By Guy Mannerings
For those of you who attended the first London SWF Online, you will know that it was an insane, fully-packed month of screenwriting goodness. For four weeks, we were treated to insightful talks from world-class industry experts and screenwriting professionals. There was a bond and energy between the delegates that transcended the physical distance between us, and we can all look back and think, “what a month!”
But it’s important for it to not just be a month where we went to a bunch of talks on screenwriting and made some friends over Zoom. Rather than leave what we learned back in that month, it’s important to carry that information forward and use it in our lives – both personally and professionally.
There is so much I learned during the month-long LSF Online, but there were some key non-craft takeaways that I found particularly useful to be reminded of, and I thought you all may benefit from these thoughts too.
So here we are – my top 5 non-craft takeaways from The London Screenwriters’ Festival Online 2020!
The power of immersion
Although this list is in no particular order, this naturally came first because it was the thing that really struck me as being powerful when I was taking part in the classes in week 4, pinning my eyelids open to stay awake after the hours of sessions and script work going on around the classes.
What I found taking part in the online festival was that I was so focused on my writing and career aspirations in that time that I barely thought of anything else. I made so many more new mental connections, had so many more brainwaves, made so many new distinctions, and progressed my own work so much further during this crazy busy time of the festival than I did in the fairly open time of the Coronavirus lockdown weeks before the festival.
When you are fully-focused on something to the exclusion of everything else you can really go places with it. You get more done, are more focused, come up with new insights, and generally do better work when you are focused on that one thing and nothing else.
This is definitely something I am going to build in to my time going forwards. Sure, I may not be able to get one solid month of focusing entirely on screenwriting and nothing else, but even blocking out a day, half a day, or a few hours with NOTHING ELSE ALLOWED could be so powerful going forwards.
The power of momentum
Because something was going on every day of the festival, you never felt like you had time off. And, for me, the time that I did get off – like on the days where sessions did not start until the afternoon or when there was a gap of a couple of hours between sessions – I wanted to focus on my writing. I wanted to take what I had learned in the previous session and apply it to my work.
Then, when jumping on to the next session, I would think about any query I had whilst working in the gap and address it by listening to the speaker in that session.
I found that, on the mornings where I did not go to a session, I would work on my scriptwriting with focus and vigour, because I managed to keep the energy from the classes, the speakers, and the other delegates who were part of my sessions the day before.
The power of momentum works in a great number of ways, but for this festival, I found it worked really well as a tool to help me make constant shifts and progress in my screenwriting.
This is a tool that must be used going forwards. Don’t take days off. Work on your writing every day. Keep going. Momentum will get your far.
The importance of a peer group
Wasn’t it great getting to work on your scripts with other people doing the same on theirs? That feeling of having hundreds of peers working towards a similar goal to me helped to push me harder and helped to keep me accountable.
I didn’t want to be the guy who hadn’t been progressing their work while others had. I didn’t want to be the person who missed a particular session becuase they were too tired. I didn’t want to feel like other people had been making strides forwards while I rested.
Instead, I wanted to know that I was one of the people pushing themselves, working harder, working on what is important to them.
That sense of having a peer group to keep pressure on you and keep you accountable is invaluable. I know I personally found I got so much done because of having others around me working on their scripts. This is something I can take forwards – find people who are as determined as I am, and get them to keep me accountable.
Having a regular writing habit
In line with the idea of immersion is the idea of having a regular writing habit.
As I found myself working on my writing every day for a number of hours, my mind and body then craved working on my writing every day. This is so powerful. To not only emotionally want to work on my writing every day, but actually have my mind and body crave it and miss doing it, means that any initial resistance to writing (like when you just don’t want to or when you feel writer’s block!) is either easily overcome or just not there at all. Like an addiction, I want to feed it as much as possible.
On top of this, building a regular writing habit means you build new pathways in your brain towards creative writing. Have you ever found that when you take time away from writing you suddenly find it harder to be creative the next time you pick it up? Or, conversely, when you do writing more often, you find it easier to be creative each and every time? It’s the same way that you find it easier and easier to exercise the more you do it. Creativity is like a muscle. The more you do it – the more you practice – the easier it becomes.
Having that regular writing habit is going to be such a powerful tool moving forwards.
Build the habit, build the mental pathways, build the muscle.
The importance of stories
There were a number of talks where the speaker made a point of this, but I really connected with Randall Wallace’s speech in this area.
It’s very easy, when you are writing in isolation on something that might take years to finish and get made (if ever!), to forget that your stories have meaning.
Randall gave an example of a time he was at a screening of Braveheart. A lady whose partner passed away a few months prior came up to him and said that, before he died, her husband asked her to watch Braveheart so that she would know just how me he loved her. Wow. Is there anything with as much meaning as that?
Stories are very important things. They help people to grow, make realisations, make changes in their lives, process emotions and feel good about themselves. Stories make us realise what is important to us. Stories make us want to be better people. Stories can make you want to follow your dreams. Stories have the power to change individuals and change the planet.
So, never forget – your words are important. Your stories are important. Do everything you can to get them written and get them heard.
So, there you have it, my top 5 non-craft takeaways from The London Screenwriters’ Festival Online 2020. I hope they help inspire you to carry the energy from the festival forwards as you work on your screenwriting!