Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

What No One Tells You About Being a TV Writer (But You Probably Know Deep-Down)

I kind of hate that I have to write this blog post, but I want writers to be armed with all the knowledge they need to carve a place for themselves in the writing world. Today’s topic is about something totally out of your control but is also totally necessary to make it in this business.

We’re talking about luck.

Sure, you can prepare, practice, and do everything correctly to better your chances of scoring a writing job. But the truth is that luck also comes into play. As someone who firmly believes that if you work hard enough, anything is possible, it pains me a bit to say this.

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But there’s a silver lining, and that is that you can make your own luck.

To explain both sides of this argument, we asked industry veteran Marc Gaffen to step in. I initially questioned him about the mistakes writers make that prevent them from having a career. But his two-part answer elaborated on the issue that so many writers face when they come out to Hollywood to make a go at writing for TV. Some “mistakes” are simply out of your control.

“Mistakes people make? It’s like I said. No one has the same journey. Everyone’s journey is different,” he began. But “I know so many brilliant people who came out here, and they just did not have the lucky breaks.”

Marc moved to Los Angeles right after college and got his first “lucky break,” if you can call it that, after faxing his resume to more than 100 different job openings. He landed a job as a camera assistant on “The Bernie Mac Show.” Over the next several years, that “luck” kept coming. I put the word in quotation marks because writers often misunderstand what it means to be lucky in Hollywood. Working for it is critical.

“There’s a five, six-year timespan, where I was lucky enough to work on four or five different network shows, but those shows only last one year, and maybe 10 to 15 episodes for that year,” which is not so lucky, after all. “So at the end of the series, I’d have to find a whole new job over again. While I know this other person who was on “CSI,” and that one show goes for 13 years, and they’re moving up, and suddenly they’re writing, and they’re producing. And even though we came out at the same time and we were friends, they’re suddenly way ahead of me because they were on the right show at the right time.”

Now that is lucky.

You’ll quickly see that what a lucky break looks like in Hollywood is more about being in the right place at the right time, with the proper creative work to show. You won’t get far, even with a tremendous lucky streak, without that hard work part.

“The other part of it is people who say they want to become a writer, but they don’t write,” Marc went on. “This business is so full of many people who say they’re a writer, or they’re a director, or they’re an actor, and you say, ‘Oh, what have you been in? What have you done?’ And they only say, ‘Oh, I wrote this one thing.’”

Anyone can write one thing, Marc said. But to take advantage of lucky breaks, you can’t stop creating.

“If you keep on creating, hopefully, eventually, you will find someone who likes your voice and helps you establish your foot in the writing business,” he said. “Just keep working.”

And remember, one lucky break doesn’t give you forever success.

“The majority of working writers, and it’s a hard, hard life, and a hard business, because you always have to keep proving yourself. The most established people can be on a show that goes for seven years, and then when the show ends, they’re unemployed just like you and me, and they have to find their next job. They usually find their next job by going okay, what else? What’s new? What else have they written that they can show the world? And if they don’t have anything new, they kind of become old hat and kind of get pushed aside.”

Marc’s been writing, working, writing, and working for almost two decades since he landed that first lucky break. Since then, he’s hopped around Hollywood to shows including “Grimm,” “New Amsterdam,” “Lost,” and “Mare of Easttown,” but he does his best to remember his own advice. When he has time, he continues to work on personal writing projects (like his recent graphic novel, “Tuskers”), so he and his resume stay fresh for that next “lucky” opportunity.

“There are so many people out here who want the same thing you do,” Marc concluded. “The thing that’s going to separate you from them is how hard you work and how much you create.”

Oh, and that extra stroke of “luck.”

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