My name is Robyn and I’m a young aspiring TV writer in L.A. who found your blog after it was linked from Jezebel. Your post “The Magical Vulva of Opportunity” really struck a chord with me because between parents encouraging me to “go back to school and became a professional naval-gazer in a safe environment like a college campus” and the snippets I hear every day about struggling, unhappy TV writers, I’m starting to wonder if I’m setting myself for a life of disappointment. This sentence in particular made my stomach drop:
“There have been shows I was almost on, shows I was on, shows I almost created, shows I wrote but nobody read. There have been proposals and pitches and meetings and punch-ups and “I don’t understand; they said you had the job, but now they just don’t have the budget for your level.” I’ve been singled out, recommended, read and “adored.” I’ve been pitched to, passed over, rescheduled and abandoned. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve written even more. I’m a couple of credits away from being elevated higher than “mid-level female writer,” and I can’t wait to find out what new, terrible, miserable problems the next level brings.”
I know I’m 22 and still outside of that skyscraper looking up at its enormity, and I know it’s not your job to reassure some kid who graduated from college and moved to L.A. the next day with no tangible career prospects except a dream to write for television and maybe movies, but I want to know that you’re happy and that guy and his agent are just (albeit unconsciously) sexist jerks. I want to know that this is the only thing you’d ever want to do and could do. I want to convince myself that if you feel a richness in your life from this career, then my anxiety is for naught. I know it’s a lot to ask, haha.
I currently work in an entry-level job at a tech/marketing company, work on endless revisions to my sitcom spec and half-hour pilot and sometimes send out that Very Dramatic play I wrote last year to theater company’s reading committees. I presume you’ve been there and I’m curious what you would say to your past self knowing what you know now.
Thanks for being an inspiration to young women like me (neurotic as we are.)
All the best,
Come out from under your desk for a second. Listen. It’s important to know that this job is hard for everybody. It’s hard. It’s hard to break in, it’s hard to stay working, it’s hard to keep a show on the air, it’s hard to get a show on the air — it’s hard! For anybody. For everybody.
Wait, you went back under the desk. Come back.
It’s hard, but that’s okay. That’s part of what makes it fun.
The lines in my essay that made your stomach drop? That’s a description of me working! That was a five-year montage of being a writer. That’s what the job is. Meetings, and phone calls, and pitches and treatments, and maybes and so many no’s and every once in a while a really great yes and sometimes a yes that turns out to be a trick. All of it, every day. But that means you’re working. It’s a good thing. And the truth is, I don’t talk about all the yeses and and I don’t talk about all the nos, because I really shouldn’t. Sometimes I legally can’t. Sometimes the things take years before they actually exist, or a contract is signed, and sometimes projects go away right in the middle of things.
Consequently, my mom still doesn’t really understand my life. (But she likes the latest perk, which is that I call her when I’m driving to meetings.) Which leads me to talking to you about your parents.
Mine weren’t exactly thrilled that I was going to use this brain to be an actor. My father repeatedly stressed that perhaps I should minor in nursing, something to fall back on. Writing was my fall-back job! Dad didn’t really want me to be a nurse; he wanted to know that once I was legally allowed to not have to follow his orders, I wouldn’t spend every day covered in tears and poverty.
Your parents love you and never want you to ever have a bad day. They do not want you to face rejection on a near hourly basis. They don’t want your life to be hard. And they’d probably like it if they knew how to explain to their friends and family what it is you do for a living. My poor mom. “She’s writing, I know that. She writes a lot. When she writes on shows, her name isn’t usually in the opening credits, and that makes me look like a liar, but I’m getting used to it.”
Your parents just want your life to be easy. Remember that. And maybe they paid for college, I don’t know, and they’d like immediate returns on their investments.
But I want to address your first question: “Am I setting myself up for a lifetime of disappointment?
Wait, you didn’t let me finish.
Yes, but: only if you want it to feel that way. If you look at your life as not-yet-getting-enough, you’ll always be disappointed. But even in what you’ve written here, I can tell you’re already miles ahead of most of the people who are willingly signing up for this life. You’ve already got spec scripts, you’ve already finished some material. You are editing, which means you know something’s not precious and perfect from the first draft. You’re working at a job in entry-level, which means you could walk away without too much guilt, and it sounds like your mouth is the only one you’re in charge of feeding. And most importantly: you already live here. That means you’re two to five to a million years ahead of a lot of people, and two years in this business is equal to like, five years in the real world.
So right now I want you to see that you are 22 and already doing the work. You are already hustling. So pat yourself on the back. Because you have typed ‘FADE OUT’ and that is more than some people ever do. And you’ve done it more than once. So make sure you’re sending those scripts out. Right now you should be entering contests and attending festivals — the good festivals — so that you can get feedback and make contacts and perhaps even win a certificate or two. Because it’s all about who you meet right now, where you make connections, that will start to mold your career. I’m working with someone right now I first met seven years ago when we tried to get a pitch sold that didn’t go. Seven years later we’re in different places in our lives, we’re more experienced, we’re more trusted, we have more leverage — and now we’re doing something together. (I can’t tell you what it is yet. Sorry.)
You don’t have to be disappointed as long as you know how to appreciate what you have right now. Because it doesn’t get easier, it just gets different. And you’ll have good experiences and bad experiences and some people really do suck and some will become your friends for life. (Also, 75% of this job is very lonely, as you alone sit with your computer and type) (You can have a writing partner, but remember to cut your salary in half.).
I would say you shouldn’t do this if you have anything else that you’re good at that brings you joy and strokes your self-worth. Because again, it’s not easy. But I’m not really sure what’s an easy job. They all look kind of hard. Stressful. Annoying. This is the one where I like it when it’s hard, I get better at it when it’s stressful, and inspired when it’s annoying.
As for whether or not women have it harder, and if should you be worried about your chances because of your girlparts, I have some news. If you’ve been reading the trades (and you should be doing that so you know what to talk about when you go on those meetings and festivals and mixers to meet other writers and producers so that you don’t sit alone at your job and freak yourself out of doing this), you’ll see that there have been quite a few female-driven pilots ordered to series, and right now, at this very moment, two out of every three women you know is currently watching a screening of Bridesmaids, so it’s a potentially exciting time for women in comedy.
However, I found out this week that I didn’t get a job where they were “looking for a woman” because I wasn’t married with kids. (Which used to be why I was able to get a job!) So you know, there’s always a way to be a woman the wrong way. But that really has nothing to do with being a woman, and more about what you bring to the table.
Right now you make sure you’re living your life so that you have something to bring to the table. Write all the time, hone your voice, and make sure that you have a way of saying something that is yours and yours alone. Find a way to stand out. Be funny and be different. Live a life that gives you lots of stories. Love and laugh and make friends and get your heart broken and have stuff be messy and weird and sometimes too extreme. But make sure you write about it. Figure out how you feel about it. Write constantly, and be brave with your words.
Send your parents pictures of the view from the Getty, of being at the bank next to Marcia Gay Harden, of the gates of the Paramount lot, of you standing near the Hollywood sign. Remind them that you are already in the middle of the industry. Show them that you aren’t living the safe life — you’re living the one that can’t be predicted. It can’t be duplicated. It’s yours and yours alone.
Because if we really lived the lives our parents say they want for us, the safe, quiet, easy lives, we’d be miserable. We’d be bored. And they’d be sad for us. That being said, my mom still really, really, really wants me to quit roller derby.
My dad missed out on a lot of what I’ve done. But one of the last things he ever said to me was, “I’m really glad you didn’t play it safe.” That was huge. He would have never advised I take the risky path, no parent would, but he was proud of me for doing it.
He pointed at the television in his hospital room. “Your name’s going to be right there one day.”
At the time, I hadn’t written a TV spec. Just one screenplay and a manuscript, both unsold. I’d only been in Los Angeles for just over a year. “I know things are going to happen for you,” he said. “And I’m sorry I’m going to miss it.”
If only I’d started two years sooner, he might have seen some of what I’ve accomplished. He’d have at least held a book in his hands with our last name. It makes me cry every time I think about what he missed.
So listen, Robyn. You’re doing fine. It’ll all be okay. It won’t ever be easy, but I promise you’ll have fun as long as you remember it’s not something that’s going to happen to you later. It’s happening right now. Be a part of it.