The TV writers room is full of opportunities for new writers to break into the industry—but navigating the room can be tricky business. As an aspiring writer, what can you do to get your foot in the door and how can you make your way up the ladder once you’ve landed yourself in the room? We’re looking back on past year’s panels with some of television’s most successful writers and creators for their advice on writing for TV.
Here are five tips for working the writers room from past AFF panelists who have built careers running the rooms of successful TV series:
1. BE A TEAM PLAYER
People are going to make you nuts and that you’re going to have to work with them anyway, and I think a lot of writers don’t have that experience because they’re so busy writing that they don’t actually have the experience of having to get along with people. And, that’s something that will definitely come, especially in television, which is a collaborative medium. Television is a team sport, writing is not.
-Courtney Kemp (creator/showrunner Power) at AFF 2017
2. TAKE RISKS WITH YOUR STORY
How do you learn what the show is? And really, the answer is trial and error. It’s failing. You kind of learn some from, “Oh, that worked.” But the problem is if it works well, then you don’t really want to do it again too soon. So, you just found out, “Well, that worked, that’s good, but now what else is going to work?”
-Graham Yost (writer Justified, The Pacific, Band of Brothers, Boomtown, Speed) at AFF 2018
3. LISTEN AND OBSERVE
If you get hired as a staff writer, don’t talk too much. Listen. Learn the lay of the land. Every writers room is full of characters. All of us are writers in this room…so you have to really figure out whose ego is on deck, how to navigate those things, and how not to make enemies.
-Misha Green (writer/producer Underground, Lovecraft Country, The Mother) at AFF 2017
4. KEEP THINGS TIGHT
Start watching good television, and you just see how tight things are. There’s no fat in scenes. A scene is its own little mini beginning, middle, and end, and you see the want of the character in the scene and the obstacle of the character. So, make it tight and get rid of any fat and look for scenes that could end up on the editing room floor. If it’s not moving your story forward, it ain’t going to end up in your script, so get rid of it.
-Nancy Pimental (Writer/Executive Producer Shameless; Writer South Park, The Sweetest Thing; Showrunner The Most Popular Girls In School) at AFF 2011
5. EMBRACE YOUR VOICE
You want to know writers can write other people’s characters, but what we’re really looking for when we read writers and looking for staffing is, “What’s your voice?” because you’re staffing for many reasons, not just for one. You’re looking for a story person, you’re looking for a character person, you’re looking for a joke person, you’re looking for someone who can bring the guts to it. So, what we really want to know is, “Who are you?”
-Marta Kauffman (writer/creator Friends, Grace and Frankie, Dream On) at AFF 2016
Interested in hearing more from this year’s Writers Conference? Stay tuned for the premiere of On Story Season 10 featuring conversations with many of our 2019 panelists.
Want to hear these tips firsthand? Get a jumpstart on 2020 and grab your Badge at our early bird prices! For more information on how to attend, click here.