How to Not Succeed at Television Writing

You too could wear robes and drink bloody marys all day...be a TV writer!

Written by Bryan Starr, in a Robe

While The Smatter may very well be our generation’s most arrayed and comprehendible source of social commentary—“a forum for creative, open-minded capitalists” as the tagline declares—it’s ironic that the pay is neither comprehendible nor capitalistic. I mean really, zero dollars? I’ve heard of one dollar or even two dollars—but zero dollars? What sort of capitalism is that? Turn-of-the-century Russian dissidents did better than zero. I pray for the day when my beloved editor’s self-deluded vision becomes an actual business model and he sells enough advertising and/or t-shirts to pay me. For the love of Jon Bon Jovi, I’m unemployed and uninsured, and I live in Lower Manhattan. I need money almost as much as I need a shower.

Sure, I could do like I’ve always done and work for aging media brands like Conde Nast and Playboy, as they idly pick their asses and watch their industry change in ways they are either too stubborn to accept or too shortsighted to accompany. I could continue to relegate myself to cubicles not much larger than birdcages, day after day, year after year, selecting daily between lunch and suicide, daydreaming of three-day weekends and itinerated vacations that will invariably expire into the dread of Monday morning.

Or I could do something else. I could choose, like so many other creative, pseudo-young minds have, to fritter away my days at bars and coffee shops, in living rooms and home offices, peering into a beaming laptop, sometimes typing, sometimes scrolling, but always searching for that elusive idea or situation that will fulfill a notion of the American dream without sacrificing the soul that dies when we are dead. I could choose, as I have already done, to be an unsuccessful TV writer.

[tweetmeme source=”TheSmatter”]

Here’s what it takes to be an unsuccessful TV writer. Above all, you need a significant other or parent who is gainfully employed and willing to pay your rent. We in the biz call this a sucker, er, sponsor. Your sponsor needs to ask very few questions and never, ever request to see what you’ve been working on. They are there to pay rent. Period.

Then you need to come up with several storylines that seem original and ingenious at first but are clearly ill-conceived and terrible. Be sure to waste several days—weeks if you can—trying to craft these terrible ideas into workable plots, only to abandon them entirely after one or two pages of inane bullshit. (I have suggestions, but I’m sure you can come up with your own crap on your own. Drinking helps.)

After that, it’s always fun to tell everyone you meet that you are a writer and then back it up with casual references to several critically acclaimed books and authors. Cormac McCarthy and Shakespeare are always crowd pleasers. At the end of each night, make a promise to yourself to lay down at least two pages a day for the foreseeable future. Maybe even include it in a To Do list:

  • Buy Jen flowers (for food and rent)
  • Write two pages each and every day
  • Shave

Odds are, if you’re truly a successful unsuccessful TV writer, you will not be able to afford flowers, you won’t shave, and the closest you’ll come to writing two pages a day is completing a crossword puzzle or falling asleep with your pants around your ankles in front of the computer. The pants around the ankles can happen even at a coffee shop or bar, believe me.

Just another day at the office.

If, by chance, you happen to come up with a good idea and actually manage to finish a solid script, send it to an agent who is willing to read it. An agent, allegedly, is the key to being a successful TV writer. If an agent likes your work, s/he will invariably shop around your script and/or talent, in hopes of finding you work. Who knows, maybe it’ll happen. But even if it doesn’t, you can at least rest easy knowing that you didn’t waste your time commuting to a crappy cubicle at a crappy job. I can’t think of anything that equals zero more than that.

Except The Smatter’s pay scale, of course.

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3 thoughts on “How to Not Succeed at Television Writing

  1. you should come to south africa, unemployment is like 45%. you’d be right at home. except no agents. the bar is pretty low, tv script-wise. but i’m sure the pay sucks. good luck out there, shakespeare.

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