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TV Writing is About Way More Than Writing

When you're at your home writing your new pilot to you heart's content, it feels like "this is what it's all about."

Someday you'll be paid to do this very thing. And that may be true. But along with the writing part comes so many different aspects of the job that I had no idea about when I first started.

Sure, there will be times when you're left alone to write all day, muse on your genius, and craft the perfect series of words.

But most of the time, the job is not that.

That's why I've broken down the OTHER skills and duties needed to be a TV writer. They include:

  • Improvising

  • Producing

  • Project Management

  • Editing

  • Salesmanship

Sounds a little weird, right? Like a poorly worded "Additional Skills" section on a resume.

Let's get into them and I'll explain how each of these things are part of what it means to be a TV writer.

TV writing is improvising

Most of your time as a TV writer will be spent in the writers' room. In fact, during any given season, you are likely only going to be responsible for writing one episode.

So, that's two weeks out of the longevity of the writers' room that you're on your own writing. The rest is in the writers' room.

In the writers' room, the showrunner is trying to find the best character dynamics, story progression, episodes, and they will be dictating where the conversation goes.

It is then up to you, the TV writer, to "yes, and" the showrunner at every turn.

The showrunner wants to hear more about a character background, you give them that; there's a plot hiccup holding up an episode, you need to solve it.

So much of your skills as a TV writer is wrapped up in improvising story. It's no wonder why writers with a background in improv make such good TV writers.

In this way, TV writing is actually performing.

TV writing is producing

This will become more obvious as you rise the TV writing ranks. But even as a staff writer (the lowest level writer), you are still doing some bit of producing.

Now, producing is a weird word and it could mean many different things. But in this case, I'm using it to mean "putting together the show."

That means you are answering questions about wardrobe, set decoration.

It means you're communicating with the line producer to make sure there's enough money in the budget for a certain location or song.

It means that when you're on set, you're making sure you've gotten what you need to be able to edit together a usable episode.

None of this is even close to writing, but it's all work done by TV writers.

TV writing is project management

This one isn't talked about enough. In fact, I feel that if more writers were given courses on project management and leadership there would be far less toxic writers' rooms.

Everybody is looking to the writers to tell them how to proceed and what to do.

If the writers are asking for too much of a production, this will create problems. There will be delays, the production will go over budget, and the whole thing will fall apart.

If the writers don't know how to work with people, the entire production will be on edge.

And that will extend down to the actors and crew, and what results is scared performances and crew members creating stiff TV.

TV writing is editing

There will be countless revisions asked of you and the entire writers' room as a TV writer. There will be more time spent revising your script than working on your script to begin with.

That's why you cannot be precious about your material. You cannot consider your words perfect. Because they will change, and it will be heartbreaking if you don't let go.

Now, not only will you be doing editing on your script, but on the cut of your episode as well.

Though the showrunner gets the final say in post-production, you may be asked to sit in with the editor and come up with your cut of the episode.

TV writing is salesmanship

This one took me a long time to come to terms with. You are constantly selling yourself as a writer, selling your TV show idea in a meeting, selling your pitch in the writers' room.

So much of what you do as a TV writer is selling.

Many years into my TV writing career, I had become a decent writer, and I had written a decent number of scripts.

But I had no idea how to sell my idea. I had no idea how to craft a pitch for a network or streamer, and perform that pitch to try to get somebody to buy it.

This was the final piece of the puzzle, and it's really what separates someone who creates TV and gets their own TV show, and someone who gets jobs on other peoples' TV shows.


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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.


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