Pearls of Wisdom from Working Writers: WHAT SHOULD I WRITE NEXT?

All too often, a writer I work with, be they an emerging scribe or working pro, positions this question to me early in the coaching relationship: I know I could work on this, that or the other project, but what should I be writing?

I am a big believer in putting your passion on the page. Writing the sort of movie or TV show that you want to watch, that would mean something to you, while adhering to industry formats and expectations. Beyond that? It’s a long conversation, that I wanted to get a few writers that I know to weigh in on. 

So… With that in mind, I turned to my friends and clients working in the professional space today and asked them: How do you choose your next ORIGINAL project? Is it a strategic or a creative decision? Or both? 

Moises Zamora, currently head writer on Netflix’s SELENA bio-series told me late last year: 

“Right now, it’s strategic because I’ve done well acquiring life story rights about fascinating people that would be great projects for me to write but they have also a commercial appeal. I think the creativity comes with any project, the parameters change.”

Greta Heinemann, who just finished a stint on NCIS NEW ORLEANS and will be moving to NBC’s GOOD GIRLS next said: 

“It’s a little bit of both. I usually try to assess what purpose my next piece should serve in my overall career strategy. I.E.: If my goal is to make the move from network TV to be staffed on a Cable TV show I know I need a sample that can showcase that tone. But, beyond that, I try not to let strategy get too far in the way of my creative passion. I’ve seen it gone wrong too many times and learned that chasing trends and writing to what others (reps, market etc.) think you should write usually doesn’t pay off.”

Save Einstein, who recently saw Constance Wu become attached to her untitled ScreenGems project, which Elizabeth Banks is slated to produce, shared: 

It’s definitely a combination of both. Writing a spec, you have to find something you’re passionate about. That’s your fuel for the long, never-ending, are-we-there-yet road that is writing for free. But unless you’re writing for your drawers and family, you can’t write in a vacuum. You have to pay attention to what’s going on around you. This doesn’t mean writing for current trends, because those pass. It means recognizing projects that have been successful in the genre and aiming to write a script that has the same qualities or appeal.”

Jimmy Mosqueda, who recently completed a  season on SCHOOLED, had this to say:

“It always starts with a creative decision. What is exciting me right now? What idea can I not wait to write? I find that the right creative decision is usually the right strategic decision.”

Eileen Jones, who has a couple of seasons of Fox’s LETHAL WEAPON under her belt, and a feature script currently out to market, provided this: 

“In my opinion, it has to be both. I’m a huge believer in passion showing on the page — it’s the thing that will hit people and engage them. And it’s the thing that will get you to sit down and write more, especially if you’re already sitting down and writing other things for your day job.”

New father and writer on CHICAGO MED Paul Puri told me:

It’s usually based on whatever I’m passionate about, narrowed by what my manager or Lee thinks helps me be marketable.”

Melissa London Hilfers, who has 3 impressive spec sales under her belt, and is currently on the prestigious JAGGED EDGE assignment shared with me: 

Because much of my work now is studio assignments, when I start something up on my own it’s because I am propelled creatively. I have to be really passionate about something to pull myself away from projects that are farther along and therefore more likely to be made.”

Thrice published author and prolific TV writer Hollie Overton who most recently worked on CBS All Access’s TELL ME A STORY offered: 

These days it starts with the creative. Once I’m excited about an idea, I make sure my reps are on board and think it’s an idea that can sell. There was a time when I tried writing with a strategy in mind, but the passion wasn’t there and it showed on the page. For writers trying to get noticed, I would say write something that comes from the heart. Bo Burnham writing EIGHTH GRADE is a great example. I doubt if you pitched a story about an awkward girl’s middle school experience that most reps would be clamoring for it but those big creative risks can pay off.”

Fresh off of his first feature writing assignment, Josh Renfree shared: 

“My next original project is decided upon with my manager. I bring several ideas to him. Usually in the form of 6-10 concise, laid out, 1-2 page pitches. We go through them one by one until we decide on the best choice to develop.”

With a few years of IZOMBIE now on his resume, scribe Bob Dearden said: 

“When I choose to write anything for myself, it’s really more for the purposes of future staffing than actual development. But I just try to write something that’s unique to my experiences and tonal sensibilities, and then try to make it as fun to write as possible from there, so as to keep some enjoyment and momentum going as I spend all that time writing something for free.”

And finally, Nora Nolan, who started her career on NBC’s TRIAL & ERROR and is currently on Netflix’s PARADISE P.D. had this to offer: 

“Both. I come up with a few ideas and do a one-pager, then send to my reps who advise which one based on what I already have (i.e., I have 2 single cam network comedies so it’s time to write a multi-cam or a cable), and what seems potentially relevant material. As far as how I come up with the ideas to begin with, I mine personal stories 100%.”