Should I Become a Television Writer?
TV writers develop and create the dialogue, plot, and action shown in television sitcoms and dramas. While TV shows typically have a group of writers who work together to create scripts, there is often a head writer or writer-producer who makes the final decisions.
Writers often have flexible schedules, but they usually must work on more than one project at a time and meet strict deadlines. Some writers are only able to find part-time work. TV writing jobs are often located in a few major cities, like Los Angeles or New York. Having a spec script, or speculative screenplay, is important to break into the industry.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Fields||English, journalism, communications|
|Experience||Previous writing experience|
|Key Skills||Creativity; communication and writing skills; perseverance|
|Salary||$60,250 (2015 median salary for all writers and authors)|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
While there is no direct pathway to becoming a TV writer, having a relevant bachelor's degree can be helpful. Previous writing experience is needed, and these professionals should have good communications skills and demonstrate creativity, perseverance, and dedication. According to 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, writers and authors earned a median salary of $60,250.
Steps to Become a Television Writer
Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program
Although a bachelor's degree isn't required to become a television writer, it can help to develop the fundamental techniques and skills necessary for this career. While the BLS suggests English, communications, or journalism degree programs for writers, aspiring television writers may also obtain training through film and television production, cinema, or creative writing programs. Some schools offer writing programs for those interested in the entertainment industry.
Film or creative writing degree programs may include classes such as screenwriting fundamentals, rewriting techniques, and genre-specific writing. Some programs may also instruct students in acting, directing, cinematography, and editing, which can help writers understand their roles in the overall production process.
Television writers are primarily hired based on their creativity and writing abilities rather than educational credentials. To develop writing skills, aspiring television writers must find time to dedicate to the ongoing writing practice.
Many of the aforementioned degree programs have internships or writing workshops to help students gain practical experience. Students may learn about story inception, scriptwriting, plot development, and teasers. An internship may also allow students to perform research and help with pre-production duties.
Step 2: Write a Spec Script
Most companies require applicants to submit polished spec scripts. According to information presented by the Warner Brother's Writers' Workshop, a compelling spec script catches the reader's attention, crafts interesting characters, presents a unique voice, and provides a meaningful message. Potential writers need to thoroughly understand the spec script format prior to writing one because these scripts differ from the more readily available shooting scripts.
Aspiring TV writers might consider focusing on a specific genre. Understanding the genre-specific conventions used by current writers is also critical, and potential writers can learn these conventions by watching episodes of television shows, attending writing workshops, and reading produced teleplays.
Step 3: Gain Experience
Television writers may start their careers by obtaining positions as interns, as well as entry-level positions in television production, such as writing assistants or script readers. These positions can help potential television writers understand the production process, provide networking opportunities, and ultimately obtain their first writing positions.
After gaining professional experience, writers may consider become members of a writers union, such as the Writers Guild of America. Through membership, writers can learn more about the business and have concrete knowledge about contracts, compensation, and residuals. The level of experience needed depends upon the membership level. Some of the membership benefits include access to writer-specific publications, discounted tickets to new film releases, and pension plans.
Individuals who want to work as television writers need writing experience and a spec script. And, a bachelor's degree in English, creative writing, journalism, or communications could be helpful.