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Make Your Own Job!

By Patrick Kirkland · August 4, 2011

Years ago, I was at a Q&A with Spike Lee. Someone asked him about getting his start with She's Gotta Have It. He took a moment, breathed into the mic, and said, "Well, I got out of film school. And I went back to my apartment, and I waited for the phone to ring." It never rang. Lee was featured at a New Director's festival with his student graduate film not long before, and still, no phone calls. So what did he do? "I wrote a script, rented some equipment, and went to work." Four years later, he was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Do The Right Thing. Thing is now number 96 on AFI's 100 Movies list, and one of Ebert's top 10 picks of the 90's.

I'd say he made a job. 

As writers, I think we may be the biggest self-whiners on the planet. We suck. Nobody likes us. Everything we do is crap. Those people over there have it made. I wish I could be more like them. There's something about us that's hardwired to sit on the sidelines, noticing everything, but not taking part. And then we ask, why doesn't anyone notice us? Why doesn't anyone see our talent? Why doesn't anyone give us a job? And where – by the way – is our award? I'm just as guilty of sitting on the couch waiting for my phone to ring. And I'm just as frustrated when it doesn't. 

But we, as writers, have a secret that can put us to work anytime we choose: everyone else in the business depends on us. You know it. I know it. Everyone else? They don't know it. 

How many terrible pamphlets, newsletters, and scripts have you read? And then when you put in your one suggestion, someone says, "Oh, that's much better." Name your business, and there's a writer somewhere deep in the foundation. Words are everything. And to the entertainment industry, they're God. 

This isn't my ego, this is the truth. Imagine a film without a script, or a play without a story. Without writers, Lord of the Rings would never exist. Harry Potter would be a distant dream, and silent films would only be as interesting as watching "The Sneeze" over and over again. (If you haven't seen Fred Ott's The Sneeze, lucky you. It literally is just a sneeze, but it's an 1894 sneeze.) A world without writers would be one helluva boring mess. We know it. The world knows it. And yet, no one will admit to it. 

But you? You should take advantage of it. There may be a limited amount of spaces for bank tellers or lawyers, but for writers, there's always an open door. People make room for writers. People love writers. They're inspired by writers. The first question when you tell them you're a writer, "Oh, anything I've read?" They want writers around, if just to make themselves feel smarter. 

Talk to people. If you want to network, find the industry parties, and strike up a conversation. Listen to what they say. Carry on a conversation with that wit, that charm that you pour into your scripts all day long. Buy someone a drink, buy them lunch (dinner might be too expensive; after all, you're a writer). Listen to them as if they were your best friend; make them feel special. Great stories can come from these moments, and it's your job to find them. And meanwhile, building a relationship means that you might be able to call on them when you need them. Like, when your script is finished. 

There's no reason we should be sitting around our living rooms, waiting for the phone to ring. We are not waiting for the world. The world is waiting for us. I fully believe that a good writer will get noticed. A great script will be sold. The right person will come through. But it takes just that: a good writer, a great script, and the right person. And those things only come when you work at it. 

Sit down and write, and then go make friends. And when you're sitting there, after you've bought the first round, ask them. Would you like to hear a story?