Step one: Join a writers' group (or start your own)
I know, this isn't technically even writing, but it's a key first step. You want your spec to be the best you can possibly make it, right? And you know what's gonna make it better? Other writers. Yep, I don't care how smart you are, other writers will make your writing better.
Two brains are one better than one, and five are four better. Capice?
Other people will catch mistakes, inconsistencies, boring bits, and other bumpy areas in your writing that you yourself might never notice. They're also very good (sometimes annoyingly good) at making you deal with the rough patches that you know are there, but that your brain has convinced you to ignore because it's just too hard to fix them. Plus, it's a wonderful thing to have a little group of friends who are going through the exact same roller-coaster ride that you are. It makes one feel slightly less crazy for choosing TV Writing as a career, instead of, say, Accountancy.
Of course, the catch is, to get the full benefit from a writers' group, you must be wide wide open to hearing and processing other people's ideas about your work. You don't have to agree with everything that is said, but if you just sit there with your arms crossed thinking "these comments aren't very helpful" while people give you their constructive feedback, then you should just give up TV writing right now. It's a collaborative medium. If you don't want to collaborate, be a poet.
Where do I find a writers' group?
A lot of people ask me this. Actually, almost ever writer I've ever spoken to has asked me this.
You can start by searching online for writers' groups. To be honest, I didn't find this very helpful. I could not find a single group dedicated solely to TV writing, and though there is some merit in working with non-TV folk, I really wanted the specific passion and knowledge that goes along with the format.
Since there weren't any existing groups that appealed, I started my own. Where did I find the members? Online. I read people's blogs. The ones I liked, I contacted. All but one of the people I got in touch with were interested in starting a group.
You can also post on forums like the one on TVwriter.com. Or go old-school and put up a notice in your local library or web cafe (which I guess is kind of new-old school). You never know who lives just around the corner.
Even if you can only find a couple of people in your area, they can probably recommend other people, and so on, until you've got a good thing going. You might want to do a little vetting to make sure these people want the same thing out of a group as you do, but once you've found even two other people, get grouping. Our group has had a few personnel adjustments along the way, but everyone involved (past and present) are interesting, thoughtful, and exceptionally bright people who I'm happy to know. TV writers tend to be like that.
What if I live in McNowheresville?
You're so lucky it's 2008 and you can just go online and find other writers from other areas. Email your work and critiques back and forth or use an online tool like Google Docs to exchange your work. Hey, you could even go all high-tech and use something like iChat to video and voice chat with your group.
It might feel scary to reach out to a bunch of strangers, but you're gonna have to do a lot of reaching out between now and the time you eventually get hired in TV, so you might as well start practicing.
Okay, go on, get your group started. I'll wait. Once you're ready, we'll discuss Step Two: The Idea.
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