The #1 Skill You Need To Write For TV (Besides Fantastic Writing)

This could be our worst visual pun yet. OTOH, it’s a very good saw. And an even better article.

by Alex Bloom

The ability to craft stories which emotionally move audiences is the most important skill any writer must acquire if they wish to break into writing for TV. However, “making it” as a TV writer — getting staffed on a show, or creating your own — requires a certain key skill that has nothing to do with how good a writer you may or may not be.

Part of making it as a professional writer in TV also involves receiving feedback on your work from people who can help your career, i.e. showrunners, managers, producers, etc. The relationship between aspiring TV writer and that someone who can help their career, usually falls into one of three camps:

1. Writer wants to start a working relationship with person who works in the industry

2. Writer has a relationship with someone who works in the industry and wants to hold onto it

3. Writer has a relationship with someone who works in the industry but wants to find someone else

In any of the three scenarios, it’s important that you strive to be (or remain) the kind of writer people want to work with.

It’s hard not overstate how important this is. People want to work with writers who are not only exceptional, hard-working writers, but who are patient, charming and easy-going. This means, above all else, having an ability to collaborate and take negative criticism on board.

Working in TV, even more so than in features, requires collaboration. And so if you’re not the kind of writer who takes criticism from others well — sometimes quite harsh criticism — then it’s important that you learn how. Otherwise you could find it extremely difficult to forge any significant relationships with people who can help your career.

No one wants to work with a writer who’s known around town as “difficult”, (a little movie called Tootsie sums this up perfectly) so make sure that whenever you have any dealings with someone who can help your career, you’re polite, collaborative, open to ideas and willing to learn.

5 Key Points To Remember When Sending Out Your Work

1. Criticism is usually given in good faith with the aim of trying to help make your writing better than it is at the moment. So try not to be the writer who angrily tells them they know nothing and have totally missed the point of your work. They’ve taken time out of their day to read your script and tell you what they think of it. They didn’t have to.

2. When someone criticizes your work, don’t take it personally. Feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, is always just one person’s opinion. They may be right, but they also may be wrong.

3. Sometimes producers, managers, script readers, etc. may indeed have missed the point of your story. If you strongly believe this is the case, respectfully thank them for their notes and then get a second opinion. You don’t have to pay any attention to feedback if you don’t want to.

4. Hollywood’s a smaller place than many aspiring writers think, so don’t assume that an email angrily fired off at someone reprimanding them for their feedback won’t come back to bite you. They may decide to tell everyone they know that you’re a “difficult writer” and in one stroke you’ve just halved your chances of gaining representation.

5. Whatever you do, don’t become that “nuisance writer” always bugging people for feedback. Be polite, patient and sparse in your correspondence. If you submit a query letter, or sample of your work to someone, wait a couple weeks before sending them a very short note asking if they’ve had a chance to look at it. If you receive a “thanks but no thanks” reply to your submission, politely ask for feedback as to why they rejected it, if they haven’t given a reason, but don’t persist. If you receive negative feedback, simply thank them for their time, file the email in a “rejected” folder and move on.

Follow these tips when trying to build relationships and you will be giving yourself the best possible chance of building the connections you need to kick-start your TV writing career.

Alex Bloom is the founder of Script Reader Pro – a screenplay consultancy offering a set of hands-on tools for TV and screenwriters, including script coverage and an online screenwriting course.