Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Something that annoys me about "How I got started" stories

As an aspiring writer, I from time to time go to panels or Q&A's with more established writers to learn things. Inevitably, someone asks the writer to tell their story of how they became a writer.

Here's how it always goes. Start with something humble. For example, "I had just moved to LA and didn't know anyone, so I was sleeping in my car parked on a random cul-de-sac in the valley." or "I had spent 6 years being a lawyer, and decided that wasn't what I wanted to do anymore, so I gave writing a shot."

That part we all get. We're assistants, waiters, caterers, or any other random peon job that woefully attempts to pay the bills while we try writing. So we all perk up to listen to the next bit, to find out how they escaped from peon-land and into the world of "wow I get paid to do this, awesome."

Here's how the stories always continue, "And then I got my agent, and he started sending me out on meetings, and I met with [some showrunner we all want to work with] and they brought me on as a staff writer."

It always skips to the "and then I got my agent" part. With no explanation. We all get that once you have CAA or WME or some agency like that you're going to get meetings. And if you're good, those meetings will eventually turn into jobs. That's not the grand mystery we came to the panel to discover.

I wish they would tell us the actual stories of just how they got representation in the first place, because that's the hurdle that we all keep getting stuck behind as we toil in obscurity. That's why I get 5 random phone calls and 6 query letters a day from wannabe writers somewhere in middle America who think that all they need to become Charlie Kaufman overnight is to open the yellow pages and start calling numbers listed under "agency."

So if anyone who reads this is a writer who will speak at a panel for aspiring writers, tell us the REAL story. Was it the one query letter that got through? Doubtful. More likely it's that you met an agent at a party or something and hit it off. Or someone owed you a favor for helping them move a sofa/bedroom set/dead body from their house. Or you were sleeping with somebody who was an agent/worked for an agent/was also sleeping with an agent.

What it could also be is that most agents will look at other writers one of their writer clients say to look at. Maybe that's how everyone gets their agent. And maybe that's the reason writers don't talk about that part, because then every aspiring writer will start pestering THEM with the query letters and phone calls to try to bring their "really original idea" to their agent.

Right now we're at a stage where the whole industry doesn't know what's coming next. Everyone in power cut their teeth during the mid 90's "must see tv" era or earlier. They don't know what to make of new media, though smart companies are making deals with Netflix. Business as usual is still good enough business that nobody needs to look ahead. And until they do start looking ahead, it's going to be tough for the young aspiring writers. In the meanwhile, we just have to keep at it I suppose.

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