“I would like to thank the Academy…”

So, you want to be a writer. Are you sure about that? Do you want to sit down every day, seven days a week, for however many hours a day and just write? Or do you simply like the idea of going to parties and telling people you’re a writer without actually ever having written anything?

There’s a huge difference between being a writer and saying you’re a writer. But if you’re one of those people with a fire in your belly to express yourself on the written page then here are a few things you ought to know to help get you through the tough times to become a professional writer.

First, what kind of writer do you want to be? A novelist, poet, playwright, TV writer or screenwriter? (To name just a few.) I can’t tell you the number of people who told me they wanted to be in the TV business and thought they could get in by writing. Yet, they didn’t watch television, or much care for it. They simply thought the TV industry was glamorous and well-paying (it can be, some of the time but mostly it’s a hard slog of blood, sweat and tears–lots and lots of tears) and that writing a spec script was the easiest way to break in. Ha!

If you want to be in the TV business but haven’t ever written anything before in your life, find another way to get in. But, if you love television, dreamt about stories for your favorite TV shows (like I have), have even started writing a script based on your favorite show, then you’re off to a good start.

If you have a desire to be a writer, figure out what kind of writer you want to be. A novelist should love to read. A poet should love poetry. A TV writer should love television and a screenwriter movies. Writing is not the easy way in to a profession, rather it’s a passion that gives you no choice but to enter that profession.

For me, a love of writing started when I was in the fifth grade.  My best friend, Laurie Goldstein, shared with me the short stories she was writing.  I thought that was the coolest thing ever and found a black & white hardcover composition book and started writing short stories myself.  (In fact, I still have that book with my short stories and illustrations buried in the black hole of my office closet.)

My parents were so impressed they had me reading my stories to their guests at their infrequent dinner parties.  I loved the attention.  I love the praise.  And I also loved giving free reign to my imagination.

It helped that I was a passionate reader: Nancy Drew, dog stories, biographies.  Reading good stories well told inspired me to write.  I was also a passionate television watcher.  Even though both my parents were teachers they never restricted my TV watching.  I guess because I was a disciplined kid and got my homework done promptly.  I eventually  started dreaming (literally, I have very vivid dreams) my own plots to shows like “Star Trek” (the original, then in reruns) as well as “Mission: Impossible.”  I thought it would be very cool to actually move to Los Angeles and write for those shows.  (One of the highlights of my career was being hired to write an episode for “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” )

When I told my guidance counselor in high school about my TV writing ambitions he looked at me dubiously and said, “You can make a lot of money doing that but it’s very difficult to get in.”  I had no idea at the time that writing for television paid well.  Which leads me to my next point:

Don’t embark on a writing career only for the money.  You’ll never succeed.  I’ve had many a student at UCLA Writers’ Extension tell me they were taking my class on TV writing or screenwriting in order to make a lot of money.  Those were the students, alas, who almost always dropped out when they realized how difficult it was to write well.

I write for TV because I love it.  Not always but if I’m not writing I become anxious and restless.  I have to write.  And if you want to become a professional writer, in whatever field, then you should have that passion as well.

And sometimes the money follows.

    • Kay
    • August 16th, 2012

    As one of your UCLA students who didn’t drop out, it’s so hard for me to believe that anyone would ever think writing is easy. Blood, sweat and tears are only the beginning of the sacrifices. I like the quote, “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”

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