Katiedid Langrock is a Hollywood scriptwriter, TV development exec., author, internationally syndicated humor columnist and guest lecturer. She recently founded Write in the Wild, a nature-based writers retreat and creative space for story classes and script consultations, which blends her years of story coaching experience with her previous job as an adventure tour guide in the Australian Outback. Join her in breaking story around the campfire. Scrawl outside the sprawl. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter: @WriteInTheWild
The greatest secret weapon for all aspiring screenwriters will forever stay a secret. It’s the end of an era as The Writers Store closes its doors.
You may be familiar with The Writers Store from its emails, from its star logo or even from popping your head into its Burbank (or previous Westside) location. But for me, The Writers Store was home.
I will miss it dearly, as will all the screenwriters who knew of its secret power. And I assure you that it will equally be missed, albeit unknowingly, by all the writers who never knew of or fully understood the power within those bookshelved walls.
I first heard about The Writers Store from the producer I assisted on my first Hollywood job. “If you want to be a screenwriter, it’s a must!” she said. So I went. I walked around. I met a nice, helpful guy behind the counter named Mario and his relentlessly cool and aloof counterpart, Anthony. Mario offered to help and asked, “Where do you feel you need help in your screenwriting”? The truth is I had no idea. I hadn’t gone to film school. I really had no idea what I was even doing in L.A. I was simply following a rather ill-conceived dream by moving across the country in hopes of writing television. Where did I need help? Everywhere? Nowhere? No clue! Mario suggested the book Save the Cat. I turned it down because I’m really more of a dog person. That’s how little I knew at the time. I rejected the most easily digestible book about screenwriting because I thought it was a book about litter boxes and laser pointers.
But I would come to know Save the Cat. Oh, boy, did I come to know it – as well as every other book that lined those walls. A number of years, a couple of agents and a few writing gigs later, I began working at The Writers Store. By that time, I was a regular shopper. I knew the store well, and I was in a writing group with the guys who had greeted me from behind the counter on my first visit.
And therein lay the magic of The Writers Store. It was not the books or the software but the people.
We were all writers. Enthusiastic writers. Writers who loved the craft. Writers who devoured each new book that hit the shelves and eagerly awaited the opportunity to talk to customers – and one another – about them. Writers who were working on their craft by night and studying their craft by day simply by clocking in at the Store. The folks who worked as Writers Store “cashier jockeys” were so much more. Each person there chose not to be a waiter or a personal assistant or something that undoubtedly would have paid far better, because each one of us wanted to be close to the craft – so close we could literally hold it between our fingers.
As an aspiring Hollywood writer, you couldn’t find a better gig than working at The Writers Store. There was no other place like it. We would spend eight hours a day immersed in story, talking, discussing, analyzing and breaking down the craft with like-minded people. Every moment that was not spent serving the store or the customers was spent as a writers session among co-workers. Working at the store had other perks, too.
My very first day on the job, I helped Tom Hanks find everything he needed for a new project. And Tom was every bit true to his reputation of being delightful, kind and engaging. J.J. Abrams, Damon Wayans, Bryan Barber, Shane Black and other greats would come in to use our services or buy our products. The bulk of our customers, famous or aspiring, were lovely and passionate and appreciated the knowledge of the people who worked inside those walls. The few who were dismissive, unkind or outright nasty were always the insecure not-yet-successful writers who needed to feel superior to a couple of cashier jockeys. And it’s too bad they felt this way, because those were the folks we could have assisted the most.
We who worked at the store loved talking story and the industry with the nervous-yet-talented, because we had all been there. Nearly all of us had representation and took big meetings with the crème de la crème of Hollywood. Among us, we had sold scripts, optioned scripts, won a Nicholl Fellowship, won basically every other contest, created and shot a TV series with Hollywood elite, written for television, and so on. Folks always wanted to know why, if we had some level of success, we would stay working at the store.
There are three easy answers:
1) We had all seen enough writers make a big sale only to struggle for the next few years to know it was worth sticking around even after our moments in the sun.
2) The Writers Store graciously let me and others take a leave when we got a writing gig and embraced us back afterward with open arms. (A couple of the Mad Men writers used to write obituaries between writing gigs. I think we had the better deal.)
3) Our friendships were real, and our writing improved being in that environment. How could it not when we got to talk story every day? And even though we benefited greatly by The Writers Store’s understanding that it was hiring writers first, I truly believe it was our customers who benefited the most.
While most people in Hollywood guard their knowledge with an iron gate, believing that these nuggets of insight and inside information must be hard-earned, the workers at The Writers Store happily gave it away. Free! No strings attached and with a pat on the back! We were always meant to be – and strived to be – a steppingstone toward success. And for those who saw the value in The Writers Store, we truly were.
I worked at The Writers Store on and off for four years, and I can easily say that no experience shaped me more as a writer. I got to converse with greats, such as Ellen Sandler, Jen Grisanti and John Truby. I was able to learn from them, question them, engage with them. I hung out with Mark Boal a week before he won the Oscar for best screenplay. I got to flirt with Syd Field. It was heaven.
I left the store after landing a steady writing gig. When I went to the Emmys a couple of years later for Project Mc2 (nominated for best children’s series), I squeezed my postpartum body into my Red Carpet dress and applied my makeup in The Writers Store public bathroom. There was no other place I could imagine getting ready for the Emmys. It was like going home. I was returning to the place that had made this night at the Emmys possible. I was returning to the place that had made me a writer.
And it is that lack of a home for new writers arriving in Hollywood today and tomorrow that makes me so sad about the store’s closing. They will not have the opportunity to pick those full and experienced minds of The Writers Store employees, affectionately and accurately called Story Specialists. They won’t get to thumb through the ample screenwriting books or take a free class from one of the titans of screenwriting. They won’t get to schedule a session to get one-on-one feedback on their screenplay or practice pitching with someone who has actually done it successfully for a reasonable cost.
The Writers Store provided a place to sit on the floor, as I did on my very first visit, and soak in the enormousness of it all. It was a place to breathe in how much there is to learn, feel for the first time that this crazy dream may not be so crazy, and know with certainty that though there may not be a direct path to becoming a screenwriter, there are steppingstones. And one of them was called The Writers Store.
The Writers Store has been a Hollywood institution for over 30 years. It closes its doors July 19, 2017. I urge all of you in the L.A. area to pop in, and anyone outside the L.A. area to call up, shoot an email or purchase a book or service online. Have your screenplay looked at by one of the many talented story specialists. I know I certainly will be. And most of all, take the time to pick the brains of the remaining Writers Store workers during their last few weeks. Ask for veterans if they are available. I assure you, you will never find so much wealth of knowledge so eagerly shared free anywhere else in Los Angeles or within the Hollywood industry.
Cheers to you, The Writers Store. Thank you for giving me my career.
Editor’s Note: Many of the great products and services now offered at The Writers Store will still be available online after the storefront closes, as we embark on a more cohesive “sisterhood” with Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Digest Shop. But take advantage of the great sale while you can!