A few months ago I decided that 2017 would be the year I confidently added ‘TV Writer’ to my resume. Not saying I’ll necessarily get hired to write for a TV show this year (but wouldn’t that be cool?), but rather I will be confident in my skills to do so.
How was I planning to do this? A stupidly ambitious/stressful endeavor called: Project 12 Pilots. I didn’t feel the need to be creative with the project title. Saving my creativity for the project itself. It’s pretty self explanatory. By the end of 2017 I want to have twelve different original pilot scripts in my hands. One per month…crazy, right?
Why am I doing this? I have many artistic talents I could focus my energy/effort into. So, why writing? And why television?
I currently perform and teach improv as my meager living. I’m great at both. Love ’em. And I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Even if I made it crazy big and became a revered and famous name I would still make time to perform and teach improv. But I don’t want to stake my financial future on teaching or performing. They simply don’t pay that well.
I used to perform stand up for ten years. I loved it. But the life of a stand up is often filled with a lot of solo travel between low grade motels. And I just don’t want to do that.
I am an actor and have built up my resume over the years. If I pushed it hard enough I could probably gain some more traction as such. And while I’m still going to audition and act, I do not want to focus the majority of my energy on that.
I have always loved writing. I was a writer/artist before I was anything else. Some of my happiest memories are of me alone in my bedroom in Texas on a cool spring afternoon with the window open so I could feel the breeze, lying front side down while doodling/writing in one of the many sketch books my mom had bought me. I drew and wrote about characters and stories. I created comic books, short stories, songs, info pages and portraits on those beautiful blank pages.
Most of what I did as a young age, was super derivative of existing works. For example, I wrote 4 or 5 issues of a comic book called ‘Teenage War Raccoons’ which were raccoon versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They had different weapons and names, but otherwise it was pretty much the same. They’re enemy’s name was ‘Dicer.’ Damn, I was clever.
Other than stand up, sketch and occasional prose I went for years without writing. I focused on performing. And I got good. I have a resume I’m super proud of as a performer. I’ve worked for Second City, Mission Improvable, ComedySportz, Comedy Shrine, the iO and many other places. My two man troupe Rollin’ In Riches has performed in eight states and been asked to teach workshops in multiple cities and festivals. I am currently a member of Mission Improvable who routinely plays to sold out houses every Friday and Saturday night in Santa Monica. I love what all I’ve accomplished as a performer.
And now I want another challenge. I want to reinvent myself with something that I have been since I was a child.
By the way, writing this blog post is insanely difficult for me. I apologize if I come off as bragging. My whole life I have been turned off by braggarts while simultaneously always feeling insecure about my accomplishments. And for the first time I’m completely secure in saying that I’m good at something. It still feels weird to say, but I realize that ‘bragging’ comes from insecurity. While knowing you’re good at something comes from self confidence – a trait I have worked hard to build up, because I never had any my whole life.
Anyway, back to the project. Why television and not movies or plays or novels? A few reasons.
1. Time invested. I have experienced more television than theatre, cinema or novels. I love them all, but at the end of the day, I have logged more hours experiencing it.
2. Time v. Output. I don’t currently have the patience to write a novel. I finished the rough draft of one last year and I understand how much time it’s going to take me to revise it several times before I have a finished product. I want to have something I can label ‘finished’ sooner than the next year. Same goes for plays or screenplays. It simply doesn’t take as long to finish a pilot, because it’s shorter. If I modified this project I bet I could only finish 1 novel, 2 or 3 screenplays, or 2 or 3 plays by the end of this year at best. I’d rather have 12 pilots.
So, why twelve?
I had already written one pilot before. It took me about eight weeks, but I wasn’t super focused. I am assuming I can knock one out per month and have the endurance to keep that up for a year.
Will this work?
Yes. Either I’ll make twelve scripts or I won’t. If I don’t, I’ll have learned a lot from the experience. If I do, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.
And that’s the crucial point for this post. I am okay with failing at this. It’s the only way I can embark on this ridiculous commitment. If It was ‘succeed or die’ I’d feel too much pressure and just quit before I started.
I am racing to failure. I write something like ‘work on your outline today (dare to make it super shitty)’ on my to do lists. Again, it’s the only way I can do them. If every outline, draft, joke had to be awesome I would be paralyzed with overthinking each move and I wouldn’t get it done. And I’d quit.
I am trying to anticipate what will cause me to not finish this project and fix the problem before it starts. While there are many other things I’m doing, the most important is the mantra ‘dare to fail.’ It’s what I tell my improv students. And it’s easier for me to say. I have been doing improv for 18 years. So, now I’m putting it to practice with something that truly scares me.
At the end of the year I aim to have twelve pilots. They might all suck. But will I have lost much? I will either get better as I do it or I’ll learn that I can’t get better and abandon the idea. Sounds like I win either way. And either way, I will be able to completely back up the statement, “I am a TV writer.”