If you’ve ever typed, “I want to become a writer where do I start?” into Google then you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the myriad of ways to make your dream come true. But which ones work? Which ones have actual tips to guide you?
In this post we’ll show you ten ways to move from writing as a hobby into writing as a job. Through these ten steps, the road to becoming a writer will look more actionable and achievable than ever before.
Keep in mind that your status as a writer is not determined by whether you pay the rent from being a writer.
Charles Bukowski worked in a post office.
James Joyce operated a cinema.
Quentin Tarantino worked in a video store.
Louis C.K. made fried chicken.
They’re writers now and they were writers then.
But it’s important to recognize that it’s one thing to sit and write in your spare time and collect formulated rejection emails or scour for comedy writing jobs.
It’s another to be a part of the action in the entertainment industry.
1. Become a writer by starting as a writer's production assistant
One proven way to learn how to become a writer is to start at the bottom and work your way up.
In the case of the entertainment industry that means getting started as a production assistant (or PA).
Every show and movie in Hollywood needs an army of PAs. They re often split into three categories: set, office, and writers'.
While they're all at the bottom of the rung, there is only one writers' PA, while there are many of the other types.
As such those writers’ PA positions tend to be the most coveted.
But what if can't land the writers' PA job?
Becoming a writer as a production assistant 2: the office p.A.
The other viable and more likely option is to become an office PA. It's a great way to learn the ins and outs of how a TV show or movie gets made
You'll have a hand in every department. You'll get to know, and learn from, everyone else in the process.
You'll be the first person there to open the place up for the first crew member to show up in the morning.
You might also work the late shift until one o'clock the next morning when the writers finally finish their rewrite and send you the script to make copies for everyone about to show up in five hours.
Is it a tough gig of going on runs, getting lunches, and rolling phone calls?
Is having an awesome attitude and doing a good job a way to impress producers?
It's not just about who you know in Hollywood, it's also about what they think of you. Being a PA is a chance to make a great impression on someone who could read your script or hire you as a writers' assistant. This is a prefect place to start for someone searching for how to become a writer.
2. Get a job as an assistant for a literary agent
If the instability of working on a show or movie isn't your thing, try taking the business route and get a job on a lit agent's desk.
CAA, UTA, WME, ICM, Mosaic, Paradigm, Kaplan Stahler...
The list goes on and on. Agencies have a firm foothold in Hollywood and they can play a key part in how you start to become a writer.
While getting an agent is an amorphous, vague process that has no strict avenue, becoming an assistant to one provides a myriad of benefits.
First, you get a great look at how to become a writer via the business side. Watching an agent try to sell a script, how writers take meetings and with whom, seeing how one writer becomes successful while another fails.
Those are all excellent insights into how TV and film work.
But there is another huge benefit to becoming a lit agent's assistant.
Become a writer by READING scripts
As a lit agents assistant you're going to read scripts.
Lots of scripts. Every day. And a excellent way to become a better writer is to read scripts non-stop.
Well for one, you'll learn how important it is that first five to ten pages of a script should always stand out. Because if those pages don't grab a reader the script is being put down.
How do you set up the premise of your story, and the ensuing conflict, quickly and effectively? The more scripts you read the better you'll get at it!
Another benefit to the agency assistant path? It's a crash course on the business of writing, and every day of work is chock full of connections.
Those connections can create a bridge that gets you off someone's desk and into the next stop along your way.
It's also not uncommon for many lit assistants to throw their own work into their boss's reading pile, which can lead to a number of opportunities for becoming a writer.
Of course there are great tips we can provide on how to grab your reader within the first five to then paages, and they come down to how you utilize and build towards your inciting incident.
3. Become an Executive's assistant to learn how to write a T.V. show
Similar to the previous position, every studio and network has a stable of development executives who all have assistants.
Those assistants read the scripts submitted by agents and writers. They also roll calls and schedule meetings, like an agent's assistant.
But a great way to becoming a writer is to not only read all the submissions, but have the opportunity to watch a show grow and develop over time.
This is a position that can lead to valuable insight into the television process - from greenlight to cancellation - and also into how to become a writer.
Much like with lit assistants, it’s not uncommon for development assistants to carefully use their position as a way to get their own shows in development.
They might even pen an episode or two along the way.
Becoming a writer is dependent on knowing this process and making connections in this sphere.
4. Submit to fellowships and contests
Every year, hundreds of people submit to dozens of contests. All of those are judged by established industry players. Development executives, lit agents, directors, producers, etc...
The kind of people you want reading your script.
More often than not, the winners will either see their movie get ushered into the development process, or use it as a way to work on another project.
Regardless, winning a contest is a great credit on a resume, a way to get your work read, and another possible answer to the question of how to become a writer.
Some top competitions are:
5. Write and produce your web series
Becuase many shows, such as High Maintenance, started as a web-series and got gobbled up by networks and studios looking to cash in on a built-in audience.
Having a webseries isn't just a great way to prove to a studio executive that your show has legs (and an audience), but can also be useful in a pitch. If you're struggling at all with the question of how to pitch a TV show, we have a a lot of tips and techniques to help you out there as well.
Not everyone can read your script and see it the same way you can, so having a physical copy of how it would look, feel, and sound is a great way to help sell it.
Also, as we said earlier, if you’re looking for an answer to how to become a writer, all you have to do is write. The same is true for making your show.
No one can stop you from producing your pilot as a web series and posting it.
Need some ideas?
6. Write and produce your indie or short
Much like the web series, with the rise of Kickstarter and Indiegogo it's become easier than ever to crowdfund a film.
Additionally, with camera technology exploding, major motion pictures (like Unsane and Tangerine) are being shot on smartphones.
A famous version, before the rise of crowdfunding and iPhones, was Kevin Smith's movie, Clerks.
Smith took out loans and maxed out credit cards to buy equipment and film and shot the whole movie for no more than $30,000.
He submitted it to Sundance, it got accepted, and then Miramax bought the rights and put it in theaters where it drew $3.2 million.
Pretty good return for someone who shot the movie whenever he wasn’t working.
These days, though, you don't have to put a dent in your credit score and buy costly film to put yourself on the path to becoming a writer.
All you need is a smartphone and a willingness to go the extra mile to write, shoot, and edit your own film.
Well that's not really ALL you need. If you really want to maximize with limited resources you need to kill it when it comes to planning and organizing from the production side.
The best way to do that is with tried and true production tools. Once you lock down that script, use production software to build a shooting schedule using these 15 pro tips. The more robust your scheduling software, the more details you'll be able to get.
The advantage of this? It costs you almost nothing to plan everything out, and that effort you put into the planning stages will pay huge dividends when you are up against it time wise on set.
StudioBinder's strip board and shooting scheduling functionality in action
7. Write and produce a play
Similar to making a web-series or a short film, putting up a play is another avenue to showcase your writing talents.
This is an especially great way to get noticed, as the internet is an oversaturated platform with hours and hours of content.
That's a lot to compete with.
Whereas plays are far and few between, especially a good one.
Adding an effective marketing plan can put butts in seats and eyes on your name. Give industry workers (like agents and development executives) comped tickets to draw them away from their busy schedules and into the theater.
While at this point you could say that you are a writer, this is a great way to push the "how to be a writer" boulder up the hill.
Making content, regardless of who or how it gets funded, immediately puts you into a more exclusive group of those who actually get the job done.
8. How to become a comedy writer by doing standup
If you're trying to figure out how to write comedy, doing standup is a great way to learn.
Standup is also a great inroad into being a writer.
It’s a medium that can show off your writing skills as well as your performance skills, confidence, and charm. The process requires individuals to sharply hone and refine all these traits.
It's one thing to do standup once and cross it off a bucket list, it's another to work at it every day. In order to get anything out of the time, you have to work at it.
Stand-up, like all arts and trades, requires consistent practice. It also requires the ability to cut and rewrite jokes.
And, most importantly, to be able to accept (and learn from) failure.
In order to get good enough at stand-up to lampoon it into a writing career, you have to do at least an hour of stand up per week, every week.
If every open mic gets you about five minutes of time, that you means you have to hit twelve open mics per week. Factor in shows that will give you seven or eight minutes and that number can change.
If you do an hour of standup per week, most of your weeknights and some of your weekends will be spent doing standup and hitting open mics until late at night.
This much practice will help you learn how to write comedy, what type of humor works best for you, and, more importantly, how to deal with bombing.
More often than not, you won't get the laughs you want. But like all writing, rejection is more common than acceptance.
And, like always, writing is rewriting.
Doing standup is a great way to show that you know how to write comedy and use that to land comedy writing jobs.
9. How to become a writer in the digital age
In today's digital age, the internet is a necessary tool to learn how to become a writer.
It brought you here, didn’t it?
Starting with blogs and self-published e-books, we also now have the ability to show off writing skills 280 characters at a time with Twitter.
For example, Sh!t My Dad Says become a show based off a twitter account that went viral. Both Kelly Oxford and Diablo Cody were "found" by the popularity of their blogs.
Becoming a writer isn’t out of your reach when all you need to do is create a username and password.
10. Write great commercials
How to become a writer, regardless of the way, always requires a body of work to show for.
Oftentimes, that's in the shape of a personal library of scripts. But if you're fortunate enough to have a day job where you can produce content - branded or not - that can be very useful for becoming a writer.
And believe it or not, there are some really useful tips on how to write the best advertising copy using logos, pathos and ethos.
Being able to show studio executives and agents that your writing is something that's been invested in and broadcasted adds experience and legitimacy.
Furthermore, if you're looking to grab comedy writing jobs, this can be a great way to show off humor.
While it may be hard to get the best jokes across while adhering to a brand's voice, it's not uncommon for copywriters to become comedy writers.
A great commercial or digital spot can show that you know how to write for a visual medium and how to write comedy.
While it may seem like an overwhelming pursuit, how to become a writer isn't as tough as you think it is if you follow at least one of these steps.
Combining more than one can drastically increase your chances of becoming a writer or nailing a comedy writing job .
It's not uncommon for office PAs to produce their own web series or for a development assistant to use their connections to help produce a play or an indie.
And, in today's nebulous world of branded content, many companies are looking for strong narratives to sell their products.
So a standup who is also copywriter during the day can create a compelling series gently framed as a form of marketing.
Actually, all of these are ways to show that you already know how to become a writer.
You just need to start writing.
So whichever avenue you take, make sure you write as well as you can.Up next, check out how some of our writing tips and techniques, like using Dan Harmon's story circle to flesh out every step of your narrative!
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