Eric Haywood has spent over a decade writing for network and premium cable television series including ABC’s Private Practice, Showtime’s Soul Food, NBC’s Hawaii, and the Fox drama Empire. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricHaywood.
This is my final “Writers’ Room 101” blog post.
Yep. This is it. We’ve come to the end of the line.
Why? Because, as I said in my previous post, nothing lasts forever. And that happens to include this series.
Let’s back up a bit. A couple of years ago, when my esteemed editor, Jeanne Veillette Bowerman, first asked me to write a TV-writing blog for Script magazine, I politely declined. At the time, I said no simply because I felt like writing such a blog might be interpreted as me positioning myself as a screenwriting know-it-all when the reality is, like anyone reading these words, I consider myself a student of both the craft of screenwriting and the art of Hollywood survival. In other words, I still had way too much to learn to start spouting advice about what other writers should and shouldn’t do to further their careers.
Additionally, there were (and still are) plenty of established television writers, producers, and showrunners who have made themselves pretty easily accessible via social media. They often give advice and share their experiences online, and most of them have far more real-world experience in the television industry than I do (I won’t bother to name these folks because, if you’re serious about your career, you already know at least a few of them and are self-motivated enough to find the others).
Then, out of nowhere, I had a change of heart. Something new occurred to me. I realized that I didn’t have to characterize myself as a screenwriting guru. There was another way to do this. Instead of putting myself on some imaginary pedestal and handing down Sage Writing Wisdom to writers who had less experience than I did, all I had to do was approach the blog with one specific question in mind:
“What have I learned over the years that I wish I knew when I’d first started out?”
And just like that, I realized that I’d suddenly cracked it. I had the proverbial light-bulb-over-my-head moment. So that question became the engine (to use yet another writing term you’ll come across) that would drive every blog post.
From there, I started with the assumption that the readers of this series had already read tons of how-to books and written at least one screenplay, teleplay, stage play, short story, or whatever. But there were tons of things those how-to books simply don’t cover (that’s not really a criticism, just a reflection of my own experiences having read them). The day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts survival techniques of a television writers’ room. When it’s okay to push back against the showrunner and when to STFU. How to cope with the annual stress of staffing season. How to network…and not network. Stuff like that. These are all things I’ve picked up from my time in the trenches, and man…I really wish someone would’ve made this information available to me (for free!) when I was first starting out. It would’ve saved me all kinds of toil, headache, and heartache.
All this to say, I hope these posts have been helpful. None of them have ever meant to be read as the be-all and end-all of how to carve out a successful career as a television writer. The specifics will certainly vary from show to show, but it’s my hope that many of you will find that the general principles that I’ve broken down are applicable to just about any working environment.
The other realization I had that prompted me to bring this blog to an end was its very title. By virtue of calling it “Writer’s Room 101,” it dawned on me that it can’t and shouldn’t just keep going on forever. At a certain point, you’ve got to take what I’ve given and go out into the world, using whatever bits and pieces of my advice are most helpful to you, and discarding those that aren’t. I’m trusting you to make those choices for yourself.
If you know the difference between a story editor and a supervising producer, if you know that “producing your episode” doesn’t literally make you a producer in control of the show’s budget, and if you know not to tweet snarky shit about an actor, showrunner, or network because you might end up asking them for a job one day…and you learned any of these things here, then this little experiment has been a success.
I sincerely hope this has been helpful and informative. The next step in the learning process is up to you.
Lastly, I was hoping to conclude with some grand, eloquent words of advice that would sum up what I’ve been trying to impart ever since “Writers’ Room 101” began a year and a half ago. Luckily, I happened to stumble across someone else’s words that seem to fit better than anything I could’ve come up with.
And so, before I hit “fade out” on this post, let me take you back to an episode of FX’s Louie from the show’s second season (aptly titled “Joan” and written by the great Louis C.K., of course). There’s a scene where Louie is talking to comedy legend Joan Rivers about how to survive as a working comedian. At one point, she tells him something that I think applies perfectly to all of our writing careers and the ups and downs of Hollywood:
“I wish I could tell you it gets better. But it doesn’t get better. YOU get better.”
I think I’ll leave it there. Good luck and happy writing.
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