A mutual friend introduced me to LaToya soon after she finished the Warner Brothers Writers’ Workshop. I thought her journey was very inspiring, so I asked if she’d be willing to share her experiences.
What spec did you submit to get into the WB Writers’ Workshop? What made you pick that show?
SONS OF ANARCHY. I love the show and thought it would be a good vehicle to showcase my ability to write gritty, masculine characters as well as action. It was a fun spec to write.
How many scripts did you write before you were accepted? Did you submit to the other writing programs?
I wrote several features and four TV specs prior to the Workshop. I applied to several of the writing fellowships in previous years but last year I only applied to Warner Bros. The Warner Bros. Workshop is the gold standard and I wanted into that one more than any other.
What was the WB program like?
The program is an intense simulated writers room. It equips you with many of the intangible tools that a writer needs to be successful in their first writing job. Guest speakers who are directors, showrunners and studio executives also come in and share stories about their jobs and how writers are expected to work with them. It’s very insightful and useful. The workshop classes are once a week in the evenings so it’s something that can easily fit into a full time work schedule as long as you make time to write.
Can you talk about what happened after the WB program? (getting staffed, getting an agent)
Staffing for everyone is different, but for me it started off with meetings that were set for existing WB shows and some of the pilots that were coming down the pipeline. I was lucky enough to have several great interviews and eventually landed a job on John Wells’ Showtime series SHAMELESS. It’s a show I was already a huge fan of so it was extremely exciting to be hired there as the new staff writer. As I was taking meetings on shows, I was simultaneously going on agency meetings around town and landed at CAA.
If you didn’t get into the workshop, what would your life be like right now? What would your strategy be to break in?
If I hadn’t gotten into the Workshop, I’d still be writing new scripts. A writer trying to break in constantly has to produce new material. Networking is also key, so when you’re not chained to the keyboard, try to get out and meet new people and make connections.
What kind of hours did you put into writing, before and during the WB program?
I write at least three hours every day, including weekends. Usually, it’s much more than that depending on what I’m writing. I find that keeping a schedule helps me stay on track.
What’s your writing process like? Any idiosyncrasies?
My process is fluid in some respects. Sometimes a nearly fully-formed idea will just come to me and I’ll flesh it out. Other times, it’s just a fragment of a character or topic and I have to do research. Both ways are fun and I love discovering the story I want to tell along the way. I always outline. Mostly because I’m a Type A person and need order to function. Using outlines also makes it easier to see plot holes that need to be fixed or characters that need to be developed. It’s a good road map.
I’m definitely a computer person when I’m really getting down to writing the finished product, but as I’m figuring out the story, I like to use pen and paper. I’m a spiral notebook and rollerball pen kinda girl. I go to coffee shops and listen to my iPod a lot. Usually story appropriate mood music, especially film scores. I can’t tell you how much mileage I’ve gotten out of Thomas Newman’s score for The Shawshank Redemption. That and Elmer Bernstein’s score for To Kill a Mockingbird are two of my favorites. I hunker down with my java and let the ideas flow.
What makes a script stand out to you, both good and bad?
Good scripts stand out when you can feel the writer’s true voice in the way their material unfolds. It’s unmistakable. You can feel the writer’s command of the story and you want to take that journey with them and keep turning pages. With bad writing, it’s almost the exact opposite. A script can be technically flawless, but if there’s nothing behind the words and there’s no emotion carrying the piece, then it’s something that you can easily put aside. It’s like good food. When it’s great, you can’t stop gorging yourself. When it’s bad, you toss it.
Besides writing skill, what else do you need to be a successful writer?
Personality goes a long way in this industry. Especially in television where you work as a team to tell great stories. To be successful, you have to be both talented and the kind of person that people like to have around. Having a good attitude is essential.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
In the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, the salesmen had to ABC — Always Be Closing. Aspiring writers have to ABW — Always Be Writing. The acronym isn’t as pretty, but it’s definitely true. Above all things, writers have to write.
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So much great information! Her dedication to her craft is clearly evident, and it’s no wonder she’s found success. Please leave comments below to help me thank LaToya for taking the time to share with us. And watch Shameless on Showtime. More interviews are coming up!