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Breaking Into TV Writing: 5 Things I Wish I Knew

The TV industry is a weird place. You can work your ass off on scripts that never see the light of day, or you can be plucked out of obscurity with nary a writing sample to your name.


Unfair? Absolutely.


But that's the nature of the beast.


But, despite the luck involved, there are things you can do to put yourself in the best position possible to force your way through and break into TV writing.


When I began my TV writing journey, this whole industry was a vague mountain to climb. I didn't see the end goal, or even how to start climbing.


I bounced around from job to job trying to figure out what made sense for my career in an industry that didn't make sense.


In order for you to avoid that annoying guessing game, I've put together the five things I wish I knew before I entered the TV writing game.


These will not only help you see what's in store for you in the future, it will help you strategize your way there.


And I'm going to start with an obvious one...




1. To break into TV writing, you need to write


Sounds obvious enough, right? But remember I did just tell you that some people are picked out of nowhere when they barely even have a writing sample to their name.


So, clearly, just having scripts is not the way to get in.


You need to write in order to develop your voice.


Your voice is whatever it is about your writing that makes it so that it could only have come from you.


Your voice is not easy to develop. It merely comes from writing.


Those people who barely even had a TV pilot and got deals anyway, they already had a developed voice, either from the stand-up comedy world, from journalism, or from some other platform, like X (formerly known as Twitter - don't you hate when they say that? We get it!) where they were able to showcase their unique point of view.


But even with some great, unique samples, none of it matters if you don't...


2. Develop your network


You need to meet people! You need to tell those people that you're a writer, and you need to keep expanding your network until somebody gives you a shot.


The only people that make it are those who have people around them who they can ask for things.


That doesn't mean badger people all the time. It means show your worth and don't be afraid to ask for something in return.


Nobody applies for a TV writing job. They just know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who's hiring, and you ask them to put their name in the mix.


Without a network, your writing sample means almost nothing.


3. You need to be able to adapt to the ever-changing TV writing industry


Story time...


When I first got started in TV in LA, it was the early 2010s and the networks were dying. All of their business was being stolen by the streamers.



But all of my assistant jobs were coming from network TV despite cancellations coming at a fast pace and there being no real route to advance.


So, what did I do? I stuck with those jobs until I could hardly pay the rent anymore.


Don't do what I did!


Things are changing at a rapid pace. If you see a new opportunity that somebody hasn't exploited yet, take it.


If you're not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on the road you're on, take a different road, even if it's scary.


I stayed on the network TV show assistant track for far too long, and it meant that I was making a name for myself as an assistant. It became much harder to get people to think of me, and eventually hire me as a writer, because I was only thought of as an assistant.


4. If you're in a toxic environment, bail immediately


I have worked on many toxic shows. Here's how they keep you involved and here's why it doesn't help you...


Most toxic shows, meaning yeller of a boss, or manipulative behavior, also tend to promote the people who stay (because so many leave).


And it creates this Stockholm Syndrome between the showrunner and everyone else. "Yeah, I know he did X, but he's always been nice to me. I wouldn't be where I am without them." That sort of thing.


Here's the thing... despite rising in this environment, these toxic shows often become closed off. Everybody you know is in this one place and isn't happily moving on. Also, this toxic behavior attracts toxic people.


Even if you are not one of them, you are likely surrounded by them.


All of this together makes jumping to a better environment more difficult and keeps you stuck.


Oh, also, those environments suck and this career isn't worth the bullshit.


5. Find another way of making money


Some artists subscribe to the all or nothing approach to this industry.


The "if I'm not working doing what I want to do then I'll starve and that will give me the motivation to continue on" camp. The "no plan B's" camp.


But that is such a dangerous and destructive way to go about it.


This "art" needs to be something that you like to do whether or not you're getting paid. So, getting paid and not suffering shouldn't counteract your passion.


This TV business is more volatile than ever. In order to maintain a career, at least for your early years, you need to have alternate ways of making money.


For more information about breaking into TV writing, check out these articles here, or pre-order my book, Breaking Into TV Writing, coming soon from Turner Publishing.


Image Source: Todd Dwyer

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Hello!

I'm Anton, a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.

 

You can pre-order Breaking Into TV Writing here:

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