Career Secrets of TV Writers
There’s lots of Bang2writers who want to be TV writers. But writing career secrets can be hard to come by when everyone’s journey is so different. It becomes easier to imagine breaking in and grabbing that elusive career is all just luck.
But it’s not. If we focus on BUILDING a career, then we can see it is all in our own hands. The TV writers below have all broken into the industry and built a career, so why can’t we?
Here’s what my 10 (okay, 11!) Top TV writers said when I asked them, ‘What is your top tip for a writing career?’
Here we go …
1) ‘Find The Joy’ – Ashley Pharoah
Find the joy in every job you do, no matter how lowly. It’ll make you a better writer and it’ll make you a person people want to work with.
BIO: Ashley Pharaoh is a British screenwriter and television producer. He is best known as the co-creator/writer of the successful drama series Life on Mars and creator/writer of the family drama Wild At Heart, as well as The Living And The Dead.
2) ‘Jealousy is toxic’ – Sally Abbott
Be lovely – everyone’s a human being. Deliver on time or communicate about the deadline. Be generous to people, don’t be bitter – jealousy is toxic. Don’t forget to be in your life.
3) ‘Rejection can make you strong’ – John Yorke
‘At the risk of sounding all Nietzschean, rejection – approached with the right attitude – can make you strong.’
BIO: John Yorke is a producer and story expert, producer of countless British TV shows, working with hundreds of TV writers. He is also author of the acclaimed writing book, Into The Woods. Read B2w’s interview with him, HERE.
4) ‘A NO is a just a slow YES’ – Barbara Machin
Timing is everything and so a lot of the time it is hard to land the commission … You need the right person, the right time, the right project to all align like stars. And you need your own charismatic invention to drive this. If it doesn’t happen? Try again. Be alert and ingenious. Why didn’t it “land” – do you need to tweak it or radically change an element? Without compromising your idea and characters, you CAN evolve your big idea, your ‘perfect script’ (no such thing , right?) to rebirth into ‘the show that gets commissioned’. The legendary shows that took years to get commissioned are your truth!! Sometimes you get lucky and jump a rung in the ladder but mostly it is creative running at the door. Again and again. Painful but true.
SO they turned it down … OK recover, radically review, rework, retitle and find another champion who LOVES it. Sometimes you need to leave it alone for a bit, but go back and revisit it with your alchemist’s hat on. We all write turkeys occasionally too, so take them into the yard and shoot them. But mostly what was great and good and original in a project tends to remains so … But it might need refashioning, a lick of paint and a rebrand. Guys, we are creatives first and then we have to sell stuff. So never ever give up!
BIO: Barbara Machin is the producer and showrunner of Waking The Dead, as well as a writer on numerous other shows including the BBC’s Casualty since 1990.
5) ‘Help others’ – Debbie Moon
Paradoxically: help others build theirs. No one wants to ‘network’ with someone who just wants to use them to climb the ladder: but if you make a point of helping others to solve their problems, people will gravitate to you, and you’ll all succeed together …
BIO: Debbie Moon is the creator of CBBC’s Wolfblood, and has also worked on The Sparticle Mystery and Hinterland. She has a number of TV and film projects in development in the U.S. and U.K. Find her on Twitter at @DebbieBMoon, or at her blog, HERE.
6) ‘Learn to bounce’ – Stephen Gallagher
Short and sweet! (True though).
7) ‘Have some other creative outlet’ – James Henry
- Go back in time and make sure you’re born independently wealthy, so you can weather the lean years. Failing that, arrange for a wealthy but disliked relative to have an ‘accident’ (insert winky emoticon). If you get caught, it’s something to write about, so a win/win situation.
- Don’t have children.
- Have some other creative outlet, even if it’s just painting Warhammer figures, otherwise constantly seeing your scripts go into development hell and not get made (or almost as bad, get made and sink without trace), will destroy your spirit.
- Learn to touch-type. I am one hundred per cent serious, do an evening class or something. You can then type twice as fast, which will allow you to take afternoons off and paint Warhammer figures, or commit more murders, if you’ve developed a taste for it (which you will).
BIO: James Henry has written for Smack The Pony, Green Wing, The Delivery Man, Hey Duggee and the upcoming Shaun The Sheep movie sequel, Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon. He is on twitter as @james_blue_cat.
8) ‘Be the person who should be doing the job’ – Dominic Minghella
Nike. But if you want to be hired while you’re ‘Just Doing It’, ask yourself, ‘What kind of person *should* be hired to do this writing job?’ And be that person.
BIO: Dominic Minghella is the producer and showrunner of such TV shows as Robin Hood, Doc Martin and Knightfall.
9) ‘Don’t be the problem’ – Stephen Volk
Don’t be an asshole. Moan to your friends, sure, but when you are in the room be professional, and listen, Producers want writers who SOLVE problems, not writers who ARE a problem.
BIO: Stephen Volk is the BAFTA-winning screenwriter of Ghostwatch, Afterlife and Midwinter of the Spirit. His latest book is The Dark Masters Trilogy.
10) ‘Get out there’ – Lauren Sequeira
Get out there and meet people/network/build relationships. Being able to write is one thing, but people want to know they can work with you, that you’re approachable and will take notes. It gets easier the more you network.
BIO: Lauren Sequeira got her break writing an episode for C4/Netflix drama Kiss Me First. She’s also worked on other shows such as The Dumping Ground and currently Gangs of London.
11) ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ – Roland Moore
You should be able to deal with rejection (you’ll get a lot – we all do). One way of dealing with that is to have LOADS of ideas that you love, so you’re not just trying to sell one idea / script all the time. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Ever.
BIO: Roland Moore created the award-winning BBC1 series Land Girls and has recently adapted Humans (Channel 4/AMC) for China. His dystopian sci-fi series, The Last Cop, has been optioned by Black Box Media and Keshet International.
What New TV Writers Can Learn Here:
Like my previous post, these writers have all said remarkably similar things on career secrets as well as craft. Whilst a writer’s journey might be individual, I believe there are basic principles we can take to heart here in creating our own career:
- Build relationships with others. Climb the ladder together.
- Re-evaluate your work, goals and strategies at various intervals.
- Be the person others can rely on and want to work with.
- Don’t take rejection personally. It is inevitable.
- Find ways to ensure you can deal with rejection (and the creative lifestyle generally).
- Never, ever quit – and enjoy the ride!
Thanks again to the TV writers for sharing their craft and career secrets. Great stuff.