“You have to keep the plates spinning.” A good friend and fellow TV writer shared this advice with me as my first staffing gig was coming to an end.
Staffing on my first show was an amazing experience. But I had no prospects beyond those thirteen weeks. I was freaking out.
A TV writer’s life is feast or famine. When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it’s normal. That’s why it is imperative to have several projects going at once.
The mistake many beginning writers make (myself included) is to pin all their hopes and dreams on that one script or job. But despite what Eminem says, you don’t only get one shot. In fact, your job as a writer, the job of a writer, is to generate many, many ideas. And each one of thoese ideas is a shot.
It’s tempting once you settle into a job or a story to center your energy and focus on that single project. I belive you need to focus your efforts to whoever is paying you but there are several reasons why it’s crucial to find a way to keep other things moving as well.
It takes a tremendous amount of energy for me to start spinning a new plate but only minimal effort to keep it spinning once I’ve started. That’s why I strive for consistent, incremental progress in my projects.
Every work day I write down one thing that I want to accomplish in each project — start it, continue it, read it, rewrite it, etc. Then I devote one to two Pomodoros to each item (25 minutes) switching from one project to the next. I don’t go backwards so once I’m done with one project I don’t revisit it until the next day.
At the end of the day, I record how many Pomodoros per project. At the end of the week/month/year, I’ve made progress on multiple projects and I have a tangible record of what I’ve accomplished.
I’ve also found that by broadening my scope and giving myself a break from my “main” project I actually give my creative juices a boost.
And it works the other way too. I feel reinvigorated when I return to the my main project after engaging on something different.
“So what have you been up to?”
When you start going out on general meetings, producers and execs will always ask what you’ve been up to. Don’t be like me and tell them “just being a dad” and “growing this beard.” That was my Cold Open response for the first fifteen generals I took. Do not recommend.
Instead, tell them about that movie you are writing, the blog you started, the TV show you’re prepping to pitch. Anything you are creating.
You never know, which of your many ideas will connect with someone. You might meet a producer who shares your exact same love of Outlander and outer space. Space Outlander. You’re welcome.
Nobody in entertainment knows what they want so having a wide range of ideas increases your odds that something will click.
The entertainment business is fickle. Jobs end. The thing you’re pitching gets bought or rejected or passed and then picked up. But if you’ve kept your plates spinning, you will have the next thing ready to go.
Write something new every day
I think it’s important to write something new every day. When I find myself in a spot where I’m only rewriting or planning/outlining, it’s good to have some pure creation project. That’s why I started blogging and creative writing. I do each, a little bit at a time and work that muscle.
It’s hard to spin a bunch of plates. I get it. As artists, we want to give our creative all to every project. Pour our complete selves into our most meaningful work.
But every professional writer I’ve worked with has always had “something else” — a show they were pitching, a pilot they were developing, a movie they were taking around to producers.
I envied their bandwidth and capacity for creation. I thought it was something that I would never be able to do. But I can. Because I have to.
Work begets works. So keep the plates spinning. Future you says thanks.