Thursday, May 1, 2008

Will you ever make it?

Matt writes: All I hear everyday from everyone I know is, " You're going to LA, that's so cool," but the subtext is, "You're so screwed, you're gonna quit within a year." How do you get past these moments of "I'm never gonna make it," that I know every writer has?

1. You have to be good.
Most of the professional TV writers who blog assume that all of their readers are great writers who just need a little guidance. I admire this and I see why they want to keep their blogs upbeat and focused on writing. But it's just not true. There are a lot of crappy scripts out there. And I'll be optimistic enough to say that maybe it's because people didn't get enough notes or do enough rewriting - and that some people are best at plot, some at characters, some at dialogue, etc. But you don't need a license or a degree or any experience to write a script, and as a result, everybody and their brother tries it out. I think the only kind of people you find more of in LA than writers are waiters. I mean, actors. Unfortunately, not everyone is great. If you write scripts and get only negative reactions from a large number of people for a very long time, you might want to consider doing something else.

1B. Who the hell am I to say this? Well, nobody. But I have been writing stories since I was in first grade, and I've always gotten praise. Either I'm decent, or my life has been filled with unreasonably positive people. Will I make it as a TV writer? Maybe, maybe not...but I know I'll always be writing in some way, whether it's on a show for decent money or on a blog for 20 cents a day in ad revenue. I just can't NOT write.

2. Give it time.
You mentioned giving up after a year...and honestly I think anyone who reaches the point of Getting Paid to Write Scripts in just a year is the exception to the rule, and a very lucky person indeed. I said before that the two steps to writing success are 1. writing something great and 2. getting someone important to read it (and like it). Both steps are essential, and both take time. Don't get in your head that you're gonna move out here and immediately get an agent, sell stuff and get staffed on a show. There are going to be lots of crappy apartments and menial jobs and cheap cocktails between you and your success.

3. Write.
It sounds ridiculous, but I can't tell you how many people I meet who tell me they want to be writers...and then when I ask them what they've finished or what they're working on, they say they don't have time because they work such long hours, or they have ideas in their head but nothing down on paper, blah blah blah. We've all been there - but don't kid yourself. Writers don't just talk about writing; they write. This is the catch 22 of getting a job as an assistant in Hollywood; you might be doing really well at step #2 (meeting those important people who can make your writing career happen), but if it prevents you from accomplishing step #1 (writing something great), you're doing yourself a major disservice. You have to find the time, whether it's on your lunch hour or all day on Saturday while you're hungover or whatever. Right now I have 10 months left on my desk at the agency. When I finish, I will have 2 specs and a pilot (and maybe a feature, too), in the hopes that I can become a writer's assistant or possibly get representation and just be a Writer. If I were to finish my year without scripts, I would be qualified to go answer phones at a production company or studio. That's it. I'd be on the path to eventually become a studio exec or producer, but I don't want that; I want to write. So I need to have scripts.

4. Use deadlines, and people.
I strongly recommend joining a class or writer's group for the feedback, the deadlines and the support of other people just like you. Or at least having a list of people you send your stuff to for notes. Everybody has their moments of doubt...but if you have people you've committed to send pages to, you'll work through it. You can reassure each other, share lessons learned and nerd out over BSG and Pushing Daisies. Writing can be a lonely art - don't get stuck in your own head.

5. Know that Real People Really Make Money Writing
One of the best things about working at a top agency is hearing the success stories. Some of the clients I talk to on the phone daily make over a million dollars to write a movie. They started out just like us...and they made it. I hear my boss and his cohorts make deals all the time. Yesterday during lunch my friend coordinated a conference call that resulted in an $850k spec sale. You write it, agents shop it, execs buy it, producers make it, people see it. Happens every day. Even the highest of studio execs are in the business of making movies and TV, not shooting down ideas. (And yes, this is a very optimistic viewpoint, but I think you have to believe in it at least a little bit if you're going to last around here.) Hollywood is full of Idealists Who Make Lots of Money - how do you think they manage to be both rich and staunchly Democratic? I honestly believe that if you follow all of the above steps with determination and patience, you'll make it too.


Anonymous said...

I just noticed that you have ads on your blog.
You sneaky devil you. :P

To get a tad off topic: I'm not sure if you're knowledgable in this area, but do you know or have heard of writers who lived in Canada and moved to L.A?
I'm currently in that pickle myself. I posted about it on my blog if you want some more detail or have something to say about it.

Keep on writing. :)


sandofsky said...

I knew a guy who moved to LA the same time as me. He was hilarious and a little obsessive compulsive. Within six months, he sold a screenplay that became a blockbuster Will Ferrell movie.

I asked how he pulled it off. He said it was hard finding time with his day job, but every night he wrote. He had no idea how the script fell into the right hands.

Screenwriter Shep said...

20 cents a day, well that'll probably cover rent in Los Angeles.

Anyway, you might want to check this out:

"And I've discovered something important. I couldn't in a million years tell you who among those thousands of hopeful writers will eventually succeed. But I can tell you in about five minutes which writers are guaranteed to fail."

It's about novelists, but for the most part it applies to all writers.

Emily Blake said...

All good advice. I think you have to come here knowing you'll succeed but also prepared for it to take a long time. So many do come here thinking they'll be quitting their day job in a year and that's just unrealistic. If you take your time and never stop writing and have plenty of specs and go to parties, you'll be a professional writer eventually.

Matt said...

Love the post!

Angela said...

Hey thanks for the info on the Disney fellowship. And great post! Encouraging and realistic for us (distant) future LA residents.

Alison Hunter said...

Hi Amanda,

I just wanted to tell you how much I have been enjoying your blog. I am interested in writing in general - not TV specifically - but I have loved reading your posts about all aspects of trying to work in television. Write like the wind!