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How to Become a TV Writer (The TV Writing Roadmap)

TV writing roadmap mini
You’ve finally found it…

The ultimate resource to becoming a television writer.

This guide is designed for those unfamiliar with TV Calling, and “friends of the call” who need a place to find our amazing content.

If you’re looking to become a television writer, write your next spec script, or just generally want to dig deeper into the TV industry — you’ve come to the right place.

This is your roadmap.

You see — all TV writers are at various levels of STUCK. There’s just so much to learn, and do. From aspiring to staffed writers and executive producers, we are all looking to get better at what we do. Always looking for an edge with our craft.

This page is here to help you locate the resources you need to master this TV writing journey.

The TV Calling Roadmap

Success is preparation meets opportunity.
Ever heard of this saying?
It’s a superficial aphorism, but there’s some truth to it.

To succeed, you have to be lucky enough to meet the right person (opportunity), but you also need to have the right script ready to go (preparation).

The mistakes of those who never succeed is that they get bogged down by things they can’t control.

Here’s a secret…
There’s always going to be things you can’t control.

Not every executive will love your script.
Not every assistant job will lead somewhere.
Not every TV literary agent will want to meet you.

The key is to work on what you can control.
If you maximize what you can accomplish, then you maximize your chances of success–and breaking in.

So, what can you control? Well…

How do you become a TV writer?

There are three ways to create and grow a TV writing career:

  1. Improve your TV writing (scripts, specs, pilots)
  2. Improve your place in the TV industry (connections, representation, jobs)
  3. Improve your presence as a TV writer (brand, awareness, positionning)

These paths form the TV Calling roadmap.

Read this page very carefully. Read it multiple times and commit it to memory.

This is the stuff they don’t teach you in film school. Truly learning how to become a writer for TV.

Learn the steps

The following diagram outlines the three keys of your TV writing roadmap.

Print this image and tack it to the wall next to your battlestation. If you want to become a TV writer or break into television, this is something you’ll want to remind yourself of.

When you’re writing a new TV spec script, or meeting wannabe executives, you’ll need to constantly remind yourself of the bigger picture. Otherwise, you’re wasting time and money.

The TV roadmap…
the tv writing roadmap

    And here are the three ways to become a TV writer:

  • Step 1: The TV Writing (or how you write)
  • Step 2: The TV Business (or what you do)
  • Step 3: The TV Writer (or who you are)

But before we begin, there’s a vital part of this roadmap you need to understand…

This is a journey.
In other words, it will take some time. The three paths also work concurrently. At the same time. In parallel.

This is a very important part of your future success. You can (and should) prioritize tasks, but never put your eggs in one basket. Yes, I just said another aphorism.

Combining the TV writing, the TV business, and your TV presence will lead to you becoming an amazing TV writer. Hence the Venn diagram of it all.

We’ll examine each of these three paths on this START HERE page, and point you to the resources we have available to dive deeper into each topic.

Let’s begin with…

Step 1 – The TV Writing

tv calling roadmap writing

Have you ever been told you can write for TV with just one amazing idea?
Definitely not.

There may be nothing more important than writing the best TV scripts you can. Every other part of being an amazing TV writer is dependent upon having strong screenplays.

TV writers are idea machines. And if you cannot write a sustainable amount of scripts, all the time you invest building your network is a complete waste of time.

No amount of luck (or work) in other aspects will give you a long-lasting TV writing career if you don’t have anything to back it up.

You may now be wondering where to start.

Take a look at your writing samples (if you have any). The bare minimum should be:
One TV spec script (a sample episode from an existing show)
One TV pilot script (an original script for a new series)

The TV pilot will show your original voice (including story and characters), while the TV spec script will show you can write an episodic in someone else’s voice.

Original pilots will often stay evergreen, but don’t underestimate the power of writing specs. After all, your job as a TV writer will be to write specs (albeit professionally). That’s what writing for television is all about.

Once you have a few scripts — keep writing.

Every script you write is like a new ticket into the TV lottery. The more material you have, the more likely you are to succeed. That is why it’s critical to write a TV script.

Because there’s so much content, we’ve created numerous TV writing resources for you including…

Step 2 – The TV Business

tv calling roadmap business

In parallel to working on your writing, it’s very important to build solid foundations within the TV business.

“How do I get an assistant job?”
“How do I find an agent?”
“How do I meet executives?”

Most questions relating to the professional side of TV can be answered with: put yourself out there.

I know you’re an introvert. But don’t be a shut-in.

Television is intrinsically a communal industry. No TV show or TV episode has ever been made by a single person. It’s all made through relationships.

And I’m not talking about “in your face” networking.

Here are a few ways to connect with people:
– Check your alumni network(s)
– Create or join a writing group
– Attend relevant panels, such as WGA-sponsored events
– Go to mixers and networking events
– Interact on social media (It’s super effective!)

The most detrimental thing you can do is to come up to a stranger and ask him/her to read your script. (You’d be surprised how many times that’s happened.)

To quote Depeche Mode: people are people. Treat them as such. Stop thinking of networking as merely a means to an end.

Keep yourself plugged into the evolution of the TV industry. A good place to start is, well, this very website. We’ve been covering it for over seven years.
You can also listen to informative TV writing podcasts (Paper Team, Children of Tendu, Nerdist Writers Panel).

Once your writing is strong enough, you should pursue opportunities not based on who you know. Namely, the TV writing fellowships and contests.

Remember that how to become a television writer is a holistic process, not a one-and-done thing.

Step 3 – The TV Writer

tv calling roadmap writer

There’s a reason why TV writing fellowships ask for your bio. And it’s not because they want to read facts about your life.

They want to know who you are. What kind of brand you are.

That’s right. I said brand.

“Brand” can be a dirty word. It conjures tasteless images, overbearing advertising, manipulative marketing. Except I’m not just talking about all that “selling yourself” stuff.

Dick Wolf is a brand. Tina Fey is a brand. Ryan Murphy is a brand. Even Bryan Fuller recently became a popular Funko/Hannibal figurine.

We’ve talked a lot about what you can control. Who you are as a writer and person is one of those things.

You’ve probably seen J.J. Abrams’ TED Talk about his childhood “mystery box” and how it relates to his shows/movies — Alias, Lost, Super 8, Cloverfield. That is how he defines himself as a content creator.
He crafted a compelling narrative about who he is, what he writes, and why he writes it.

That’s the writer’s brand.

Think about your latest script.
Now think about why you wrote it.
Is there a personal connection? Can there be one?

“Who you are” can also translate beyond the page.

If you’re a comedy writer, there are now MANY ways you can show how funny you are:
– Twitter/Social media
– YouTube/Short-films
– Essays
– Plays
– Features
– Stand-up

All these “extra-curricular activities” are what sell you as an interesting person, and therefore a compelling writer.

As a creative entity in the 21st century, you have the power to define who you are, what you write, and why you write it. In other words: what is your story?

It’s not an easy question, which makes it a misunderstood and underrated part of this industry. But it can quickly become the missing linchpin to your TV writing success.

Who you are can be just as fascinating as what you do.

Step 4 – Write On

Being a TV writer is a journey.

Every “tactic” you may have heard about is useless without a coherent system. That is why this TV Calling roadmap exists.

We’ve held nothing back. These are all our tools to being a TV show writer. Even following just one of the paths on this page will expand your career.

Implementing all of them will make you unstoppable.

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