This week – a guest blog about –
Thank you so much to Charlotte Essex, Charlotte Thompson, Lisa McMullin & Amanda Duke for taking the time and trouble to write this. It’s full of writing wisdom!
The Clackers: a writing group
‘Writing is a lonely little job. Tippy tapping away at your computer for hours on end with only your Facebook friends and Twitter feed for distrac- I mean – company.
So to be selected to join Philip Shelley’s Script Lab at the London Screenwriters’ Festival last year was such a great opportunity: six writers, six scripts, one producer/script consultant and a shared experience. To have your work discussed and constructively criticised in a productive way is invaluable. It was so invaluable that four of us met again, the following month, at the Royal Festival Hall, a venue chosen for its tolerance of patrons who linger for hours and smuggle in their own drinks. We called ourselves the Clackers (don’t ask and certainly don’t Google the word ‘clacker’) and decided to meet once a month to share ideas, scripts, opportunities, successes and downright disasters.
From session one the precedent was set. Before each meeting, we each email up to 20 pages of a project for the others to read. After catching up on writing gossip (max half an hour), the stopwatch is set and we each get a strict half an hour to talk about, and be probed about, our work. It’s not always a comfortable thirty minutes. Holes are exposed; a lack of clarity becomes blindingly obvious. But solutions present themselves too. Details and plot ideas are seized upon excitedly. And the smuggled in G&T helps.
But this is more than just fellow writers critiquing one another’s ideas. We’ve each settled into a role, we’ve become a (surprisingly functional!) family. One of us is a stickler for timekeeping, asking vital questions and drawing the discussion back to the issue at hand when it wanders. One is the encourager and motivator. Another highlights and takes joy in the details of character. One is hot on plot and clarity, and how character is shown. And in watching one another’s ideas as they form and grow, we’ve also got to know each other as writers. Some of us start out as “vomiters” as Jane Eden, one of the alumni of the channel 4 scriptwriting course described it at a LSF session this year – writers who start out with a mess of ramblings and shape it from there. Some of us are definitely plotters, who have a clear idea before they put pen to paper. Some of us are prolific and write quickly, in a matter of days or weeks, others sit with several ideas at once and nurture them until they grow. Learning each others’ ways has helped us understand how to best give each other feedback, and the trust this has built has been priceless. Giving and receiving feedback is a fragile thing, just like writing – the best analogy might be trying to capture and translate a butterfly to the page. It’s easy to produce a squashed mess. But groups like ours work because we’ve given one another space and time to stretch our wings, and get to know one another, as writers but as people too. We’re all rooting for our fellow Clacker when she has a script shortlisted or has an opportunity within her grasp. And since we started the group, we’ve all had successes. These are often related to the prods and encouragement we give one another, reminders about opportunities, advice about how to approach them. One of our members who was unrepresented now has an agent. Others have been given commissions and made it onto shadow schemes. We’ve witnessed projects go from the seed of an idea to fully realised scripts, concepts turn into commissions.
The four of us meeting in Phil’s Lab last year feels like serendipity. Because none of us were particularly looking to join a writer’s group at the time, felt we didn’t have enough time in our schedule (or babysitting hours) to commit to meeting up regularly. BUT it turns out that we can. And we do. Time after time, it works. For a few minutes each month, whilst the clock runs down, we can take it in turns to talk about whatever we want. Even if it’s only a few rough ideas that are swirling round in our minds. Or a handful of pages we’ve been slaving over. Or a new pitch one of us wants to try out for size. Without a whiff of one-upmanship, zero ego or bragging. We don’t compete or compare. We have created a safe place. A jumping-off point. We’ve become each other’s biggest cheerleaders, there to pick each other up when a rejection temporarily knocks the stuffing out of us, or to collectively savour those extra precious moments of success.
It feels as if we’re in this together. And each one of us is excited to be moving forward with the other talented ladies making up the Clackers … #TheseGirlsCan. Thank you oh-so-much, Phil, for introducing us!’
Charlotte Essex, Lisa McMullin, Amanda Duke, Charlotte Thompson
Until next week,
All the best
Nov 20th 2015