#CJW – Writing/Editing

Tag: #CJW – Writing/Editing

Screenwriting Resources for Underrepresented Writers

Jonathan Hogan

Screenwriting, similar to professional creative writing, constitutes a small and highly competitive profession. Because of this, the internet is full of suggestions that come from highly privileged places. One website, for example, recommends quitting your job and writing 9 – 5 while also moving to L.A. (“How to Become a Screenwriter”). Such a focus on individual solutions to the restrictive nature of screenwriting obscures larger structures that make entry into the industry especially difficult for those with oppressed identities. The unhelpful nature of websites such as these is especially frustrating when one considers the most recent report on diversity in Screenwriting by the Writers Guild of West America.

According to the report, 56% of the industry identify as white men, 21% as white women, 13% as men of color, and 10% as women of color (Robb). When compared to demographics in the U.S. population, white male screenwriters are the only over-represented group, whereas representation of Native/Indigenous writers and Middle Eastern writers equates to “near-total erasure.” In light of the dual difficulties of a both restrictive and seemingly unaware industry, aspiring to become a screenwriter might seem an act in vain. Nonetheless, there are screenwriting programs that look to explicitly support underrepresented groups. I will explore three of these programs below, however, a full list of 10 programs is available here.

  1. Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment – New Writers Fellowship

The Coalition of Asian Pacifics (CAPE) is an organization seeking to “champion… diversity by educating, connecting, and empowering Asian American and Pacific Islander artists and leaders in entertainment and media” and dates back to 1991 (“CAPE’s Mission and History”). CAPE hosts multiple programs focusing on helping Asian Americans and Pacifica Islanders break through barriers in areas ranging from directing to screenwriting. Their New Writers Fellowship takes place in the Spring and sees accepted writers attend workshops while matching them with “a high-level industry mentor to help them revise their original script into professional-level writing samples” (“CAPE New Writers Fellowship — Developing Asian & Pacific Islander Screenwriters in TV and Film”).

2. The Black List WIF Feature Residency

The Black List Women in Film Feature Residency provides “six promising non-professional screenwriters who are of underrepresented genders (women, NB/GNC and/or trans, and others) to participate in a one year residency” (“2021 Black List / WIF Feature Residency | The Black List”). The residency’s focus is twofold. Namely, it focuses on improving residents’ writing skills, while also connecting residents with production companies (“2021 Black List / WIF Feature Residency | The Black List”). Although the program focuses on pursuing gender equality in screenwriting, it should be noted that “Women in Film,” the sponsoring organization, has a recently formed Black Member Forum and thus seems to at least be aware of the importance of an intersectional understanding of oppression.

3. Native American Media Alliance – Native American TV Writers Lab

Native American Media Alliance hosts a “5 week intensive scriptwriters program that prepares Native Americans for writing careers at major television networks” (“Native American Media Alliance | 6th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab Application”). During the program, writers will “complete an original plot… and receive feedback from peers and an experienced writing instructor” (“Native American Media Alliance | 6th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab Application”). At the end of the program, writers will then pitch their scripts to executives from various production companies. Although the program certainly focuses on getting Native American’s into the industry, a further goal of the program is “to improve media portrayals of Native Americans” (“Native American Media Alliance | Mission”).

Bibliography

“2021 Black List / WIF Feature Residency | The Black List.” The Black List, https://blcklst.com/partnerships/opportunities/94. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

“CAPE New Writers Fellowship — Developing Asian & Pacific Islander Screenwriters in TV and Film.” CAPE, https://www.capeusa.org/cnwf. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

“CAPE’s Mission and History.” CAPE, https://www.capeusa.org/mission-history. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

“How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Ultimate Guide.” Script Reader Pro, 14 June 2018, https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/how-to-become-a-screenwriter-one-day/.

“Native American Media Alliance | 6th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab Application.” Native American Media Alliance, https://nama.media/6th-annual-native-american-tv-writers-lab-application/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

“Native American Media Alliance | Mission.” Native American Media Alliance, https://nama.media/mission/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

Robb, David. “WGA West Screenwriting Inclusion Report: Women & People Of Color Continue To Make Progress In Hiring But ‘Remain Significantly Underrepresented.’” Deadline, 5 Nov. 2021, https://deadline.com/2021/11/screenwriting-inclusion-report-women-people-of-color-continue-progress-underrepresented-wga-west-1234869192/.

Jonathan is a Third Year German and Government major. He works as a Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.

Screenwriting Basics

              

By Jonathan Hogan

If you are someone who is inspired by amazing movie scenes and imagines your creative writing not within the reams of a book, but rather on flickering lights dancing across white vinyl, it might be worth considering a career in screenwriting.

Screenwriting most basically entails writing scripts for movies or television shows. There is, of course, a lot that goes into this simple definition. For one, aspiring screenwriters need to be intimately aware of how they format a script. This very specific form of writing, which allows ideas to translate clearly from a computer screen—to a set—to a film ready for release, requires a concerted effort to learn. There are many courses, books, etc. available on the internet that can help a writer learn how to format their scripts, however, as an enrolled Lawrentian, one can also take FIST345: Screenwriting, which culminates in the writing of “one or more short screenplays” (“Film Studies Course Description | Lawrence University”).

After learning the basics of how to write screenplays, things become a little less clear. In 2020, the Writer’s Guild of America, the union that represents screenwriters, reported that 6,108 writers received earnings from screenwriting (Annual Finance Report). That’s it. Because of this, discussing career paths for getting into screenwriting is a little like discussing career paths for professional athletes—at its core, it’s about having the resources to become really really good, and then making one’s skills known to the industry. Nonetheless, there are some things that nearly all screenwriters do on their way into the industry.

The first thing that nearly all screenwriters do is write “spec scripts.” A spec script is essentially a script written at the screenwriter’s initiative. For new screenwriters, spec scripts exist not so much to be sold, but rather to demonstrate to potential employers that the writer is skilled enough to take on a preconceived creative assignment such as working with a team to write an episode for a series. It is typically said that three spec scripts constitute a good portfolio (“How to Become a Screenwriter”). If a writer becomes well established in the industry, they may return to spec writing, as they can rely on their reputation to get the attention of producers.  

After writing three spec scripts, writers are often told that they need to get representation through an agent, who manages contracts and closes deals, and managers, who work to establish relationships that lead to deals and more broadly to guide the career of a screenwriter (HOORAE Media, An Issa Rae Company). Amy Anoibi,, an executive producer for Emmy-nominated Insecure and a head writer for season 1 of 2 Dope Queens, puts a different spin on agents and managers, stating that “representation isn’t something that you should be running after,” arguing instead that screenwriters should “do the work”  until representatives start calling them. According to Anoibi, this approach ensures that screenwriters get the right representation—agents and managers that share the goals and ambitions of the writer (HOORAE Media, An Issa Rae Company).

Aside from multiple spec scrips and considering representation, there is not much more that can be said for typical screenwriter career paths. In general, screenwriting is not for the faint of heart. As said before, it’s about having the resources to become really good. One of these “resources” is an undying love for the process of screenwriting. This keeps writers going even without the structure and certainty of a 9-5 job. Yet despite the romanticism of a passionate writer forging their path in a difficult industry, there are underlying structural barriers that prevent even the most passionate writers from getting ahead. Money, for example, more than passion, is a critical resource for screenwriters. Money allows a screenwriter to dedicate significant time to their craft without worrying about food, rent, childcare etc. Money allows screenwriters to pay for an MFA in screenwriting which, in addition to honing skills, ideally creates connections in Hollywood. Money allows one to move to L.A., where it is easier to establish connections to the industry. As a result of the significant amount of privilege that one needs to make it in the industry, those with marginalized identities can find it to be disproportionately difficult to get into the industry (something reflected by the demographics of the industry (Robb)). The next article in the CJW newsletter focuses on a list of writing fellowships that seek to elevate various marginalized identities with the hope of mitigating some of the effects of structural oppression. Keep your eye out in the coming weeks.

Jonathan is a Third Year German and Government major. He works as a Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.

Works Cited

Annual Finance Report. Writers Guild of America, West, Inc., 29 June 2021.

“Film Studies Course Description | Lawrence University.” Lawrence University, https://www.lawrence.edu/academics/college/film-studies/course-description. Accessed 29 Apr. 2022.

HOORAE Media, An Issa Rae Company. 5 Tips on How To Become A Screenwriter w/ Emmy-Nominated Screenwriter Amy Aniobi. 2020. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3Pp_l7r0c8.

“How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Ultimate Guide.” Script Reader Pro, 14 June 2018, https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/how-to-become-a-screenwriter-one-day/.

Robb, David. “WGA West Screenwriting Inclusion Report: Women & People Of Color Continue To Make Progress In Hiring But ‘Remain Significantly Underrepresented.’” Deadline, 5 Nov. 2021, https://deadline.com/2021/11/screenwriting-inclusion-report-women-people-of-color-continue-progress-underrepresented-wga-west-1234869192/.

Technical Writing

Jonathan Hogan

Technical writing is perhaps one of the most lucrative options for those Lawrentians that wish to write for a living. Broadly speaking, technical writing is the act of taking complex technical information and simplifying it so that a broad audience can quickly comprehend the information. In this sense, technical writing is akin to bridgebuilding, in which the technical writer works to connect the layperson to the expert by allowing the layperson to effortlessly navigate a chasm that would otherwise take years of education or experience to cross. To learn more about technical writing, click this link!

Kinds of Technical Writing

Technical writing, as the name perhaps implies, is found primarily in industries that are technical in nature. Yet in practice, this broad definition assumes many different forms. Here are some common examples of jobs that one can expect a technical writer to be doing:

  • User Experience: User experience technical writing typically sees the technical writer writing answers to common questions about a given software either within the software platform itself, or on a messaging board typically managed by the company. A good example of user experience technical writing can be found in Microsoft Word when one clicks “help.” All answers in the “help” tab are written by a technical writer.
  • Academic Writing: Academia is one of the most jargon-rich industries in the world. Because of this, technical writers can often be found collaborating with researchers to explain research methodologies and results in a manner that can be understood by the regular public.
  • Instructions: When purchasing a new dishwasher, or car, or really any other product, they tend to come with written instructions on how one can use/maintain/repair the given product. It is the technical writer that is responsible for creating this content, which ideally conveys all relevant information to the user in as efficient a manner as possible.

The list of jobs that a technical writer can be found doing seems to be nearly endless, so if you’re interested in technical writing but not interested in one of the three iterations of technical writing, I would recommend following this link to a blog post by freelance writer Elna Cain, who does a wonderful job highlighting the variety of jobs that technical writers can be found doing (Cain).

Requirements for Technical Writing

Technical writers, as the name implies, must have strong writing skills. Additionally, however, it is important for technical writers to have a deep understanding of the subject about which they are writing. Without an understanding of how an airplane functions, for example, it would be impossible for a writer to write documentation that will help the pilot better fly and land their plane (M.). Thus, many technical writers have an academic background in the subject they are writing about, or at least considerable experience working with the product.  It is not expected that a technical writer has as much knowledge as the individual responsible for creating whatever the technical writer is writing about, however, the writer must be able to work well with others to gain a deeper understanding of the subject of their work. Finally, it is typically expected that technical writers have a college degree of some sort. Although it is certainly better if that degree is in a writing-intensive major or a major that pertains to the industry/subject for which they are writing.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the technical writing field is expected to grow by 12% in the coming decade (“Technical Writers”). Technical writers often work for companies; however, many also work as freelancers for smaller businesses that don’t have the need for a full-time writer. The median pay for technical writers in 2020 was $74,650 per year, making it one of the most well-paying writing jobs.

Jonathan is a Third Year German and Government major. He works as a Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.

Works Cited 

Cain, Elna. “27 Technical Writing Jobs for Beginners.” Elna Cain, 4 May 2020, https://elnacain.com/blog/technical-writing-jobs/.

M., Saad. “What Is Technical Writing?” ContentWriters Blog, 30 June 2020, https://contentwriters.com/blog/what-is-technical-writing/.

“Technical Writers : Occupational Outlook Handbook: : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Media-and-Communication/Technical-writers.htm. Accessed 6 Oct. 2021.

Alternatives to Journalism

Print Journalism is quickly being relegated to the past. With the advent of radio, television, and finally the internet, the industry has been left unable to compete with cheaper and more expedient forms of media. The amount of print readers, for example, has been halved in the past two decades. Yet, despite the faltering nature of the print industry, the allure of ink on cheap newspaper still draws many to print journalism. To those individuals I recommend two things: (1) this article about the importance of print journalism and the shortcomings of new media for validation and (2) the remaining paragraphs of this article in which I offer a couple of alternatives to print journalism which demand similar skillsets and interests.

Freelance

Whereas print journalism is expected to continue to decline, at least in the near future, freelance writing continues to employ more and more writers. Freelance writers are self-employed writers that can be found writing almost anything that can be found online, ranging from New York Times articles to product descriptions for online marketplaces. To learn more about freelancing, follow this link to read my article about some of the finer details of the industry.  

Public Relations

PR specialists pride themselves on their ability to make authentic connections with their customers while skillfully guiding potential customers to their product. Similar to freelancing, public relations also demand a propensity for entrepreneurial strategizing. PR specialists, even those working exclusively through social media, rarely publish content spontaneously and each release is typically statistically analyzed. Compared to freelance, it is arguable that public relations is less writing intensive and more analytics intensive; however, if you have a love for both writing and analytics, this is the perfect job for you. For a more in-depth look at PR in social media, follow this link.

Publishing

If you are drawn to print journalism for the high level of collaboration between different departments, working in publishing may be the career for you. Compared to print journalism, physical book sales have been making a comeback as of late. To work in the publishing industry in a literary capacity one must be willing to trade their passion for writing with a passion for reading; however, for many, working closely with fellow booklovers in departments ranging form editing to cover-design is worth the trade. For a brief overview of the editing aspect of publishing, click here.

Jonathan Hogan

Jonathan is a Second Year German and Government major. He works as a Career Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.

Freelance Writing Careers

              Freelancing is one of the most profitable and secure industries in which one can earn a living from writing, but, the field of freelancing, barring a basic definition, is somewhat obscure. So what do freelancers actually do? And how does one start a career as a freelancer?

              Freelancing, at its most basic, is writing for a brand or an individual on a typically short-term contract. Within the broad industry of freelancing, there are a few subfields that are worth mentioning. Copywriting, largely the most profitable subfield of freelance, is broadly understood as writing for commercial publications. This could mean simply writing descriptions of products in an exciting way, or writing articles for brands that point customers to a certain solution: your product. For those looking to enter the field, copywriting is not only the most lucrative, it also seems to be the most accessible.

              Journalistic writing, in comparison to copy writing, demands extensive experience as a writer and typically a background in writing (English majors, this is your time to shine!). As a freelance journalistic writer, one can find themselves writing for trade magazines and newspapers. This article in the NYT, titles “Why Settle for Boring Glassware?,”  for example, was written by a freelancer. Journalistic freelance has a reputation for paying less than copywriting; however, it is also known to be simply more fun. Most journalistic copywriters focus on a specific niche that they find especially enjoyable, and spend their professional time researching and writing about this niche.

              Creative freelance writing is the final broad sub-category of the industry and can see freelancers do anything from writing for short-story competitions to garnering their own blog, which they sponsor through ad revenue. Compared to the other forms of freelancing, creative is arguably more difficult, as the market is smaller, and it can time to foster a personal brand.

Once you’ve found a subfield that you’re interested in, you might be wondering what you need to do to break into freelancing, and, unfortunately, it isn’t for the faint of heart. As a freelancer, you must be comfortable with rejection. Companies will reject your contract offers thousands of times and they may even reject your writing after they have given you the contract. You must also be comfortable with instability, as the availability of jobs changes from month to month. Yet, if you remained undeterred, there are a few things you can do to soften your entrance into the industry.

  1. Consider your work as that of a business and not of an individual.

If you want to work as a freelancer, it is imperative that you consider your operations to be those of a professional business. Those who casually approach freelancing often undervalue their work and they skimp on the necessary strategic planning that would allow them to find success.

  • Enter the field with a strong network.

If possible, it is ideal to enter the field with a strong network of individuals who are already familiar with some element of your abilities to write/work. This reality often gives professionals transitioning from a parallel industry a leg-up; however, the ability to largely skip the difficult stage of building one’s reputation and list of contacts through cold calls and writing portfolios can make a huge difference.

  • Build your presence online.

Essential for freelance writers, especially those starting out, is some form of online presence that allows interested clients to learn more about your writing ability and your personal style. Such a presence often takes the form of a blog, which houses a series of blog posts, or a freelancing website, which houses a portfolio of your best work. An online presence alone is not enough to find clients; however, when paired with cold calls and other forms of networking, a website adds legitimacy and transparency to one’s freelancing business.

  • Find your niche.

It is important to specialize as a freelance writer. In the field of freelancing, generalists rarely stand a chance against competition that has written about a relatively narrow topic for a long period of time. Thus, it is important to find a niche category of work that is both large enough to be profitable, and interesting enough to occupy the majority of the freelancer’s professional time.

Freelance writing is a truly fascinating industry that provides engaging work for thousands of writers. Yet, as has been hopefully conveyed above, it is a field that requires a strong entrepreneurial skillset and thick skin, in addition to excellent writing skills. If you are truly interested in freelancing as a career, I recommend the blog of “Come Write With Us,” a company started by experienced freelancer Kristan Wong.

Jonathan Hogan

Jonathan is a Second Year German and Government major. He works as a Career Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and to work on anything else professional development-related.