by Marla White
Writers of every level face the same daunting obstacle – the blank computer screen looming in front of them. So what kinds of daily writing habits do successful television writers follow to achieve their goals? I asked a few friends, including prolific TV Producer/Writer DJ Nash, creator of the ABC hit “A Million Little Things” to find the answer. While some answers may surprise you, the one habit they all adhere to isn’t all that shocking – they write. Every. Day.
First, I asked a couple of writing teams how they cope for all you writers out there who work with a partner or are just curious how the process goes.
I've known and adored Mark and Steve for years and admire the passion and enthusiasm they bring to any meeting. Their key to success (The Librarians, Agent X, Necessary Roughness & Castle to name a few) is pretty simple. “…always write. Never skip a day. Always finesse your craft, to paraphrase, Alec Baldwin in Glengarry, always be writing. ABW.
Working as a team has it’s own unique challenges. “The advantage of being a writing team is you can do double the work for half the money. The disadvantage is you're doing double the work for half the money.” They advise any writing team to use its "two heads are better than one" advantage and maximize the advantage of being two people. “Or as we prefer to think of it Ray Milland and Rosie Greer in "The Thing With Two Heads." While one person is writing, the other can be doing research or working on a spec pilot while you're on assignment on another project.” They encourage any potential writing partnerships to use the extra brainpower to your advantage and don’t see it as a way to only commit half of your time. “The reason we've had a successful partnership going on a decade now is because we both have different strengths and always bring something different to the room and to our work.”
Tawyna has been a friend and inspiration, generously giving her time and energy to help up and coming writers. She and Ali came up through Writers on the Verge and the Fox Writer’s Initiative program to enjoy a successful career on shows like “A Millions Little Things,” “Famous in Love,” “The Night Shift” and “Perception”. So how did they do it?
“We write. Some days you're in the groove and some days it's a struggle. Writing is rewriting so it's important to put it down on the page and then go from there.” They get inspiration for stories by reading books and magazines, watching TV series and movies and in general getting out their and living a little. They don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration to strike. “Writing, like any other job, is a job.”
They view working as a team in very much the same way Mark & Steve do. “You should compliment each others' writing, have the same work ethic and goals. We develop together and sometimes outline together or split the outline up and we split up the draft, too. Sometimes one of us will do the heavy lifting with the development of a project, and the other will do more of the rewriting and polishing. Life is not a pie, nor is a partnership. You can't be constantly measuring who does what or you're doomed.”
So what daily habits do the solo acts do?
Nancylee is an Emmy Award winning writer with over 20 years of experience and a wide variety of shows from comedy to mystery ("NCIS: New Orleans," "Nicki & Nora," "Night Court," etc.). We bonded over her love of gambling on Thoroughbreds and her constant drive to find new platforms for her stories. What habits drive her to continued success?
“I try to get up and start writing ASAP while my brain is still in dream surfing mode.” That way she’s able to tell the stories of the characters she’s creating without being influenced by every day and her own personal story. When she gets stuck or needs to solve a problem she goes for a walk someplace inspiring or comforting. “I listen to a playlist that makes me happy. And when a breakthrough or idea comes through - I record it on my phone to write down later.” If the breakthrough doesn't happen, she happily notes that at least she got off her butt for an hour!
Nancylee also likes to roll OG style. “I buy a new journal every year for ideas, pitches, dialog thoughts, etc. It goes with me to meetings, when I travel, etc. I like to be free to roam without the computer - and know that my musings will be in one location vs. on bar napkins or the back of business cards.” She also has a scrapbook filled with quotes or stories that inspire her for encouragement when she gets stuck.
Finally, a couple of times a week she goes to her "satellite" office, an Irish Pub near her house. “You hear different voices and conversations. You can focus on your writing not on the "Honey Do List" hanging on your fridge.”
Lizzie is a wonderfully talented and witty British writer with a long list of credits including the upcoming TNT series “Snowpiercer,” Netflix’s “Bloodline,” “Proof” and “The Following”.
Her advice is a little bit less of a daily habit for writing and more of a life lesson. She encourages writers to remember why you loved what you wrote and were so excited by it to begin with. “When you are buffeted by a deluge of notes always go back to - this was my vision. The notes will still have to be answered but as long as you always hang onto your first impulse you can hang on to the best version of your show.”
Prolific genius and genuinely one of the funniest and nicest people I’ve ever met, DJ’s advice is simple. “My big thing is I write FIRST thing in the morning— before I brush my teeth or anything. Because I don’t judge myself that early in the morning. Afternoons are for judging and re-writing.”
Starting to see a theme here?
Finally, some of the best advice on writing I’ve ever heard comes from RITA Award winning novelist Sherry Thomas. At a keynote speech I was fortunate enough to hear back in October, her words stick with me to this day. Her advice was to be kind to yourself. Give yourself notes as if you were giving them to a friend. All too often we criticize ourselves too harshly, using thoughts or words we’d never say to a friend or even a co-worker. Treat yourself with as much respect as you’d give a fellow writer and you might find yourself living up to the title!
What daily disciplines do you find helpful to keep you on track for writing? Post a comment to let us know!