10 Ingredients to Successful Screenwriting: Planning Your Career

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Planning your career is an essential part of becoming a professional screenwriter. Below are several crucial things to keep in mind.

First, you need to choose what you’re going to write about, because whatever you are lucky enough to sell first is what agents and producers are going to want you to write over and over again, whether it’s dark thrillers or light comedies. As much as most writers like to stretch and try different things, most agents and producers like to go with what has already worked.

The next question is “Where should you live?” In my opinion, writers are far too quick to jump on a plane to L.A. Keep in mind, it takes a while to get yourself established professionally, and working as a waiter in a new state is not necessarily the best way to create a feeling of comfort while you write. Personally, I recommend that you stay where you are, examine your resources, and prioritize your writing until you have several rock-solid projects completed. Then you can think about a move.

“But won’t I be isolated if I’m not in Los Angeles?” you may ask.

The Internet is your friend. There are now so many ways to make contact with industry people in Los Angeles and New York that it’s possible to make plenty of contacts without ever leaving your house.

plan your careerThe next issue is whether or not you are going to write with a partner. Collaboration has many pluses and minuses. On the one hand, it gives you not only twice the brainpower but also twice the contacts. The downside, however, is that you have to share credit, compensation, and creative control, which can be very difficult. The decision of whether or not to collaborate is a very personal one, and you need to decide what’s right for you. If you do decide to collaborate, however, I strongly recommend signing a contract. This can feel awkward at the beginning, but it prevents many conflicts down the road.

The next thing you should consider is creating some kind of a professional legal entity for the expenses connected with becoming a professional writer. This might be an L.L.C. or a Subchapter S. I’m not a lawyer, and you’d have to talk to your lawyer or accountant about this, but having a company allows you to take a number of tax deductions. Considering the time and costs associated with developing a writing career, forming a legal business entity reduces at least a little of the financial stress. I find it also instills a certain sense of confidence and credibility when you present yourself in the marketplace.

The last and perhaps most important feature of planning your career is that you have to understand that, like anything else, it takes a while. In fact, based on my experience, planning for three to five years before you get your first big paycheck is a reasonable assessment. Now, I know that’s a hard and bitter pill to swallow, but it is better to have a dose of reality now and be ready for the long haul, as opposed to expecting instant results and not leaving yourself enough reserves, whether emotional or financial.

Developing a writing career is an exhilarating prospect, but having a solid plan will put you in the best position to succeed.

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