Hey, Pamie: “What Do I Write Next?” and “How Do You Work From Home?”

Posted by on Nov 26, 2012 · 6 Comments

It’s been a little while since I’ve had time to do a Weekly Procrastination, so I’ll do two today.

Hey Pam,

I have a question related to something we talked about when me met at AFF. My question is, what should I write next?

I think I mentioned that I’m not sure whether I prefer comedy or drama. I’ve done a little of both, and I’m ready to start a new script. I wonder if it’s time to commit to a path and dedicate myself to only writing, say, drama samples for the next year or two. Or if I should keep doing what I’m doing, which is writing whatever I’m most excited by at the moment, whether it’s detectives or office comedy or spaceships. Will an agent be interested in someone with a crazy diverse portfolio? Will an employer?

Britta

Britta’s question is one that comes up often at places like AFF, and it’s one of the easier questions to answer. If you are just starting out and you’re looking for something that will attract an agent (we will get to “employer” later), then it’s important that you write what you are good at writing. Meaning: write what sounds like you, what is you, what is why you want to be a writer. Tell the story that’s yours and yours alone. And yes, if that’s an office comedy about alien detectives [I suggest the working title: WHY ARE WE HERE?] then that’s what you should write. Your samples should be unique and true to you.

Don’t worry about having both a drama and a comedy spec. Worry that you have two excellent specs. Diversity in your portfolio isn’t necessarily something to strive for, but as someone who has exactly that I can tell you it’s not the worst thing in the world. I’ve got samples that put me up for family comedies, quirky female comedies, kid stuff, etc. because different networks have different needs. But it took years to build up all those scripts and samples.

When I started out people were looking more for specs of existing shows — meaning you wrote a sample episode of a show you were well-suited for. These days most showrunners seem interested in original pilot scripts (Not all showrunners. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but I know at one point Greg Garcia wouldn’t read original pilots). But I know people who have gotten hired after submitting comedic essays, plays, or blog posts. That’s not the norm, but it can happen. I only bring it up to further illustrate that it’s not what you are writing, it’s how well you’re writing it, and if it is the best showcase for your voice.

An agent wants to know “How do I sell you?” Make sure your samples (And yes, you need more than one) showcase your strengths, whether that’s voice, comedy, characters, etc. An “employer,” as you put it, wants to know, “Can you write for this show and can you do it without being a crazy person?” The first part of that question is in submitting a script that shows you can handle a story and write strong dialogue. That second part is answered if you get an interview. Unless you write your script in a weird font. Don’t do that. Nobody likes that.

Most importantly, you haven’t been asked to chose between drama and comedy, so why make yourself do that? I know it seems like this is the scariest, weirdest, hardest part of your writing career, but the reality is right now you have the most freedom you’ll ever have. Nobody’s making you write anything specific, and nobody is telling you there’s something wrong with what you have written. If you let yourself embrace this special time at the beginning of your career, you may find you’ll write your very favorite thing because it’s yours and yours alone. You didn’t write it for a producer, an agent, a manager or a grade. You didn’t write it frantically in the middle of the night to get it to a post office before a deadline. You wrote it so that you could announce to the world: I AM HERE AND I AM A WRITER AND I AM AWESOME AND THIS IS MY STORY.

Write what you’d want to see. Write the show that’s interesting to you and fun for you, because you’re going to be sitting with this script for a while. There’s no need to set parameters for yourself when nobody’s asking you to. Trust me — the parameters will come. The rules and notes and restrictions are in the future, so right now write what’s jamming your brain with thoughts and get it out. And you may find after doing that, you’ve uncovered the next thing you want to write, and then the next, and soon you will build your portfolio and you’ll be a stronger writer for having followed the stories you wanted to tell. Good luck!

PS: There’s a lot of overlap now with comedy and drama (See: Enlightened, one of my favorite comedy-dramas), so don’t think one makes you unable to walk into the other room. Plenty of writers work in both. Every film person in the world this year decided to sell a TV show instead because the landscape right now is much less segregated.

So Pam, I’m an instructional designer. I write training materials. I have the opportunity to work from home full time. What do you think are your biggest challenges in regards to working from home? Do you have an actual office or part of your living room?

-Melissa

Working from home requires A ROUTINE.

Like: I know I’m not going to be productive for the first couple of hours of the day. I need that time to ramp up. Email, coffee, complaining about gestational diabetes. These are the things I do in the morning now that I can’t spend all that time trying to keep my cat alive.

Then breakfast and The Daily Show. This is when I am reading the trades, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I clean a little, because if the room where I’m working is cluttered, I have a hard time not wasting time pretending to organize it. It’s important not to look around your house for things that aren’t clean/organized because you will suddenly find yourself cleaning out a closet and/or the refrigerator and this is not what you are getting paid to do.

Then I have phone calls or meetings. Showering is scheduled around that. If it happens. (Welcome to the glamorous life!)

But then I know that in two-hour chunks at least, I must work. So from ten to noon, I work. And I make sure I’m in a position/place where I’m going to work, depending on what I’m doing. If it’s rewrites, I print out what I’m doing and stay away from the computer and sometimes sit on the floor. If it’s writing a first draft, I might wear headphones so I can zone out. I might go out back where there’s no television. If I’m kind of stuck on what I’m doing, I put something on television that annoys me, like Kathie Lee and Hoda. I find they make me feel like I’m in an office, and I drown them out to hide inside my computer and work. (Actually, that’s not true. I gave up on all four hours of the Today show once they had Chris Brown on there. After decades of being a loyal viewer, at a certain point I was only insulting myself by continuing to have it on in the background.)

But every couple of hours, you have to take a break. Walk around. Take a cup of coffee to somewhere nice in your house maybe with a view and think, “Yes. This is why I do this. Because I am in my slippers and the world can suck it.”

DO NOT READ A BOOK. That is for when you are in bed for the night or in a bathtub. Books will destroy your productivity. Unless that book is for work, and then take it to a coffee shop so you don’t end up procrastinating all day.

OR: you get to clean one room per workday. Just one room. Monday is kitchen, Tuesday is upstairs bathroom, Wednesday is one drawer in your overstuffed dresser, etc. You can feel like you’ve done something, but you don’t spend your day cleaning your house. Because that is not your job.

I try to make sure I’m not wearing the same thing at the end of the day that I was wearing when I woke up. That makes me feel like I had my own kind of workday, and it often gives me no other choice but to go work out. Sometimes I scheduled my workouts for 1pm, to break up the middle of my day.

It’s sometimes helpful to treat a part of your home as your office. Make sure you do your work there and decide when you’re there you’re as chained as you’d be to a cubicle.

That being said, I have a desk, but it’s not where I always write. There are certain places in my house that I use for writing, and some of them are weather-dependent. But those places where I do write, they aren’t used for anything else but working. When I’m in that place, seated in that position, it’s because I’m working. If I’m going to take a break and talk to a friend on the phone, I get up and move somewhere else. Then the workspace never becomes confused with a social space in my head.

Bottom line: working from home can be rewarding and productive and everything you ever dreamed of, but it’s not escaping the fact that you have a job. And just like how you got good at procrastinating at an office, you will be able to do that a million times over when you’re in the place where you live.

This means not watching TV all day and/or drinking instead of getting your work done.
Or finding excuses to clean your house instead of getting work done.
Or talking on the phone/gardening/going for a walk/organizing all your music instead of getting your work done.

Congratulations on getting the shot to work from home! Now don’t screw it up by just living at home while you don’t do your work.

If you have a question about writing for television or novels or screenplays or any of these places where I write words and other people read them, send an email to pamie at pamie dot com with the subject line: YOUR WEEKLY PROCRASTINATION.

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6 Comments

  1. Heidi
    November 26, 2012

    For Melissa, I would also add:

    * Make sure the people in your life understand YOU STILL HAVE A JOB and aren’t now free to do X or Y for them during the day because you’re at home (unless you want to/can because you can still meet your deadlines and your clock is flexible).

    * Eat meals at fixed times/when you’d normally eat meals at work. Don’t start grazing in the kitchen all day because it’s right there.

    I’ve worked at home since 1997 and it’s been bliss for me.

    Some folks have told me they can’t focus at home. I can’t focus in a cube.

    If you find you need more structure to get things done, set task timetables for yourself and stick to them.

    And enjoy!

    Reply
  2. Lee
    November 26, 2012

    For working at home, I strongly recommend having a specific workspace. I am also an Instructional Designer and having a desk/file cabinet/bookshelf is a requirement for me to be able to focus. I also enjoy having music playing to drown out the outside world. I usually set hourly goals throughout the day to make sure I stay on task. Taking a full lunch break is important, I think, so that you do still get some time away from work during the day.

    Reply
  3. pamie
    November 29, 2012

    Helen Jane adds a few of her great tips on working from home. I do the daily to-do list, too.

    (And that coffee concoction, but that’s only because I’m currently not allowed my normal RDA of caffeine. Why anyone would intentionally do that to themselves is beyond me.)

    Reply
  4. Jacq
    November 30, 2012

    I’ve been working from home for the past year or so, albeit on a reasonably casual basis: I’m setting up a charity. Once our funding is sorted, I’ll work from home for most of the three year pilot period. For me, the two key things have been to sit at a desk, in my office, and to keep the TV off for most of the day (aside from when I head to the living room for my lunch break). I love not commuting, but I definitely have to stick to some kind of normal office routine.

    Also, it’s good to remember that you’ll never actually manage to be as disciplined as you might hope, but that it’s OK: because you’re at home, you gain a couple of hours that might otherwise have been eaten by your commute, so if you’re on a roll one day you can keep chugging away until it’s time to make dinner or whatever. You’ll have some super productive days, and some days where you’ll feel like nothing much was achieved. That’s OK.

    Reply
  5. Another Melissa
    December 2, 2012

    The most important thing for me working at home has been to not only have dedicated space that is only ‘work’ space (mine is a whole room, but it doesn’t have to be), but to also have dedicated furniture and equipment that is ‘work’ equipment only. It helps you mentally and physically separate being ‘at work’ and being ‘at home’. I have a separate work computer and home computer. I do not permit myself to do personal email or web browsing on my ‘work’ computer. The computers are in different rooms, so I have to get up and move to goof off on the personal computer. This helps me keep that distinction between being ‘at work’ and being on my personal time. I now make myself leave my house at least once a day, even if it is just to walk around the block or go on a quick errand. This is important because I once went two weeks without leaving the house because I needed to meet a very tight work deadline. I met the deadline, but I was so exhausted at the end of it because I hadn’t been out of ‘work’ mode for so long. You would never spend 24 hours a day for weeks doing an office job, so don’t do it when you are working from home.

    Reply
  6. Lora
    December 3, 2012

    I just quit my full time office job in May to pursue my dream of expanding my professional photography business.
    After weeks of TV marathons and lunches with friends these last paragraphs convicted me!

    “Bottom line: working from home can be rewarding and productive and everything you ever dreamed of, but it’s not escaping the fact that you have a job. And just like how you got good at procrastinating at an office, you will be able to do that a million times over when you’re in the place where you live.

    This means not watching TV all day and/or drinking instead of getting your work done.
    Or finding excuses to clean your house instead of getting work done.
    Or talking on the phone/gardening/going for a walk/organizing all your music instead of getting your work done.

    Congratulations on getting the shot to work from home! Now don’t screw it up by just living at home while you don’t do your work.”

    Damn.

    Reply

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