WHAT KIND OF TOOLS DO I NEED?
Obviously, we aren’t talking about carpentry, so I don’t have a list of “tools” in the sense of hammers, saws, nails, etc. But the idea does apply to writing, if in a more esoteric manner.
Mechanically? You need something to write with and on. Pen and paper. A typewriter. A computer. Something. “Writing” is a verb. To make it a career, you can’t just think it; you have to do it. Other than that. . . well, the rest is inside you. And it’s more than just a great imagination. And since we are on that subject, let’s start with. . . .
Imagination—Before you get to the point of being a Writer, you have to be a storyteller. You have to be able to create stories. This comes from your imagination. You have to have a great fantasy life. You have to be able to look at things from a sideways point of view. You have to question everything and create answers for those questions. Imagination is something that we all have to varying degrees.
The key in being a storyteller is not only to imagine new and interesting things, it’s a matter of being able to make those things interesting to other people. Hopefully, this started when you were a child. And, hopefully, you didn’t lose it as an adult. Or, worse, that you, and others around you, didn’t crush it. Being able to tell a story means you are willing to risk criticism. You are willing to risk looking like a fool. You’ll take chances. Why? Because you want to tell a story.
Discipline—So much of this business is self-starting. There is no way to coast through it. If you haven’t learned time management skills, start learning them now.
Procrastination is not just a problem in Hollywood; it’s an art form. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they have a great screenplay idea and will get around to writing it some day. I can’t say how many times people have told me that they intend to take a class on writing. Or they intend to follow up on an opportunity they had. Intentions don’t mean anything here. It’s the application that counts. And, yes, more times than not, your attempts will not result in accomplishment, but that’s the business. You have to keep plugging away and you have to have the discipline to get off your butt and do it. Not because you are going to be rewarded immediately, but because it has to be done.
Along with this comes responsibility. You cannot blame anyone else for errors you make. No one cares. You can’t blame your lack of success on anything. That’s the easy way out and leads to nothing. Yes, there are barriers to you. In fact, there are many more barriers in your way than you would find in other businesses. Some of them can be changed easily (i.e. learn to type), some of them can be changed with difficulty (i.e. move to Los Angeles if necessary) and some can’t be changed (i.e. age and/or gender). I’ll speak more on those examples later, but whatever difficulties face you, just acknowledge them and move on. Don’t use them as a reason why you just can’t make it. If that’s your attitude, then don’t even bother trying.
Outgoing attitude—This is important as, in the Industry (also known as “The Biz”), you will meet a lot of people. You have to learn how to quickly fit in and put them at ease. You have to become a part of their world easily. This is a combination of being friendly, attentive, humorous, assertive, and open. You want to give an impression of confidence and individuality while, at the same time, coming off as a member of the group. It comes down to this: You are a unique individual and you have value. Know this, understand this, and be comfortable with it. If you end up meeting Steven Spielberg at a party, you have to make it seem as if you have just as much legitimacy and confidence in who you are as he does while, at the same time, acknowledging his amazing success and talent. And, the hard part, it can’t be an act. The Biz can sniff out fakers.
Be Adaptable and Open—Not just in your career, but in your life. In your career, this means that you have to be ready for anything and flow with the punches. Don’t start fighting the good fight yet, you aren’t even in the ring. Keep yourself open to opportunities that might appear, sometimes opportunities that are cleverly disguised. You are asked to help someone build a set for a local play. What does that have to do with writing? You don’t know yet. But it does put you in contact with people who are also trying to get into the business.
Okay, sounds obscure, but I can point to incidents in my life where that kind of thing happened and led to things. Not always a job, but certainly to knowledge which is more valuable than a job at this point.
But, more importantly, I want to talk about staying open in your life and your goals. You may someday come to a “Moment of Decision.” That means that at any moment, you may suddenly realize that you love something more than the thing that you always assumed you loved. How is this relevant to you? I mean, you already know you want to be a Writer, correct? That’s true. . . for now. But you have no idea what kind of work you are getting yourself involved in. Even with that, you have to be open to find the thing that you love. You may start out wanting to be a Writer then, somehow, discover that you love being an accountant. If that’s the case, don’t be so fixated on the Writing thing that you completely ignore the thing that makes you happy.
“Happy” is what it’s all about. I don’t care what you say your goal is, whether to write for your favorite show, create a TV series, or write a blockbuster film, you are wrong. Your goal is a simple word: Happy. What you think of as your goal right now is your current belief as to what will accomplish that state of bliss. And that could, possibly, change. Have a direction and determination, but never lose sight of the “Happy” part.
There are way too many miserable people in this business, believe me. Many creative people fall prey to this because they get hung up on the whole “celebrity” aspect of the business. They may find that they actually hate it, but they stay the course because it was what they loved. Or what they continue to think they love. Being a Writer is not what you should be seeking. Being happy is the goal. If it means writing, so be it. But it could be something else. Don’t close yourself off to the possibilities.
Understand Theatre—This should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t always obvious. I think that Theatre is the best training ground for anyone who goes into Entertainment. Especially for Writers. The understanding of a play and why it works has incalculable value for a Writer. The understanding of Acting and Directing is just as important and in Theatre, the three areas of creativity are forced to work together (not always so in TV and Film, especially for the Writer).
And (big big thing here), taking classes in Improvisation was the best thing that ever happened to me from a Writer standpoint. In Improv, you have to create a character, create a back-story, create involvement, create interaction with the other characters and create dialogue with little chance to prepare. Television, especially, requires quick reactions and quick thinking. When you do finally get into working on a series, you have to be able to do rewrites with very little time to prepare. And the writing of natural dialogue seems to be the hardest hurdle for new Writers to overcome. Mastering (or just being proficient in) Improvisation will give you the leg up over the competition. I suggest you look around for a class now. Take my word on this one.
At the same time, read plays. Read the classics. Understand play structure and storytelling from Shakespeare to O’Neill and beyond. Sure, you want to write for the “Barney Gill; Fish Attorney” TV series, but you’ll still need to know the core elements of storytelling. Theatre and stage is the best place to learn it.
Self Confidence—This is not to be confused with arrogance. This means know who you are, know your limits and don’t be afraid to walk away from things that bother you. The most powerful word you have at your disposal is the word “no”. Why? Because everyone is willing to say “yes” in this business, but you really define yourself when you say “no”. You set your boundaries and you let people know where you stand. Now, don’t do it as a bluff or just to make a statement, but know what your core is and stand by it.
Don’t delude yourself imagining how you’d like people to think of you, just be who you are and be confident in that. Self Confidence shines much more brightly than being a “yes” man. And it also inspires trust in you and your opinions. More than anything else, it will help protect you from the constant rejection you will be getting. Your ego has to be able to take that kind of abuse and the best way to defend against it is to know yourself.
With that, let’s move on to. . .