Today's email comes from Jackie, a writer I met a few weeks ago when I spoke at the Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles. Jackie, a schoolteacher in another state, attended one of my workshops, and she writes…
Chad-- I thought you might like to know that something you said has become a mantra for me and my theatre students. During your workshop, a woman made the comment that her friends, who were assistants [working in Hollywood], work so much they never have time to write. And you very wittily replied "Figure it the fuck out." I silently and heartily agreed with the comment. I mean, if I can find time to write with as much as I do, then her friends could, too…
First of all, a huge thanks to Jackie for coming to the seminar, reading the blog, and sending this email—it made my day!
Secondly, I thought this email—and the story Jackie's talking about—would be interesting to share. After all, I probably got more comments and questions after the seminar about that specific moment than anything else all weekend!
Here's what happened…
I was leading a seminar/workshop called "Networking 101," about—you guessed it—how to network when breaking into Hollywood.
When talking about this topic, my first piece of advice—the absolute best way to effectively network and meet people in the industry—is to GET A JOB IN THE INDUSTRY.
In fact, I often say, if you're not working in the industry, you stand almost no chance of actually breaking in. This is true whether you want to be a writer, director, agent, executive, producer, gaffer, DP, actor, host, costumer, whatever.
Television is a business based almost entirely on relationships, and if you want to be making and maximizing those relationships (which, if you intend to have a real career, you should), there's only one real way to do it successfully: dive into the industry, where you can meet and rub elbows with the people you need to know.
This usually means starting at the bottom, working as an assistant, PA, intern, logger, or runner. …Which also means working long, intense hours—arriving at work around 8:00 a.m., staying till 8:00 p.m., going to drinks or dinner with other assistants (which you'll be expected to do), then going home to read scripts and write coverage assigned by your boss. But as you do this, you're also meeting and getting to know showrunners, agents, writers, execs, producers, assistants; in other words, you're weaving together the human network upon which your career will advance. (And without that "human network," your career won't advance…)
It was at this point in the seminar that a girl raised her hand with a question.
"I'm a UCLA screenwriting student," she said, "and I have a ton of friends who graduated last year and now have assistant jobs in the industry. And just like you said, they're meeting everyone. But they also never have time to write. They're so busy working, they have almost no time to work on their scripts. So I'm wondering—if we want to be writers, how are we supposed to write if we're working 17 hours a day?"
This is a good question… and I hear it a lot. After all, if you're already spending most of your days' hours working, how do you find time to work on your "real job," writing?
The answer, as I told this particular writer, is…
"FIGURE IT THE FUCK OUT."
You need to get up at 6:30 a.m. to be at work by 8:00?… Get up at 5:00 and write for an hour and a half beforehand.
Have an hour-long morning commute?… Stop driving, take the bus, work en route.
Like to unwind with a glass of wine and some TV at the end of the day?... Skip the TV and pick up your pencil.
Or print your script and read it as you walk into work from the parking garage.
Take a notepad to the bathroom.
Stop socializing on weekends. Next time your friends call to go to the movies… or dinner… or a bar… or a new play… say no. Stay at home and write.
Set a disciplined routine; get up early—even on Saturday and Sunday.
…This is where someone usually says, "Look, this may work for some people, and that's great. But that's not the kind of life I want to lead."
To which I reply… "Okay—then I guess you don't want it that bad."
And then they get upset. They think I'm attacking them personally, calling them frauds or failures. Because they "think" they want it that bad. They're talented writers… passionate consumers of pop culture… intelligent readers and viewers… and they "think" they want to be a professional writer. But the truth is: they don't.
And I don't mean this in a critical or snobby way.
I simply mean:
THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE IT AS A PROFESSIONAL TV WRITER.
Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's lonely. Yes, you give up many other things that are important to you. But that's what being a writer is. If being a TV writer (or a poet or a novelist or a playwright or an essayist) was easy, everyone would do it. But it's not. You have to be an amazing writer, the best writer people have ever read… and you have to have a large Rolodex of personal/professional contacts who will hire you, rehire you, support you, recommend you.
So your job, if you want to break in, is to do both... which, yes, takes a lot of time. And in the beginning, when you're first breaking in, it can take all of your time.
Of course, if you choose to prioritize other things above that… like having friends, or a family, or time to read and watch TV and go to the movies and play with your kids… that's totally fine.
Just know, and be honest with yourself, that you're choosing not to do what it takes to have a writing career. You're choosing to allocate what little time you have each week to pursuits and pleasures other than building a writing career. And know that there'snothing wrong with that. You're not a failure… you're not a quitter… you're probably not even a bad writer! You're simply making the choice not to be a professional one. Or, at the very least, you're reducing your odds of success to a nearly unfathomable level.
Why this can be so offensive, I have no idea. Personally—I find it empowering. J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter at night, letting her daughter sleep in a stroller while she wrote longhand at coffee shops, then rushing home to retype everything on a typewriter. Stephen King wrote Carrie while scraping by on a high school teacher's salary, then coming home to his wife and baby in a double-wide trailer. These guys had no more hours in their days than anyone else (including that UCLA student's assistant friends), and they still had jobs, families, responsibilities… yet they somehow managed to write Carrie and Harry Potter. Which means if they can do it… why can't you?!
JUST FIGURE IT THE FUCK OUT.
Jackie—I'll let the rest of your email take us home…
Anyways, I told my theatre students this bit from the workshop and they… for some reason, agreed with the idea. They told me this should be one of our mantras, but, of course, we can't exactly use those words [in school]. So we came up with a another way to express it. When a situation occurs in which an actor or techie needs to "figure it the fuck out," we just simply say F. F. O. We all grin and move on.
If you have have a question or comment, please feel free to post it below... or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.