How can you get a professional writer, one you respect, to critique your work, to look at your screenplay, to read your novel? How do you get the advice of someone you respect? I know the answer to this question, because I’ve done it. But you won’t like it.
Here’s how you get an honest critique out of a professional writer:
First you must read. You must read a variety of books and screenplays, fiction and non-fiction. You must consume words like meals. This must become a habit for you, a way a life. You are always reading something. There are books piled next to your bed, your desk, your dining room table.
Then you must write. You must write daily. You must write when you are inspired and then again, you must write when you are ill and uninspired and angry and you hate everything you’ve written.
If you have never taken a writing class, you do so now. You do the assignments and all the readings with diligence. You take writing classes until the people in the classes are blown away by everything you present to the class. Take the kind of classes that offer feedback. You will disagree with what some people tell you in these classes. Listen anyway.
After that, you will join a writers group – no, you join several. You present your fiction. They may hate it. They may love it. You will listen to what they say and who says it. You will not become discouraged, or if you do, you will know that is part of the process and it will not stop you.
At this time, you will start making friends – all these classes and groups will lead you to befriend several people who are at about the same place in their career. Cultivate these relationships. Make friends with the ones who are passionate, who work hard. You will know each other by the fire inside. These people will make mistakes and make progress and you will learn together.
Make friends with actors, go to their shows. See the kinds of characters they want to play. Go to amateur theater and chat up writers and directors. Make friends with student filmmakers and student actors and they guys on you tube who are making films after they get off work. See the mistakes that amateurs make. Failures are vital. Reevaluate your own writing from watching others.
Start a podcast and stage a reading of your work. Get feedback from your audience on the internet. Grab a camera and film something. Write a novel. Write a short story. Yes, it’s terrible. Finish it. Put it out there. Produce a show for the fringe festival in your town. Watch the reaction of the audience. Volunteer to write something for a charity production. Write an amazing piece for them. Every job, even the ones you do for free, you will throw yourself into. You will use every ounce of your talent. It won’t be enough. Do it anyway.
Submit your work everywhere. You will be rejected. Workshop. Submit some more. Enter a contest. Lose. Enter some more. By this time, you are surrounded by other writers and actors and photographers and illustrators and directors. None of them are famous, but all of them are working hard. One of them will ask you to help them with something, a movie, a magazine, an anthology. Do it. Take it to a festival. Maybe it wins an award. Maybe it doesn’t. Do it again.
Submit. Work. Submit. Revise. Work. Submit.
At this time, someone in your cohort will have a script bought or an actor will make it into a Hollywood film or a friend becomes the editor of a big time magazine. One of you gets nominated for a Hugo. One of you is published by a mainstream publisher. Your friend the photographer takes pictures of a rock star. One of you starts a magazine. Another starts a publishing company. One of you wins an ENnie. Some of you have three-book deals. A bestseller. An art show.
Support your friends. Your friend may ask you to rewrite a scene, to advise on a project. Be there to help. Then you’ll get invited to a party, maybe on the arm of a friend, maybe because you are so awesome. You’ll meet professionals there. Be considerate and charming. At one point, you will extend your hand and say your name and someone will say “I know, I’ve read your work.”
You are close now.
One day, you will meet a professional writer and they will already know who you are. Because now you are the hot new writer. They’ve heard of you because the editor of a major magazine mentions your talent often, because you illustrated the cover of a indie bestseller, because your movie won that award.
When you meet this writer, be professional. You mention your work to them. If you have worked hard enough and if they have the time, they will offer to read it. Because you are hot new talent, and reading your work will be a pleasure, not a chore.
Work, my friends. Work. Finish things.
Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself, because everyone already knows who you are.