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10/01/2007: The Tween Life
Remember Gentle Reader Lauren in Michigan? She asked a bunch of questions in a recent letter about the day-to-day life of a professional writer. Well, I realize that I left one of her questions unanswered. In addition to wanting to hear what a writer does on a show, she also wanted to know what the writer's life is like between shows.
Ah, that's an interesting question. March-ish to May-ish are traditionally when a lot of shows are on hiatus, and writers find themselves without an office to go to until June. If you're staffed on a show that's returning for another season, and you know your contract is being renewed and you have no particular pressing ambitions beyond that, you can legitimately behave like a college student over the summer vacation. Take a trip, spend some money, employ your days gathering all that real-life experience that makes your writing better when you return to the room all refreshed. I have done this, and it is, of course, wonderful.
But usually that's not what happens. Odds are that the last show you were on is not coming back. Or maybe it is, but you've been told you're not being renewed -- this is not unusual and is not a career-killer although it feels like it at the time. In those cases, you're going to want to write new television specs. Maybe you want to expand your career into features, so you need a spec feature, too. Or maybe you want to set your goals higher than the show you're currently working on, so you need a spec that showcases your skills better than all the produced scripts you're accumulating. For these reasons or others, you're likely to spend your break writing new spec scripts.
You need them fairly quickly, too, since these are the calling cards that you will use toward the end of the hiatus to get interviews with any show runners who like what you wrote. And, by the way, since lower level writers are the last ones hired, you will sometimes be interviewed on a Friday for a job that starts on Monday. So you have to be mentally ready to jump back in.
In summary, your vacation will be spent working hard, and just when you find out if you've done your work well, it's over and you're back in the room.
Unless you aren't.
It's not unusual to spend a year here or there, early in your career, "unstaffed." Guess what you do on your year off? You write spec scripts. You can also do all those other things that help, of course: join writers' groups, make connections with other aspiring writers, produce short films and put 'em on the internet, get some short stories published, look for writers' assistant work, take classes from working writers, etc.
Every time you get hired after a hiatus, either a normal or an extended one, it's like you're a computer rebooting. You want to make sure you're also installing updates.
Lunch: beef shabu shabu