There’s a first time for everything, and for aspiring television writers, few things are more thrilling or memorable than your first job– that first time in the writers room, that first staff position on an actual TV show.
Of course, that first staff writing gig is often as daunting as it is exciting… the writers room is filled with its own rules of politics and etiquette. Over the next few weeks and months, we’ll hear from various TV writers about their experiences in the writers room and their tips for survival.
Today, I’m psyched to bring you a good friend of mine and an amazing writer– Tracy Grant. Tracy was a member of last year’s prestigious Disney Writing Fellowship, then got his first staff writing job on the second season of ABC Family‘s drama, Lincoln Heights. So, here to talk about his first experience in the TV writers room– and his advice for succeeding– is Tracy Grant…
IN HIS OWN WORDS: TRACY GRANT
I can’t even describe the feeling. Giddy? Ecstatic? I don’t know, but driving to the writers’ office and seeing my name on my parking space was memorable. I could have floated into the writers’ room that morning, but I pulled myself together—no way was I going in like a wide-eyed rookie. So when they gave me an order form for our catered lunch, no one knew I didn’t know what it was. I just did what everyone else did until I caught on. TIP #1: ACT LIKE YOU BELONG. This thought guided me through brainstorming in the room, pitching through an episode and meeting privately with my EP (or showrunner), all in the first few days.
When you first start, there are two ways to go: sit back and observe, or jump in. I had no time to sit back and observe, and the showrunner gave me the okay to participate. Obviously it helps to know what you’re talking about, so that your comments have some value. You should also know the situation outside of the room, as there’s invariably a problem to be solved or a disagreement that impacts the workplace, if not the show itself. But how can you know when you’re new? You’re not a mind reader! Which brings us to TIP #2: WHEN IN DOUBT, SHUT THE HELL UP. You can always ask a question privately later, but when you say something dumb, there’s no do over.
As you become more acclimated, you’ll get a feel for the room dynamic, which includes not only the work, but the personalities in the room. If you’re lucky, everyone will get along and the ribbing won’t get to you. But there are always, ALWAYS personality clashes, no matter how lovey-dovey everyone behaves. The writers’ room is collaborative, but remember it’s still a competitive situation—whether it’s for the next script, the next promotion or the next gig. Self-preservation is key, and you do this by doing your job and helping the showrunner however you can. Still, the showrunner isn’t always around, and there are politics among the writers. With that in mind, here’s
TIP #3: CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES, BUT FIGHT WHEN YOU MUST. If you must argue or defend your point, make sure it’s in service to the problem being addressed in the room, or your showrunner’s direction. It’s okay to establish yourself, but make sure it’s as an asset to the show.
These are all tidbits that helped, but by far, the two most important tips go hand-in-hand: #4, BE PREPARED and #5, DO THE WORK. No shortcuts. Take care of business here and everything else will take care of itself. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun.