Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Writing for Episodic TV

By Kimberly Johnson

Ba-ba-badaa. With those three beats, everyone in America knows that Law & Order is on the tube. Cue the fluttery flutes and wait for the get-down-with-it guitar riffs, and suddenly the men and women of law enforcement are policing the NYC streets for the next 60 minutes.

I’ll admit it—I watch Law & Order for the actors (Ice-T, Jerry Orbach, Chris Noth). I really stay tuned because of the thought-provoking storylines. Enter Rene Balcer, the Emmy-winning producer of the NBC crime drama. Balcer, a Montreal native, held several writing jobs on the set: a show runner, an executive producer and a head writer.
After watching a show featuring Robin Williams, I thought: How does journalist/freelancer/part-time wordsmith secure a gig in Hollywood?

I pulled up The Writers Guild of America’s website and clicked on the Writing for Episodic TV section. The WGA provided tips for my pursuit for fame and fortune:

Tip #1: I need a spec script. This is Hollywood talk for a work sample that has not been paid for nor commissioned. Opinions vary on whether I should write a spec for a TV show, a pilot or a screenplay or submit an original body of work. Glen Mazzara, a former executive producer of The Shield, sums up: “When I was trying to figure out how to break into the industry as a TV writer, someone explained to me that a spec TV script is your version of an episode of a show currently on TV. You pick a show that you like, that you feel you can write, and write your version to show as a writing sample. It has no connection with the actual series.”

Tip #2: I need an industry insider to read my spec script. For a fresh-off-the-bus type like me, a freelance writer must network. I found this WGA’s advice very helpful: “Resourcefulness and determination are common themes. Remember, all you have to do is impress one “right person,” a person who can hire you to write a script or who can put you in a room with a person who can hire you, and you’re on your way.”

Tip #3: I need an agent, I think. Writing a good spec script is the best way to pique the interest of an agent, according to the WGA. It provides a list of Guild approved agents and agencies for members and non-members.

Later on tonight, I’m watching another episode of Law & Order. But this time, I’m taking notes on dialogue, plot, conflict--you name it, so I can start work on my spec script. I’ll let you know if I need an agent.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

What Value Do You Give Your Writing?

By Bonnie Stanard

Way back in 2008, the Columbia II workshop took a moment during its meeting to write down advice we would give a person beginning to write. At that time, the Richland County Public Library had declined our request to reserve their large conference room, and we had begun a search for another place to hold our meetings (which is another story).

In giving advice, many of us took the opportunity to remind ourselves of things we already know but too often forget. My notes from that meeting include platitudes we’ve heard before but may be worth repeating.

1. Believe in the importance of your writing.
If you’re like me, you have often felt like you’re the only person in the world who cares about your writing. Discouragement is often subtle. Your well-meaning spouse tells you how to better spend your time. You get into an argument over space in your house for a desk. You can buy a new DVD player, but the budget can’t afford a writers conference.

To your friends and family, “writing” is never a good excuse. Your mother-in-law is offended if you write instead of visit. Your friends think you’re dodging them. Your neighbor suggests you’re a hermit. It’s a hard battle, and what makes it harder is that the fight is against people you love. And in the end, when you insist on your time to write, you’re made to feel selfish, as if you’re the problem.

2. Get feedback from folks who will give honest thoughts.
It’s hard to underestimate the benefit of a well-run workshop. People who write will approach your work dispassionately and are likely to give honest appraisals, since they have nothing to gain or lose. We get false readings from spouses and friends, who give us well-meaning comments that won’t offend us.

3. Spend more time with people who write and value writing.
I’ve found that as a subject of conversation, writing can’t compete with USC’s football team, golf, the latest way to cook a casserole, or where to go for a good hamburger. Not that I’m interested exclusively in writing, but the average person seems to have zero interest. Fortunately, I now have several good writer friends and I value their company.

4. Read current works in the genre in which you like to write.
If you’re a good painter, you know other painters and what they’re doing; a good banker knows other banks and what they’re charging; a good doctor knows other doctors and their treatments. A good writer knows what other writers are doing.

5. Write, write and then rewrite – every day, if possible.
We’re all busy. We hardly have time to eat or gas-up the car, so how can we find time to write? Write while waiting in line at the post office. Scribble while eating a sandwich. Spend your vacation alone with your computer. Give up cooking, gardening, and/or shopping. Let your spouse go to Waffle House for supper. Put the kids to bed with peanut butter sandwiches. Read number one again. Your writing is important.

6. Balance new writing projects with sending out submissions—both are vital.
I resent spending time with submissions, especially since 99% of them will be rejected. But as we’ve said in workshop, it’s really hard to get published if you don’t make submissions. On a positive note, making submissions is getting easier. Many journals are in the process of switching to online submissions managers.

Of all these suggestions, the most important one to me is the first one. When I lived in Chicago I had the good fortune to workshop with Eloise Fink, who gave me confidence. Even at that, for years I left my writing to suffer the slings and arrows of criticism without much support from me. It’s taken a long time, but I now feel that regardless of what anybody else thinks or says, my writing has promise. And it’s worth my effort.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

SCWW Conference - Special Labor Day Weekend Offer

By Ginny Padgett

2012 SCWW Conference – October 19-21 – Myrtle Beach

It’s that time of year again. School is back in session, football returns to fan-filled stadia and South Carolina Writers’ Workshop holds its annual conference.

Here’s the latest conference news. The early-bird registration rate ended yesterday (September 1), but if you register by September 15 and email me at ginnypadgett@sc.rr.com and tell me you saw this blog, I will extend the $50.00 discount. Additionally, I’ll extend the deadline for purchasing a manuscript critique to September 15.

Registration remains open until October 17; however, you’ll pay full price and only pitch and query-letter critique appointments remain for sale.

I hope you’ll join us for the conference. It’s an excellent opportunity to network with other writers and industry professionals, hone your craft, expand your knowledge of publishing trends…and who knows, come away with a book deal! It’s going to be a great weekend for writers in South Carolina.

Take a look at the weekend activities that will mark the 22nd SCWW Conference. (See http://columbiawritersworkshop.blogspot.com/search/label/Ginny%20Padgett) You can go to www.myscww.org/conference/ for all the information, including links to registering for the conference and making your Hilton reservations.