How To Start A Writer's Group with Pepper Reed
I first met Pepper Reed through the online screenwriting group I run, ScriptBlast, and was quickly inspired by Pepper’s focused productivity. She let me in on the secret that a big part of her consistency is due to the fact that she’s part of not one, but two writing groups who inspire her and hold her accountable. I’m a big believer in community and these kinds of groups should be a requirement for every writer. If for no other reason, then for the power of knowing YOU’RE NOT ALONE. I thought it’d be a great idea to chat with Pepper all about HOW TO START YOUR OWN WRITER’S GROUP.
Tell us about your writing journey and the writer's groups you're involved in right now.
I started writing my first script in college. It was never finished, but there are still things in it that I come back to. I was an actor then. Later I wrote a short that turned into my first feature after I left LA and moved back to Oklahoma.
I stopped writing for a while. I was trying to figure out how to get into the industry and move towards my goals. I started script supervising for indie films and shorts. That’s when I really started writing. By the time I moved back to LA last February, I had drafts in various stages for seven features, two shorts, and a pilot already written. I’d also written the script for a music video I directed. I had a couple of people who would read my work and give me notes, but part of the point of moving was to kick everything into high gear.
I’m currently in two writers groups. The first one I started about two months after I moved to Los Angeles last year. The second one I just joined a month ago. Both groups are all women. With the first group, that was just how things worked out. I had posted in several groups (on Facebook and Google) that I’m a part of looking for a group to join and couldn’t find one that worked the way I wanted it to, so I created my own. Then I posted in the same places asking if anyone wanted to join. It ended up that only women responded.
The second group was organized by a local women’s tv writers organization in LA. They help women who want to write for TV. This group is interesting because we all write genre pieces, i.e. Sci-Fi or Fantasy.
I usually have a several scripts going at once. Currently, I have my spec. I just finished revisions based on notes from both of my groups and so it is basically done, but I might add a snarky line of dialogue or two before I submit it. I have a short which is going to be shot in March, so it is done, but then an actor might give me a comment, so it could have a change. I have a pilot that has been to one writers group but not the other. It’ll go out later this week and I’ll have a rewrite after that. I have another pilot idea that I’m thinking on and will write once I’ve submitted the other to the fellowships. Finally, I have a feature which has had two full drafts, but needs a good rewrite. It has been marinating on the back burner for a few months and is about ready for me to stir things up as soon as these fellowship applications are done.
Some people don’t work this way, and I can completely understand. For me though, it helps. One day I can work on my spec, then next my feature. And if I’m blocked or having trouble with one project, I can move over to another one for a little while and take the pressure off.
Why is it important to you to be a part of a group?
I wanted a writers group so I was getting notes from people who worked in the industry. Reading scripts regularly and learning how to give and receive notes is incredibly important. Plus there is the added benefit of having built in deadlines. With my first group, we know well in advance when our turn is coming up.
How do they work? How often do you meet? What's an average group like?
I was surprised that I had to create a group myself. I wanted a group that would meet once or twice a month and we would read one of the members’ entire script in advance of the meeting and give notes at the meeting. Most of the groups I found in LA, you would bring in 5 to 10 pages and people would read them right then and give notes. I didn’t find that helpful. If you need accountability to make sure you do your work, yes, but I don’t have that issue.
Both of my groups meet every other week, one on Mondays and one on Thursdays. We send our scripts to the group a week in advance to give everyone plenty of time to read them and make notes. We talk about what we’re working on, exciting meetings, events we are going to, finding scripts for episodes of shows we want to spec. A lot of the talk at the moment is about the TV writing fellowships. We give our notes to the person whose script is up and then, if they have questions, they ask those.
What's the biggest benefit you've personally gotten out of the groups?
This industry is really about relationships, but a lot of writers are introverts. It’s much easier to get to know people when you are in a smaller group (some of those networking events are insane) and you have a built in topic of conversation. I’ve made some really good friends, which can really be a challenge, especially in a city like LA.
You're part of an all women's writers group and an all genre (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) writers group. Do you find a deeper connection in these kinds of like-minded groups?
My Sci-Fi/Fantasy group got references and Easter eggs that I’d written into my Lucifer spec, which my other group didn’t get, but I get great notes in both. And since both groups are all women, I think they can push me to go deeper. I know that their comments are coming from their own experiences as women.
I write for the girl that I was growing up. When I was young I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. I was an outsider. But I connected with characters in the books I read and in the films and tv show I watched. Now, I use paranormal and fantasy characters as a metaphor for “the other.” If you can connect with a vampire, if you can empathize with a werewolf, maybe that can help you understand your neighbor who doesn’t quite fit in. Having a group that understands and enjoys these metaphors can be helpful when they might read a script multiple times, since my Sci-Fi/Fantasy group is about half the size as my original writers group.
What is it about genre film & tv that draws you to it?
I love being able to see inside people minds. Film and television are visual adaptations of imagination. We are painting the screen with light and color, in some cases, ideas that were originally imagined hundreds of years ago.
What tips do you give for starting and/or running a successful writers group?
Make sure that the people who are joining want the same kind of group you want. When I was first looking, I had posted a very clear “ad” but people kept coming back to me saying they were interested but would then describe a group like all the ones I didn’t want.
I’ve met with most of the members individually as well as with the group, just to get coffee and chat. When I started my first group, I knew one of the women and had met one of the others. Everyone else was a complete stranger. We meet at my apartment most of the time now, but in the beginning we met in a public space.
As for keeping it going, my first group made it through a summer break and a winter hiatus for the holidays. I’d say be very specific about when you’re taking the break and for exactly how long. Know in advance who is up when you get back, otherwise, things will fall apart.
You can follow along with Pepper’s writing journey on Instagram at @pepperreed .