How I Became a TV Writer

by | Jun 5, 2022 | Working Screenwriters

I was raised by TV shows like Sister, Sister and Moesha, but becoming a TV Writer never crossed my mind. It didn’t feel like a real possibility the way that becoming a nurse or lawyer did.

That’s why I spent the months before I worked up the nerve to move to New York City and pursue comedy at war with myself. I wanted more than anything to strike out on my own and eventually work in TV, but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. 

There were several barriers; 

#1 I’m an introvert. 

And

#2 I’m an immigrant. From Haiti. 

That’s right. My parents left the actual poorest country in the Western Hemisphere along with everything they knew to bring me to the Promised Land. After all their sacrifices, I had the nerve to want to work in the entertainment industry amongst the Godless instead of becoming a doctor. 

Oh and, have I mentioned the fear? No? Well, there was a whole lot of that. There was the fear that I’d fail, the fear that I’d succeed, and worst of all, the fear that people would see me trying to do a thing. 

The point is, I was trapped, see? I couldn’t possibly go after my dreams. 

The Turning Point

Then one day I thought about the other option- staying at a job that I hated out of fear. The thought of being in the same place in five years filled me with such sharp dread that suddenly, failing wasn’t nearly as scary as staying

Now instead of being impossible, moving to New York and trying stand-up became a real and viable option. Nay, the only option. 

Instead of being paralyzed by fear, I was mobilized by it. 

All of a sudden my mind was going a mile a minute figuring out how to get out of a job I hated and into a life I wanted. 

Here are the things I did that helped me make the leap from 9-5 to TV Writer:

I made a plan

I started to plot out steps to get from point A to point B with the least amount of risk. My first step was to apply for jobs in New York. I didn’t want to move there until I got one. After I found a job, I put in my two weeks notice and moved to New York. 

You don’t have to move to a big city to become a screenwriter, but you will have to take action. When making your own plan, evaluate your circumstances and weigh your options. Whether you have a little to lose or a lot, the weighing must be done all the same. Grab a notebook and make a list of all the reasons you can’t pursue what you want then brainstorm ways to get around those obstacles. Where can you go from where you’re at? What can you do with what you’ve got? 

I Started Small

I started with a level 0 improv class at The People’s Improv Theater. Then I set a goal to cobble together my first five minutes. The next goal was to polish that five, get it on tape, and submit it to stand-up shows around New York City.

Many times the dream feels so big and the road looks so long that we get overwhelmed and would rather not bother getting started at all. But the trick is to break down your goal into small manageable pieces. Start with the simplest, most attainable step. Then take the next small step, and the next one, and the next one.

Breaking down your goals is a nice little trick that helps you to stop thinking about the distance so you can focus on the process. 

I Immersed Myself

After dipping my toe in and falling in love, I took a deep dive. I took as many improv and sketch classes as I could afford and learned as much as I could as fast as I could. 

Do your best to jump in with both feet. Be fully committed to your goal. If you’ve got one foot in and one foot out you’ll fail to build momentum and it’ll lead to feeling stagnant and stuck. 

I Embraced Failure as Feedback

I bombed on stage. I wrote sketches that weren’t funny. I created a terrible web series that never saw the light of day then I created a second much better web series. 

Success is wonderful and validating but your failures contain vital information. They tell you where you stand and where your skills are. They can be a compass that guides you to your next steps. They also force you to expand, and expansion is what leads to success. There truly is no success without failure. So don’t shy away from failure, embrace it as the feedback you need to make your next move.  

I Created My Best Work and Put It Out There

After I finished my 2nd, much better web series, I blasted it out to my email list, screened it at comedy shows in New York, and sent it to publications that catered to comedy fans, women, and Black women (since the series is a comedy and it’s about me, a Black woman).

That script or series you created doesn’t do you any good sitting on your computer’s desktop. If you like what you’ve created and feel like it’s a good representation of your voice then don’t lock it away, get it out there. 

The Call

A few months after screening my series, I got an email from a Talent Manager who saw it on a comedy website. A week after that I got an email asking if I wanted to submit a sample script for a new TV show. That meeting ended up leading to my first staff job at Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. 

This experience is mine and was specific to me being a performer. But there are many roads to the Writer’s Room including but not limited to; starting as an assistant on set and working your way up, selling a TV show, winning a script competition or film festival, writing a book or a graphic novel or essay or play, writing on a sketch team at a comedy theater, or getting noticed on social media. 

The roads are many but essentially they all involve getting out there. Whatever road you choose should be specific to you and should showcase your unique voice. 

The most important thing though is to start. Take one small step today towards your goal. Don’t shy away from failure, seek it out. 

What are you waiting for? Hurry up, life is calling.

Get out there and get to work.

Are you pursuing a career as a screenwriter?

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