Welcome to the inaugural post of our new series: Lessons From The First Year In A Writers’ Room
Remember – It’s Just the Process
In my first job as a staff writer, I experienced the dreaded “throwing out of a script” by top brass pretty early on. I have since learned it’s not uncommon for producers or studio executives to have a difference of opinion about a given episode and decide against a show premise after the script has been written. It can be disheartening, but it’s also part of the process.
On this occasion, when news hit the writers’ room that the episode would not survive, we had to quickly shift from disappointment to proliferation. We had to generate a new show idea fast or risk falling behind on our schedule for script delivery.
Writers alternated between tossing out ideas and counting the tiles in the ceiling for what seemed like an eternity. Unfortunately, none of the new ideas excited the showrunner — and it was clear we were going to stay in the writers’ room until one did. I had been mostly quiet. Eventually, the room got quiet as well. We were all spent. Finally, I decided to pitch an idea that I had hours ago dismissed as not good enough to say out loud. To my surprise, the showrunner’s eyes lit up. He said “put it on the board.” We began breaking the episode.
Later, when we were finally released to take a break, the Co-Executive Producer followed me into my office. We had a pretty jovial relationship, so I was a little unsettled when he took a seat, looked me square in the eyes and focused on me with an intensity I hadn’t seen from him before. He seemed to think deeply and work to compose himself as he gathered words that I will never forget: “Always be pitching, Sylvia. Always. Be. Pitching.”
I responded with a burst of nervous laughter. Eventually, he laughed with me. I learned several lessons through that brief exchange. First, never assume someone else will have the answers because they outrank you or just out-talk you. Be confident in your abilities without comparison to anyone else.
It’s A Team Effort
Second, never hoard ideas. It’s a team effort. We are all working to make every episode great — not just the one that will have your name on it. If you have one good idea, rest assured you will have many more to follow.
Lastly, even if yours is just a germ of a concept, speak up. It might spark a bigger idea in someone else. Before long, your nascent thought may become a building block for a plot point, a storyline or even an episode. Great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere — especially you.
Sylvia L. Jones is a writer, producer, and recovering journalist. Her work includes Cherish The Day (OWN), Tell Me A Story (CBS All Access), Pearson (USA Network), The Chi (Showtime) and The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel (Lifetime). She most enjoys aisle seats, sweet potato pie and the view along Lake Shore Drive.