You’ve finally landed your first staff writing gig, congratulations! Here’s how to make sure it won’t be your last.
Be the first one in and the last one out.
Get to work thirty minutes before anyone else, and don’t leave until after the showrunner. Not only will this make you seem reliable and punctual, but when the showrunner has a story problem they need to work out or want a second pair of eyes on a scene at the end of the day, you will be the one around to help.
Listen more than you speak.
It’s exciting to finally be in a writers’ room. It’s exciting to have finally quit your day job to write full time. But don’t let this enthusiasm overtake you. In the room, it’s important to listen more than you speak, especially during the first few weeks on a new job. Until you fully understand the politics of the room (yes, there are rooms where staff writers do not speak at all) it’s best to err on the side of caution. Be very selective. Each day, try to pitch one good idea before lunch, and one good idea after lunch. But make sure your ideas are well thought out and motivated before speaking them aloud. As the saying goes, it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
Work harder than anyone else in the room.
Do more research than anyone else on staff. Come in every morning having read all the notes from the day before. Do everything in your power to be the most prepared, informed, and valuable person on staff. And don’t make the mistake of focusing only on helping the Showrunner – make yourself an asset to the entire staff.
Make yourself invaluable.
This is something I drum into all my mentees and clients: do any job that needs to be done. Volunteer for menial tasks. Write sides. Offer to write a first draft of a scene for a higher-level writer, if it would help them. Offer to organize story cards or re-board outlines. Most importantly, don’t let your ego get in the way. Maybe you feel like you’ve earned a break to let someone else do the grunt work. After all, you’re not an assistantanymore, right? Think again. This kind of ego-driven attitude is a quick way to annoy your showrunner and the other writers, and could mean your contract doesn’t get picked up for the next season. Instead, stay humble, volunteer for any (and every task), and remember that you’re lucky to be in that room even if you are the only person who has to write on the white board.
Over the years, my CBS mentees who learned how to make themselves invaluable almost always got asked back and have moved up. We currently have nine alumni showrunners. Yay! It works!
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