The 2017 Nicholl-winning scripts.

Advice for Aspiring Screenwriters

From eight Nicholl fellows, finalists and semifinalists

The Academy
Published in
5 min readApr 27, 2018


The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting sent eight female writers — both fellows and top placers — to the Writers Guild Foundation WGFestival 2018 in Los Angeles. We spoke to some of the women about key takeaways for aspiring screenwriters. Here’s what they had to say:

Find a solid support group.

For 2017 Nicholl finalist Lillian Wang, WGFestival was a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded creative people.

Surrounded by these Nicholl screenwriters all week, Wang felt a certain camaraderie, a “feeling that I’m not alone on this journey.” Each participant brought with them a unique personal story and perspective.

Jen Bailey agreed. “It was such a treat to get to go through the experience with eight amazing female writers.”

Bailey discovered quickly that “some of the insecurities and the worries around writing as a professional are completely universal.”

“Everybody feels like a fraud at times.”

As 2017 Nicholl fellows, Bailey, Vigil Chime and KG Rockmaker all met last November. But the WGFestival was the first time the Nicholl 8, which included fellows, finalists and semifinalists, came together — and they bonded quickly. Over the course of the week, the women got to commiserate about certain aspects of a career in screenwriting and understood just how common some inner worries are.

The 2017 Nicholl fellows, including Jen Bailey (third from left), K.G. Rockmaker (fifth from left) and Vigil Chime (far right).

They also grew to trust each other with their projects. “To have such a great network all across the U.S. and now in England of people to bounce ideas off of is really quite nice,” Bailey said.

Semifinalist Laura Owen summed it up well. “Honestly, what I learned from the other Nicholl writers was the importance of community with other female writers, and the vital necessity of that support and those connections.”

Trust your voice.

What’s the #1 lesson Bailey learned as an emerging screenwriter? “To trust that what I have to say is good enough and, is not just good enough, but that I have something to add.”

As Wang recalled, during a WGFestival panel of female showrunners, Lauren Gussis said that she “found her own voice in the room when someone asked her to voice her opinion. Prior to that moment, she was just listening.” The ultimate lesson, Wang continued, is:

“Have something to say.”

“If someone asks you for your opinion, have a point of view and make that known and then people will constantly be coming back to you.”

“So often, we women second-guess ourselves about everything we do. I know I do. It’s because I’m a perfectionist and very self-critical,” Wang added.

“Hearing the experiences of these successful and confident women inspires me to believe in my own talents and to be more confident about voicing my point of view.”

Nicholl semifinalist Cybele Knowles concurred. “ I noticed that a lot of panelists gave this response to a range of questions: trust your gut, believe in yourself, and advocate for your ideas. I will take that with me as I develop in my professionalism as a screenwriter.”

Academy Writers Branch Governor Robin Swicord, chair of the Nicholl Fellowships committee, leads a workshop during the WGFestival 2018.

And as a writer with a singular voice, “ write stories that move you,” Chime said.

“Your love of the material will shine right through.”

Always look ahead.

“Don’t get too attached to one project,” Owen said. “When you finish a project, start another! Keep the momentum going.”

Bailey got the news about winning her Nicholl fellowship two days after she and writing partner/husband Max Lance had their first child. “I have no way of separating this Nicholl experience from that. I just feel like we leveled out hard in all aspects of life,” Bailey said.

Still, as amazing as it felt to receive the fellowship, “it never felt like, ‘Phew — cross that off the list.’”

“It has very much always felt like the start of something.”

To those hoping to enter the field, Knowles advises, Remain flexible about what to write and what formats you want to write because it seems like the industry is in a time of growth but also great change.”

Ultimately, as 2017 Nicholl semifinalist (and Owen’s writing partner) Lisa Joyce said, “Like any healthy relationship, your relationship to your work requires love and commitment.”

Submit to the Nicholl Fellowships.

“My writing partner and I entered the Nicholl because of the prestige of the competition and in hopes of connecting with other creative professionals,” Owen said. “And unlike other competitions, the support provided to the winners is incredibly concrete.”

“ I want to write screenplays that are competitive professionally and can get made,” Joyce added.

Submitting — and becoming one of the top eight scoring women — reminded her that she was on track.

Zoey Deutch, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Rodrigo Santoro and Vince Vaughn read selected scenes from winning scripts at the 2017 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Awards Presentation & Live Read.

Wang has applied to the Nicholl intermittently over the last 10 years. Last year, after completing her proudest work, she submitted once more:

“When I ended up as a finalist, I couldn’t believe it. All the hard work paid off!”

“It was the validation and the fire I needed to help keep my dream alive.”

Knowles turned to Nicholl because of the process. “The competition is the fiercest, and the judging process is one I trust due to the number of readers involved, and their skill and experience.”

As one of the top 50 applicants in 2017, she got the confidence boost she needed — at just the right moment.

“Right before I learned that my script was advancing in the Nicholl, I was discouraged after writing scripts for years with no real traction.

“I was considering giving up screenwriting.”

“Now I’m re-energized and working on multiple new scripts with my writing partner!”

To learn more about the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, visit



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