3 Things a TV Writer Can Control
The life of a TV writer is a life of uncertainty.
You have chosen a career where you control almost nothing.
You can’t control how people respond to your work. Whether or not you get staffed on a show. If your brilliant show pitch gets bumped up the chain. If your pilot is greenlit. If your series is renewed, canceled or shelved forever.
It is a thrilling, terrifying roller coaster ride that for some reason you decided you wanted to board.
Your friends who aren’t in the business won’t understand how or even why you do it. Your parents will be even more bewildered.
They will remind you that it’s not too late to teach English or sell insurance. You will remind them you are a writer while secretly Googling “teach English how.”
It’s a career that is often disheartening. Depressing. And for aspiring writers or those getting started in their career, impenetrable.
Now some good news. Because there are some things you can control. When I feel lost, these are the fundamentals that I return to.
You have control over your writing, both the quality and quantity.
You control what you want to write about and how you go about it.
You control how much work goes into your pilots and spec scripts and how they are executed.
You control your resarch and practice of craft and story.
You should relish this control. Because there will be a time when even the work will be taken from you. When you have networks and producers and agents who have ideas over what they think your work should be.
Your writing is the lifeblood of your career. You are in the idea business. You are paid money (or hope to be) to come up with ideas. Many ideas. Some great. Most bad. Over and over and over.
Work begets work. They better and funnier and more relatable your samples are the more likely you will be hired. It may take a while because there are so many other factors you, again, have no control over. But if you put in the work, it will happen.
And when the work gets hard, try and remind yourself that thinking up weird and funny shit should be fun. It is fun. And important. It’s your chance to connect with people, inspire and bring some joy into the world. And dear God do we need that more than ever.
With the pandemic impacting all areas of the entertainment industry, there are many reasons to be down on yourself and your career.
And yet, you have no control over any of it. But you do have control over your attitude. Being positive in the face of massive uncertainty is very difficult. But really what choice do you have?
Let your love of the work movtivate you. Re-enage with projects that have languished or been ignored because they’re not ______ enough. Choose to work on them not because you think they’ll sell or because they’re splashy and will get you noticed. Choose to work on them because you love them.
Staffing has been extra tough this year. Between smaller rooms, smaller episode orders, and stalled broadcast pilots, there are so few opportunities to staff. Rooms aren’t filled with twenty writers anymore. It’s more like six to eight. You have no control over this.
I have to remind myself if I lose out on a job, that I have no control over why a decision is made. There are many variables that go into who gets a job and why.
You only have control over who you are and who you tell others you are. If you prepared for your meeting and put your best foot forward, that’s enough. You can only be you.
You control whether or not you keep going.
And dissuade yourself of the notion that “keep going” is the same for everyone. Sometimes this means pressing foward with development and trying new kinds of writing. Sometimes this means taking a step back and figuring out a job that pays the bills consistently while you develop your writing on the side.
They are both forms of resilience. And resilience is a quality every successful TV writer has.
Nothing truly prepares you for this roller coaster of uncertainty and everyone at some point in their TV writing career thinks about getting out. Getting a normal job. Getting some security. Some control.
All I can say is you never know where that next job is going to come from. You have so little control over it.
So instead, of quitting, focus on what you can control.
It’s the only way forward.