A lady called Mary Haarmeyer has started writing for the Business of Show on her journey to Hollywood as a fairly new screenwriter. As I'm about to do the same, I'm following her experiences with interest! Also, major congrats to Mary for doing this despite having a husband, teenage kids and a business to run. I don't know how she does it!
Here's a link to her latest post: http://www.thebusinessofshowinstitute.com/newsletter-06-29-12.html#06-29-12-01
I liked her idea for sort of "doing-it-yourself" in terms of a screenwriting education. Far too often, writers think they can't make a career writing scripts because they don't have any qualifications. Actually, writing is the same as any other area - you learn by doing, not by listening. If you can make it to a writing seminar, by all means do. Read a screenwriting book or listen to an experienced writer talk about their craft. Attend a film festival.
But if you can't do any of those things, don't worry, because the two biggest things we all need to do are: read lots of screenplays, and write lots of scripts ourselves. You learn so much just from seeing how other writers phrase or format things, while writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly if you want to excel. If a wannabe screenwriter did just those two things diligently, they'd be a better writer in no time.
That brings me to the next two pieces of the puzzle: once you've read loads of scripts and written at least two yourself, it's time to get feedback. You can go to a writing group meeting and discuss your scripts in person. I recommend this as I'm in a group that meets every two weeks and it's helped my own work no end. Getting objective comments from others is essential and you can help each other out by passing on information about upcoming competitions and events. I'll definitely try and attend a screenwriters group when I go to Los Angeles (a group like this is like A.A. for writers!). You can also post in an online forum or even get a professional reader to read your work for a fee.
Once you've gotten feedback and done plenty of rewrites, to the point where you're happy with your work, it's time to learn to pitch. The funny thing about pitching is that I can spin a pitch no problem in a coffee shop or a bar, but when it comes to formal, in-front-of-an-audience pitching, I get tongue-tied. I don't know that there is a cure for this, but preparation and lots of practice does help. Write out your pitch and rehearse it until it comes naturally. Craig Mazin has already written the best article ever written on pitching - you can find it here.
So that's it, the four-step process to writing and (hopefully successfully) pitching a script. Now to work - if I'm not going to be a hypocrite, I have to follow my own advice and get writing...