[This is one of Tawnya Bhattacharya’s regular columns at Script Magazine, titled “Your TV Guide”. You can read them all here]
Has there ever been a year we couldn’t wait to show the door to more than 2017? It doesn’t feel like it, really. The New Year is a time for new beginnings, introspection, rebirth, and potential — but twelve months will go by faster than you think. Our best advice would be to look at the year ahead, all you want to accomplish, and calibrate the influences in your life that will best help you achieve your goals.
In a business like ours where there it seems like there’s always a fashionable way or right way of doing things, trusting your instincts can be a challenge — but in the end, it’s your connection to that instinct that will help you do your best work. Your intuition knows what’s best — it’s just about learning to let yourself listen to it. As you’re kicking off 2018 with blank notebooks, blank pages, bright ideas, and important goals, we wanted to offer some suggestions for some writing resolutions that have worked for our writers in the past:
1. Write more
This applies to every writer, even the most busy writer on earth who’s constantly bouncing from coffee shop to writers group and tweeting about it all the while. If you feel like you couldn’t possibly spend any more time at your computer than you already do — ask yourself how much computer time goes to writing vs. performing writing, or letting “pilot research” just turn into a plain old Google wormhole, and consider a social media blocking app.
“A favorite quote that’s not mine, but that I respond to, is ‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’ It’s a lot easier to work with something once it’s on the page then when it’s in your head. If you get it on the page, then you have something to play with… but until then, it’s all just a mental head circus.” ~ April Fitzsimmons, Executive Story Editor, VALOR
Even if you think you already write enough — try warm-ups. Try something outside your wheelhouse: maybe a short story instead of a script, or a feature instead of a pilot. Creativity is a muscle toned and strengthened by discipline and habit. If you can’t seem to find time to write because you’re always “networking,” try blocking one night a week off for writing and sticking to it.
2. Learn more
“This year, I will actually address story issues in my outline instead of assuming I can fix it in draft.” ~ Meghan Pleticha, staff writer, SILICON VALLEY
As anyone who’s seen Center Stage could tell you, even premier danseurs in big ballet companies still take class. We have several working writers who regularly join us at Script Anatomy on their hiatus to make sure they make the most of their off time and get a new pilot done. Even if our classes aren’t the right fit for you, try reading a new screenwriting book, joining a writers group, or, if you’re in L.A., going to the WGA library, where thousands of scripts are available for you to read and learn from the greats.
If you’re starting to feel like you haven’t read anything longer than a cable pilot in awhile, we could not suggest more strongly that you get a library card if you don’t already have one and reconnect with a love of books. In addition to getting great inspiration for your own material and giving you something to talk about at meetings besides what pilot scripts everyone else is discussing that will help set you apart. And for the “I have no time to read” crowd, one of our favorite threads from Writer Twitter over the holiday break was this thread from Marquita Robinson, who wrote on NEW GIRL and GLOW in the same year (and is now on YOU’RE THE WORST), about what reading 30 books in 2017 did for her creatively, socially, and energetically.
Also, learn more about things outside the industry that interest you. You never know where they could lead. A weird obsession counts as a “personal connection” as far as pitching is concerned. So get out your library card and Google search alerts and embrace all the weird curiosities that make you tick (within reason, of course). One of our favorite quotes we ever heard on a panel was from Marti Noxon, years ago at Meltdown Comics: “It’s the weird in you that makes you win.”
3. Be more grateful
Ambition is paramount to breaking into screenwriting. In a “feast and famine” profession, people wouldn’t be able to stay afloat without it. But if you focus solely on the professional brass ring that’s still slightly out of reach, you run the risk not appreciating the great things around you until it’s too late. Never forget where you started out. If you ever feel like you’re not moving forward, re-read the first script you ever wrote. We promise that it will be a tangible reminder of how far you’ve really come.
Also, know that everybody’s got their shit. Nobody’s life is perfect. You might not have the career you want, but maybe you have family that supports your career choice, or a great relationship, or a close-knit group of friends you can really trust, or amazing pets who provide you with unconditional love even when network fellowships do not. These are all huge assets that support your artistic growth in ways you may not even realize — but trust us, you would be vividly aware of it if you suddenly lost them unexpectedly. There are many successful people in this town with nary a goldfish to share a quiet night at home with between gigs.
We all want something more at the end of the day, and there’s nothing wrong with that — your drive is necessary to fuel your career. But don’t confuse gratitude for complacency. Remember that you used to want what you have now, in some way, shape or form — and it’s okay to take a moment to celebrate the life and career you’re building.
4. Love yourself more
If you’re a writer, or if you’re working in entertainment in general, we’ve got a hunch that you maybe have acquired a taste for validation: we hate to break it to you, but you’re going home hungry, at least in the short term. This industry may literally never give it to you. Which is why it’s important to mind your internal monologue and find moments where you can genuinely acknowledge and appreciate your talents.
Don’t love yourself all night at writers’ mixers so that nobody else gets a word in edgewise, that’s annoying — but be aware of how you talk to yourself. It’s so easy to press SEND on a submission to writers’ group and freak out and think “oh shit, this is garbage, what did I just give these people? Is word finally out that I’m a fraud?” but, after that initial reaction, try and take a deep breath and drill down all the things you like about the idea.
Consider trying meditation — many of our faculty and staffers are fans — as a way to create a safe space to talk positively to yourself. Going easier on yourself in your own head will improve your writing and help you when you start going on meetings or get into a room; the more your energy says “I deserve to be here” when you walk into a meeting, the less you will give off an “I deserve to be here… right?!?!?” vibe to the exec.
5. Say Yes
“The new year is a good time to just get words on the page and let go of second-guessing… just like we hope to let go of those extra 5lbs of holiday indulgence.” ~ Marisa Tam, story editor, THE BLACKLIST
There are two things we learned from reading Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes when it first came out: 1. drinking 60oz of water a day really does work wonders for the skin and 2. saying yes to new experiences, even when they scare you a little, really does work out 98% of the time. (Our 2% was a staffer with an intense phobia of heights who “said yes” to zip lining through a jungle only to have a full-fledged panic attack while dangling in a harness half a mile up in the air).
Try a new workout, a new morning routine, read a book in a genre you wouldn’t normally pick, write something you’ve been wanting to write, but are afraid you won’t do a good job with — say yes to something you’ve secretly considered doing for awhile, but are afraid you’ll fail at. Maybe you travel alone to a new place for the first time. Maybe you usually write soapy dramas, but you’d like to sink your teeth into a murder mystery.
Do something you have always wondered about, but have secretly been afraid to try.
6. Say No
There comes a time in every writers’ career when they must get real with themselves about knowing their worth. If you’re unrepped and still trying to get into the WGA, you are low-hanging fruit for producers, publications, and more looking to exploit talented, energetic storytellers for cheap labor. This is already a career where you have to spend money to make money, no doubt about it — so ask yourself, when a friend asks you to write an article for their indie mag “for exposure,” where are you on the Oregon Trail of your career? Have you just left Missouri, with a wagon full of food and plucky livestock to boot, with the stamina and the resources to take this gig? Or are you attempting to ford the Colorado River because you don’t have enough money to pay for the Ferry, your wagon is too busted to caulk and float, you’re out of good supplies to trade, not to mention your party is down to two people already and you both low key have typhus, so a little extra exposure could be so detrimental it sets you back until the spring?
If you are a writer, people will likely ask you for favors your entire career, from your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving who all the sudden has a full-length feature screenplay in him to your college roommate who’s been out of the acting business for a few years but wants to use the pilot you just sold to springboard his career, to your parents who “would write their own holiday newsletter, but you just have such a natural talent…” You have to get yourself to a place where you have the power and prestige to help everyone you want — and that means right now, you can’t just say yes to anyone who asks, or else you won’t have time and energy leftover to put into your own work at the end of the day.
7. Make your process sacred
We know some writers who work better when they exercise regularly. They focus better, they fell better, they have better energy and better health (hint: this is all writers. Studies have proved exercise boosts creativity and endorphins). We also know some writers who work better when they meditate regularly. Or go to a very specific coffee shop.
It can get hard to carve out time to do these things in your day, but if there’s a habit you know you should get back into for the good of your writing process but can’t seem to get back on track, try starting with blocking off a chunk of time just one or two days a week and not scheduling anything else during that time. Obviously, there will be exceptions, emergencies will come up — but someone wanting to reschedule a drinks isn’t one of them.
Networking is important, nobody will tell you otherwise, but if you don’t have a sample you’re proud to show people when they ask, all that time putting in work at happy hours across town will do you little good in the long run.
The more you treat writing like your job, the more you’ll send that impression to those around you.
8. Get out of your bubble
As humans, we tend to be creatures of habit, and the humdrum of our work/home/writing routines exacerbates that tendency even more. We’re busy and the economy’s going down the tubes, so this is extremely understandable — but the shame of it is, every time we deny ourselves the opportunity to step outside our bubble, we miss stories and characters and drama and catharsis happening all around us. Before there were smartphones and screens everywhere to hide in, people-watching was a thing artists across all mediums talked about being inspired by all the time.
Your daily grind is important to get you where you want to go professionally, but be careful that it doesn’t deprive you of all the inspiration happening outside your bubble. You can step out of your bubble in the tiniest, most seemingly insignificant of ways. If you are a straphanger and rely on public transportation for your commute, try just watching the other people on the train for a few minutes instead of checking social media or email. Try volunteering at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, senior citizens’ facility or someplace else that speaks to you once or twice a month if you have the bandwidth in your schedule to accommodate it. If you have the resources to do so, travel someplace you wouldn’t normally go and put yourself in a radically different environment — right now it seems like there are so many different universes within our own country, you might not even need a passport to step into a completely foreign reality.
Script Anatomy’s goals in 2018 include diversifying our curriculum even more to make industry-standard TV Writing technique accessible to even more people. We’re offering more in-person classes than ever, introducing some amazing new instructors, and are continuing to expand our online curriculum, including an exciting new webinar on Pilot Writing happening next month, so that you don’t have to deal with Los Angeles traffic (or rent, oy) to learn to write Hollywood-caliber scripts. We’ve also given our website a total makeover. Check out our new and improved website, featuring our course calendar. We look forward to the opportunity to help you meet your TV writing goals this year. Happy writing and wishing you a fruitful and prosperous 2018.