This Week in Coaching – Week Ending 9/27/19

The Week in Coaching is a new weekly column – that will surely vary in length from week to week, – dedicated to sharing thoughts, musings and reflections from my ongoing work with both emerging and working screenwriters and TV writers. 

All names (and some details) have been changed to protect the innocent

This week, I was reminded how important it is to protect your love of the craft. I know, easier said that done, right? But… the consequences of not doing so can be detrimental to your career.

As stated above, I’m not going to name any names. That’s not going to be fair. But I can share with you that one of my hardest working writers has gotten so worn down working on other people’s projects, writing what other people paid him to write, servicing other people’s visions and voice, that he found himself wondering how long he can keep going. How much more he has left to give. 

In other words, he had spent so much time, energy and creativity developing both features and TV projects for others, that he had nothing left in the tank for himself. 

For years, this writer and I had talked about original projects he really wanted to write. The projects that, be they pilots or features, came with no guarantee that anyone would want to buy them, as opposed to those more within his brand, which often found a home and a buyer. But the writer always worried: Would anyone buy something this… unexpected from me? Despite being an upper-level writer, (and I am paraphrasing here) don’t I have to stay loyal to my brand? 

In some ways, the writer’s success worked against him – for a full two years now, he has gone from project to project, from room to room, with barely a week’s break in between. He wrote in writer’s rooms, some more collaborative, more supportive than others. He landed Open Writing Assignments for major studios, and did his best to make the most of the notes that executives gave him. His agents and managers kept him going out to meetings, kept him working. That’s what reps do; it’s their job to maximize the writer, to make sure that they are booking new gigs and new revenue for him whenever he becomes available. I don’t fault them at all.

Don’t get me wrong: Everyone dreams about getting into one of those  super-collaborative rooms where everyone feels heard and seen, where collaboration is celebrated, where normal work hours are kept. But the truth of the matter is… that’s just not always the case. 

I know how hard it is to turn down jobs. To decide to sit out opportunities. How scary it can be. What if another opportunity doesn’t come? What if passing on a job is seen in a bad light? What if there won’t be another job?

Despite all of this, in retrospect, and though I did my fair share of it, I wish I advocated even more for the writer to take a step back. To take some time. To carve out a period during which he would just focus on something he himself was compelled to create, no matter its uncertain fate. Of course it’s hard to give up sure things for those significantly more uncertain: You can’t guarantee the quality of a pilot or screenplay before they are written. And even when you write it as you intended, there is no guarantee that your representation won’t tell you that you wrote yourself into a dead end. That the project has no place in the marketplace.

All of this reminded me just how important it is to protect, and find time for, the craft that you love. Yes, ideally, one day everyone will get to write what they love and be rewarded for it, both financially and collaboratively. But very few writers have that privilege at every turn. So for every job that you do, every room that you work in, every assignment you take on, be sure to carve out a little time to prioritize your own work, be it in something as simple as a short story or a 1-act play, or as robust as a new pilot or screenplay. After all, the love of the craft is what got most writer’s started in the first place and it’s the passion for storytelling that should bring you back to the page. So make sure to foster and protect it.