Justin M. Sloan has written numerous books and writes screenplays and video games. His most recent publication, Military Veterans in Creative Careers, gives advice on how to pursue your passion from veterans who have gone on to have amazing careers in film, publishing, and video games. Follow Justin @JustinMSloan.
Many of us have looked at our dream jobs, such as screenwriting, and either thought or been told that only certain people can have that dream. We are told that only the incredibly lucky or the connected few can become screenwriters, actors, directors, or any of those other careers that sound too good to be true.
However, at some point in our lives many of us have come to the realization that the people in those careers are people like us. Yes, some of them happened to get where they are because they were born into it, but a lot of these men and women reached their levels of success because of hard work and discipline.
It was with this realization in mind that, after pursuing a career in international relations and economics, I told my friends that I was going to prove that hard work could get me where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a writer, and today I write on the video game version of Game of Thrones, by Telltale Games. I’m also a published author and have made money as a screenwriter. I still have a ways to go in all of these areas, but I no longer have any doubt that my hard work will pay off, because it already has.
This is the point where my wife chimes in and reminds me that it isn’t simply hard work that is necessary, but “smart work.” I couldn’t simply sit at home and write all day. While that may have made me an amazing writer, who would ever see it? When you determine your passion and set off to achieve it, you have to consider all of the avenues before you that can lead to your dream. We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s who you know,” but the reality is it’s who you make yourself known to. Reach out and connect with people in careers similar to the one you aspire to. If you want to write animated films, see which writers on LinkedIn with such experience will accept your connection, or reply to a Facebook message asking for advice. Go to film festivals such as the Austin Film Festival, and absorb as much as you can about the craft while making sure to connect with people at your level so you can form your own network of passionate artists. Find ways to beef up your resume, so that when you meet the perfect person to show your work to, be it a screenplay or a reel, you have some experience to discuss that shows your dedication so they are willing to consider you and actually look at what you send them. Read for a contest, intern with a literary management company, or volunteer your time on projects that are not exactly what you want to be doing but may help you get there.
Working smart comes down to doing everything in your power to improve your craft, network, and establish your credibility. But it is more than that—it’s thinking outside the box, listening to the advice you receive from more experienced folks and then finding new ways to take their advice to the next level.
I’ll admit, what I am recommending here takes a lot of discipline. Maybe you have a family to provide for, or a job that takes up all your time. Whether it means losing sleep to get an extra hour or two of writing done, or sacrificing your lunch breaks to improve your craft, you have to push yourself. If you aren’t willing to, the guy or gal next to you is and will be the one who succeeds instead of you.
You don’t have to have gone through the military to have the level of discipline needed, but it couldn’t hurt. If you haven’t served in the military, consider what you can learn from our nation’s heroes. These veterans have learned that hard work pays off, and are taking that same energy they used to keep our country safe to now entertain us. Many of them are turning to each other for help, forming a cadre of like-minded individuals who will be able to help each other out along the way. Others make it on their own, but thrive because of what they learned in times of intense stress or simply by being part of a cohesive group. Find your inspiration from these men and women, and find a way to rise to the challenge their successes have laid before you. Consider what groups you can be part of, or how you can form your own group with the people. You can form a critique group or filmmaker group on Meetup.com, buy people drinks at the Driskill bar every year at the Austin Film Festival, or go to film school. Whatever it takes, develop your connections and meet the people in the industry who will tell you how difficult it can actually be to break in.
You may be one of the very connected or lucky few who is magically discovered. If so, congratulations! How nice that you don’t need to work hard or smart. And why bother networking or building up a resume? For the record, I don’t believe anyone falls into this category—even if they don’t have as much of a struggle as we do. If you are like me and are only now beginning to realize that the dream can become a reality, make sure you’re doing everything in your power to follow your passions and do what you love for a living.
Justin Sloan is a video game writer, novelist, and screenwriter. His most recent work includes writing on Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones, and the publication of a non-fiction book titled Military Veterans in Creative Careers (available on Amazon, Nook, iBooks and Kobo). Justin studied writing at the Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing program and at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Professional Program in Screenwriting. Additionally, he has published short fiction and poetry. Justin was in the Marines for five years and has lived in Japan, Korea, and Italy. He currently lives with his amazing wife and children in the Bay Area, where he writes and enjoys life.
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