Last week, August 28, WriteGirl got a visit from some of Hollywood’s best minds. WriteGirl interns and mentees had the opportunity to hear Sonay Hoffman, Bernadette Rivero, and Victoria Kennedy speak about their careers in the entertainment industry. We were treated to their personal stories, struggles, and insights, enlightening our own paths as writers. This is what we learned:
1. Finish what you’re working on.
Here at WriteGirl we are all writers, and some of us even want to pursue writing in our careers, but we all know how cutthroat the industry can be. Sonay Hoffman, who writes for shows like Grey’s Anatomy, told us that one of the most important things for writers to do is to actually finish what we are working on. As one of many assistants to Shonda Rhimes, she was asked to write an episode for Grey’s Anatomy. Everyday, on top of working full time, she worked on the script before going to bed regardless of how exhausted she might have been. She was entirely dedicated to finishing her piece. When it came time to submit her work she realized that she had been the only one to actually finish an entire script. This is where everything changed. She was chosen as head writer for that episode and, as they say in show business, the rest is cinematic history - in this case television history.
As writers we want to be able to stand out and find ways to set ourselves apart from the crowd of other aspiring writers. Sonay said that what sets you apart from another writer is the ability to actually finish something. Many writers begin stories, novels, and scripts but never finish. If Sonay Hoffman had not finished that one script she would never have had the opportunity to work on an episode and maybe even stayed an assistant. So let’s try and finish one of our pieces, yes?
2. Write Everyday (or when you can!)
Some of us are in high school or even college and life can get pretty hectic-trust me I know. Something we should not forget is to always put some time aside to write. Between obligations to our classes and jobs, families and friends, we should grab our journals and write for at least a couple of minutes. It doesn’t even have to make any sense- what’s important is that you just do it. All of our guest speakers stressed writing everyday or a couple of times a day. We need to get used to writing and growing our writing skills as much as possible. Guest speaker Bernadette Rivero put it best by saying, “writing is like a muscle and we must work it out everyday!”
3. Learn the rules before you break them.
Sometimes our creativity can get the best of us and it’s certainly not a bad thing. We create worlds of our own with characters that are nurtured from day one and we tend to ignore the actual craft of writing. Writing, like any subject, needs to be learned. Bernadette told us that every writer must learn the rules first. What exactly makes up a story? What’s a plot? Where is the conflict? What does a character do to define the outcome of choice? A story includes many steps but every writer has learned the complexities of writing. This may sound boring but once you’ve learned the rules you can break them! Once you’ve set up the structure then you can begin to freely explore your own personal touches. So you’ve learned what a story consist of, now do what you want with it. Be a rebel and create a story your own way- the right way.
4. Where you come from should not stop you- rather, it should inspire you.
Often times we believe that our background hinders where we can go in life. We may come from places of struggle, obstacles, and pain but in reality these setbacks can build our characters and have made us the people we are today. Without these hurdles our lives wouldn’t be as rich with value and such experiences should be taken in stride. Where we come from and our experiences serve as inspiration for stories that can change the world and help others reach for greatness. Sonay shared some of her childhood stories growing up in South LA. She stated that living around people with addiction problems has shaped the subjects of her writing and the way she treats particular episodes on the shows she writes for. The hardships we endure teach us some very important lessons and offer us a unique perspective that not everyone has the opportunity to share. It also helps us strive for a better and very different life. Sonay, like many of our WriteGirls, was the first in her family to attend college. Her background didn’t limit her but pushed her to succeed. Remember that your background and where you come from doesn’t stop you from succeeding but makes you stronger.
5. Step out of your comfort zone.
One of our guests, Victoria Kennedy, told us about her experience as a Literature professor in Harvard University. She explained that sometimes at schools as prestigious as Harvard, structure is dominant over creativity. She wanted to give her students an experience through her class that broke the chains of structure and sprinkled spontaneity and freedom in their lives. She taught a literature class exploring moral and social issues that she believes was unlike anything else ever offered in Harvard University. Students were asked to walk around the campus with the purpose of exploring, observing and taking in the environment. They were also asked to be without their personal belongings and to read eye-opening books in class. All her students were forced to step out their comfort zones and the results were all positive. Each student enjoyed his or her time in the class and it became one of the most popular. She advised us to do the same, to step out our boxes and look at things differently. If we try different things like taking classes we wouldn’t ordinarily sign up for, eating unique food, exploring the city on our own or simply putting down our phones for a day, our perspectives can be broadened and our writing made richer. Unique experiences make for unique stories so never be afraid to try something different.
Here’s a writing prompt we should all try: By incorporating what we have learned at the Fox Teacher for a Day Event, write a paragraph about something you love about your community and how that can offer a unique perspective on your writing. Make sure to finish it!