Writing For A Living Requires A Hard Lesson

Things That I Wish I Learned Sooner

Whether as a screenwriter, novelist, content creator, musician… The reason you’re all here is because you want to be a career writer. The goal is to leave the day job, move into a more comfortable reality, and create our passions for a living. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this being the endgame, as we all want to succeed, and make no mistake, you deserve success, but there are some things that you should understand before you pick up the pen and think that your hit script will punch the ticket to your inexorable career.

  1. You Must Learn Different Forms of Writing

This sounds like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many applications I’ve applied for or how many job openings I see where they’re not just looking for a screenwriter. Have you written copy? Are you experienced in entertainment writing? Have you done sports writing? Do you know what technical writing is? Do you know real estate writing?

The truth is so many of us are pigeonholed into a certain form of writing that we struggle to branch out. There are so many industries aside from entertainment to apply your craft that if you were to apply it to a service, you could be successful. Are you interested in outdoor sports? You could write about the industry trends and marketing. There are other avenues like instruction manuals, brand endorsements, or side content writing that could provide a busy but diligent career.

2. A Degree Doesn’t Open As Many Doors As It Used To

As someone currently working on my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, this is a particularly hard pill to swallow. When I got my certificate in video/film, I was told an Associate’s Degree carried more weight. When I got my Associate’s, every job listing said it needed my Bachelor’s. When I got my Bachelor’s, I was told I needed a Masters. You get the point by now. This is not to say I learned nothing, but the degree alone is not what work is looking for. You learn a ton of valuable skills, but not what jobs are looking for.

Universities are teaching you to perfect a skill, but not how to apply it. As a screenwriter, we are taught craftsmanship and how to utilize ideas, but not enough creative arts programs teach about writing for a budget, minimizing locations, writing with filming in mind. They teach writing an art. This is not a bad skill to have, but as good as these can be, the truth is most of what you’ll write will be essentially unfilmable. You will not learn that in a class room unless you have an amazing professor. I was thankful enough to have Undergrad Professors who instilled this in me.

If you’re currently in college or thinking about it, I definitely encourage you to keep going for your degree. That said, remember that most of what you’ll need is from experience on the job. Whether it’s internships, side projects, or shadowing, these are the things you can put on your resume. Which leads to another truth.

3. Professionals Are Not Looking For Beginners

I get it, you’ve written for a long time, perfected your craft, and you can’t POSSIBLY learn anything else about writing (Someone has some attitude). Truth is, you have to be seasoned. You have a spec script that did well in some competitions. That doesn’t open as many doors as you’d believe. They’re looking for a resume, consistency, and a good reputation, and once they find that person, they typically keep them around. For perspective, how often do you hire a first-time plumber? And when you find a good one, don’t you keep them around?

Most of the time, your career is in your hands. You have to consistently create material, constantly learn, and keep a good head on your shoulders. You have to put out material and keep a reputation. The goal is to write, so you want to find people you can write for. Getting in the door will be difficult, since there are a ton of writers, but most people would rather work with someone with some issues that will adapt than someone talented who is a pain. But how to get your name out there…


The final point is the most obvious, but something that you need to apply. Your works not being made? Make it yourself. This will help you learn about timing, about budgeting, about scheduling, and most importantly, it will get your material made. This will help you figure out if you have too many characters and locations, because it will be on your time and dime. When you are responsible, you’ll learn a lot about what producers and companies are looking for.

On top of that notion, most writers aren’t making material that’s filmed. We all have scripts sitting on our desks of some major story, but it’s not gonna get noticed. What can get noticed? Things that are being made. Scripts that are being made. Films that people will watch since most people aren’t going to sit down and read. More people will notice your 10-15 minute short than they will your 130 pg screenplay.

There are a lot of things we want. We all want to have an Aaron Sorkin or David Koepp-level career. I get it. I do too, and it kills me every second I don’t see what I’ve worked over a decade for, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t live as a writer. There are avenues that don’t exactly fit your vision but can help build your future. You have ways to become a successful writer, but it takes patience and realism. It’s a hard fight, but a worthy one.

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