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What the World Cup can teach you about television writing

As the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is about to close, you might come to realize that association “soccer” football is closer to the world of television writing than you realize. You don’t have to be a fan, or even care about football to appreciate a few valuable lessons that can be applied to TV writers.
Let’s start off with the most obvious.

Be in shape to play the game

For the same reason you don’t see overweight people running around the field, you won’t see a professional TV writer who is ignorant of act breaks, A/B/C stories, character arcs, script formatting and grammar.
Learn, write, and learn again.
You don’t need to be a master at everything, but at least be aware of the rules before playing.

You don’t have to be big to become big

I’m a firm believer that, even if you’re an unknown, at the end of the day everyone has their shot.
Take a cue from underdogs like Uruguay, Ghana and, yes, the U.S., whose teams managed to defeat and even outlast most of the favorites. Finalist Spain was even beaten in the group stage by Switzerland!
It’s not because people don’t see you right now as important that you won’t be in the near future. You can aim high.
Trust yourself and your writing.

Be ready

Upsets and surprises can happen anytime, whether on the field or in real life. Hollywood is an unpredictable place (except for the weekly superhero movie), so when opportunity comes knocking, you better have your awesome specs ready. In football, the offense must be at all times prepared to receive the ball, and score. Do the same.

Don’t be cocky

You’ve heard the adage, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well even if you’re halfway there, you still need to make the next step. Translation: even if the writing job you’re given isn’t what you’ve dreamed of, think twice before saying no. You can be sure someone else is ready to tackle you and take that job in your place, and you might regret it. If you drop the ball, you will lose it.

Passion is key

Being a soccer player in America is kind of like being a television writer. It’s a full-time gig, you’re underpaid compared to other writers/athletes at the same level, and no one outside your profession takes you seriously.
So why do you really want to become a TV writer?
Ironically, the U.S. team went far because of their gusto. You could feel from their game that they were playing because they loved the sport, they loved their teammates, and they loved to give a hundred percent of themselves for it all.
On the other hand, spoiled Italian and French players were “playing” as if it was a burden. The passion was gone.
Please, don’t be that guy.
Find a way to remind yourself daily of why you want to be a TV writer.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

If this World Cup showed us anything, it is that favorites may not be as amazing as previously thought. Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Portugal, England, how many of them ended up disappointing their fans – and the people who bet on them.
Instead of going all-in by supporting your one script, you need to have a wide variety of specs ready to show. You might have a favorite, and that’s okay, but don’t let it deter you from writing other spec scripts from other genres and formats.
You came here to write, prove it.

It’s a team sport before all

Perhaps the greatest comparison between television and football is that both are based on team play. Everyone is working together to attain a common goal (literally). You will be surrounded by teammates, so play ball (figuratively). Pass it around, trust your comrades, and respect the process. No matter how great, rarely can a single player save the whole team. Case in point this year with Messi and Ronaldo.
If you put faith in other people, the ball will come back around (in a good way).
With that said…

Take the shot

Don’t expect that everyone will constantly be holding your hand (or foot for that matter). If you’re lucky, you might be guided along the way by kind writer souls (aka mentors), but when everything is in alignment, you need to score. There can be so many passes between the players before someone needs to step up. Sometimes, it is good to take the initiative.

Know that people will blame the coach

There will come a time where you will be an exec, and perhaps even a show-runner.
The sad truth is that, like in football, the main guy who gets blamed for all the problems is the coach (you). Yes, we just said it was a team sport, but still. Whether with the audience (“that episode was sh*t!”), with the VP (“that episode was expensive!”), or with your players (“fire him or I quit!”), when something goes wrong, you will be at fault.
Nine times out of ten, you will need to accept this and move on. The one time you might pull a Fabio Capello, and get your contract renewed, even if all has failed.

The game is sometimes unfair

Like with Suarez’s handball which prevented Ghana from moving on, you might be surprised at some of the tactics used by some to move ahead, as well as the shows being made compared to those that aren’t. This is no reason to be bitter at other people’s success. Embrace this opportunity to prove once more your originality.

Never lose hope

Even if you think you’re outplayed and you may get eliminated, never despair. The best example this tournament is undoubtedly Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal. This example actually can be extrapolated to the entire performance of the U.S. team. Indeed, in every game they seemed to be both outmatched and losing (1-0 for England, 2-0 for Slovenia, 1-0 for Ghana), but every time, the team was able to overcome their apparent inferiority and actually transform a downside into an upside. The team was reacting instead of suffering.
When you are down, get out of this vicious circle and realize that you can get back up.
This brings me to my next point.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again

We’ve had our fair share of incredible matches with the German team, but the semi-final where Spain defeated them was for most non-aficionados a bore. Why? Not a lot of goals means no action, right?
The truth is that during the whole 90 minutes of play, both teams were probing each other’s defense, trying to find holes, and exploiting them to score.
It might not have been spectacular for outside viewers, but it is very effective.
In the TV world, this can be compared to ideas being pitched.
You might not be able to get them through the first few times, but the more you try, the greater your chances are at having a few of them heard, and perhaps getting made. It takes some work, and a lot of patience, but with such fierce competition on the other side, you can’t expect to score on your first try.

Believe in yourself.
Write the future.

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