contacts? I couldn’t escape the thought that maybe I just didn’t have the personality to make it as a screenwriter.
Then, with only two semesters left before I graduated, the pandemic hit.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into detail over my initial reactions (I’m sure you can imagine what was going through my mind at the time). All I will say is that online networking suddenly became THE THING TO DO.
Everyone is reading scripts right now. Get on Twitter and market yourself!
Schedule Zoom coffees with people! Now is the perfect time.
My anxiety skyrocketed. These were the last things I wanted to do, but I also felt I couldn’t afford to not take advantage of this weird situation. My biggest fear was graduating and being unemployed for months.
I was fortunate enough to land a screenwriting mentorship at the beginning of quarantine. My mentor encouraged me to tweet at least once a day, whether that be responding to people, using a hashtag, or retweeting with a comment.
I decided to take her advice and view it as a homework assignment. I literally wrote “send 1 tweet” into my daily planner, then crossed it off like a to-do list.
Even though I tried to view this task with as much detachment as possible, I still felt really self-conscious. I like to make my writing as polished as it can be, but Twitter demanded that I embrace my messy side, which I hated. Plus, every time I sent out a tweet and got zero likes, it felt like confirmation that my personality sucked.
In spite of all my self-defeating thoughts, I kept tweeting. Slowly but surely, I found my way into screenwriting Twitter …
For the first time, I experienced how social media could bring together people from across the globe. Screenwriters would respond to my writing tweets with encouraging messages, and I would respond to their tweets with that same positive energy. Some conversations led to script swaps, while others led to Zoom calls. Some of my Twitter friendships exist only at the level of me liking their tweets and them liking mine—but I still feel connected to these writers and their journeys.
These feelings of community were amplified once I started attending the #PipelineWriters mixers (yes, this is a shameless plug, since I'm an executive at Script Pipeline now, but to be fair, I wasn't working there when I first started participating in the mixers). Interacting with writers in real-time solidified the sense that I was not alone in this screenwriting world.
Most importantly, every interaction helped untrain my brain from the belief that I was not a networker, that I could not make friends. After a while, I stopped feeling self-conscious on social media. I realized that marketing myself had less to do with having the best tweets and more to do with simply sharing my experience as a human being in this crazy world.
When I look back at my old definition of networking, it’s no wonder I was insecure. I was trying to impress people instead of connecting with them. I’d be thinking about how I could make this person like me instead of simply having a conversation around shared hopes and fears.
I was also looking for acceptance within such a small pool of people. Screenwriting Twitter helped me realize that there are thousands of creatives in this industry—some people will gravitate toward your energy and others won’t.
The key is to put yourself out there enough so that the right people have a chance to find you.
One final thought: I used to think that being part of a community meant that everyone in your community had to know each other. But this doesn’t have to be the case. I have a lot of one-on-one friendships I made through both social media and in-person experiences—they are my community. They are the group of people I link arms with. They are my community.
It doesn’t matter that they don’t know each other. It doesn’t make their friendship any less valid.
Sure, if I invited them all to a party, it’d probably be pretty awkward …
But we’ve already established I don’t do parties.
*Feature photo by Kei Scampa (Pexels)