Sometimes you just need a different way to flex your screenwriting skills. As it happens, the storytelling talents for features, shorts, TV or web series match up nicely with the writing structures of podcasts and memoirs. Character arcs… callbacks… payoffs… they all guide storytelling, no matter the format.
Plus, podcast and memoir writing can expand your portfolio and personal brand to get you noticed. But how do you make the pivot?
I had a chance to catch up with a TV screenwriter and ghostwriter—Amy Suto, creator of Kingdom of Ink—as she launches a writer’s collective to help others stretch their writing skills.
Memoir Writing—Be Open to Serendipity
In speaking with Amy, I discovered that her initial ghostwriter job also had a healthy dose of serendipity. My first memoir writer opportunity happened a couple of years back on a return flight. I simply started talking to the guy beside me about his musical talents. Several months later, I got an email from Lance—he needed a ghostwriter for his memoir detailing his struggles to overcome bipolar with music, meds, and faith.
Amy’s first memoir assignment takes serendipity to the next level. Before ghostwriting memoirs and nonfiction books for business coaches, former Olympians, Silicon Valley CEOs, and individuals all over the world, she had to get her first job like everyone else.
“A guy in Florida found me online and needed his memoir written very quickly. He was under a tight deadline and needed me to fly to his house,” Amy shares. “After a few chapters in, I Googled his name and discovered—he had embezzled $1.5 million. He was under house arrest and needed to finish the memoir before he went to jail!”
The book didn’t get finished, but Amy learned she loved the format: “Being a ghostwriter is such an intimate role. You’re part therapist, part reporter, part writer.”
How to Pivot to Memoir Writing
So, what’s the best way to dive in? Amy offers these suggestions…
· Read lots of memoirs to understand structure and voice. “Get the lay of the land. Two of my favorites are Educated by Tara Westover and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I’d also recommend The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne for structure.”
· Make your own intellectual property (I.P.) That means every writer should have their own basic website. “This way you make and display your own content. People will seek you out, and you will have more leverage. I actually fired my first manager because they dissuaded me from making my own things!”
· Keep your day job. Freelance on the side, to see if it’s really for you. “Show people that you care about writing and love it for the long haul.”
· Calculate your rates accordingly. Beyond the actual writing, take into account time for calls, meetings, notes, and research. “Don’t forget to account for your level of experience in your hourly rate. You should be paid for your time.”
· Try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to jumpstart your writing. This annual event invites writers to complete a 50,000-word novel from Nov. 1-30. “Memoirs are typically four- to six-month commitments. NaNoWriMo taught me how to write quickly.”
· Join a freelance writers’ collective—like Kingdom of Ink. Go next level with your ghostwriting and copywriting skills. “Places like Upwork offer slush work for low pay, and you have to go through lots of proposals. We want to collapse the time you spend looking for quality clients.”
Kingdom of Ink is a way for Amy and her business partner Kyle Cords to create an innovative structure of opportunities, support, and community—“to inject a little bit of mutual aid into the industry.” The collective strives for higher wages for freelancers, practicing ethical business practices, and giving 5% of every contract back to the collaborative safety net.
It’s an extensive vetting process, to make sure both parties are on the same page. Check out if you’re a good fit for Kingdom of Ink careers and their steps toward a more ethical Hollywood 2.0.
Podcasts—Amp up the Audio Storytelling
Another outside-the-box option for writers is podcast production… from script to jumping into the final production. This written format shifts from visual to seeing through audio and can help writers hone dialogue and pacing.
Through the Kingdom of Pavement division, Amy is building a scripted podcast company “supporting rising creatives in the Los Angeles underground and beyond.” And she’s sharing her experiences along the way. “Most podcasts can be done for about 10K,” Amy says. “So far, we are six episodes in on The Last Station for about 5-6K.”
How do you dive into creating podcasts? Amy’s suggestions for this format…
· Brainstorm a topic that lends itself to strong audio storytelling. For example, The Last Station zeroes in on the last radio station on earth after the apocalypse. A radio host broadcasts her voice and discovers she may not be alone. Or Just To Be Nominated imagines an awards season, murder mystery.
· Get the lay of the podcast land. Amy taught herself how to handle casting, recording, and editing.
· Connect with a team of creatives. “You don’t do this alone. I have a great business partner and amazing assistant. Ask for help. Reach out to other creatives. Learn to barter with friends for help if you can’t afford to pay them.”
· Use a good microphone from the get-go. “Most good mics are now under $100. Your actor friends might already have one you can borrow!”
Bonus Tip for Podcast & Memoir Writing
Consider using a reMarkable, a next-gen paper tablet. Amy shared this stunning tablet during our Zoom call. It’s the perfect merger of old school, handwriting meets digital to transform your scribbles into useable PDFs.
Explore the Creative Kingdoms
Visit AmySuto.com to learn more and join the creative kingdoms—Kingdom of Ink, Kingdom of Pavement, and The Orphanage Collective.
Amy nicely sums up her aspirations for all us writers:
“We all need systems to support us. Find your system. And figure out your process to sustain your life as a creative.”