5 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing

As a former magazine editor, I often spent my time editing other people’s work, which became a great learning tool when I edited my own work. Before becoming a magazine editor, I was very precious about my words like I CAN’T POSSIBLY CHANGE THAT SENTENCE.

But as a freelance writer, my editor’s notes are king. I’ve done page-one rewrites on article drafts. Hell, the personal essay I recently sold went through about seven drafts before I sold it.

I understand that editing your own work is tough so I compiled some tips I use when I’m editing/rewriting.

1. Give your writing a few days off.

When you finish a piece, some times you’re in love with it. Or you hate it. Either way, put the file down, walk away, do anything else, and then come back to it when you can read your work with new eyes. I always find that when I come back to a piece of writing after some time off, I can read my work more clearly. OH, this sentence doesn’t make sense—that sort of thing.

2. Summarize your premise. If any sentences or paragraphs don’t serve your idea, toss them.

When I was writing my personal essay, a writing teacher I had—Paula Derrow—said something important. You can’t put everything that happened to you ever into your essay. You have to pick and choose the events that go with your central idea. Not everything you’ve ever wanted to write about—which can be tough when you’re writing about your own life.

3. Read your writing out loud.

When I think I’m done, I read the piece out loud. That’s when I can hear sentences that are off or when I’m being too wordy. It’s a good way to catch yourself in your common mistakes like when I use the same word over and over again.

4. Print out your piece and get out the red pen.

When you pick up your piece in paper form, look at it as if you’re the editor and you’re reading this for the first time. Don’t give yourself a gold star (not yet anyway). Look at your writing with a critical eye and find those grammatical errors.

5. Make a list of things you want to change.

One of the best tools I got from reading Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See is creating a revision map. It’s basically two columns—what you have and what you need. You mark down the page number or paragraph and write down what you want to fix. This is especially helpful with longer works like an entire play or novel so you don’t start editing/rewriting like a mad woman and get lost in a rabbit hole of revision.

Interview with Author & Rookie Staff Writer Stephanie Kuehnert

 

I’m excited to share my interview with author and Rookie staff writer Stephanie Kuehnert who recently sold a memoir that sounds super fascinating. If you don’t know Rookie, the amazing online magazine, then you should because it’s the best. Stephanie had a lot of great things to say about her writing process, her career, and selling her memoir, so ENJOY!

1. You recently sold your memoir five years after you sold your second YA book, Ballads of Surburbia. What was the writing and submission process for your memoir like?

Three years ago I was invited to revisit my own personal teenage angst (and the joyful moments and obsessions with things like soap operas and Star Trek: The Next Generation) as a staff writer for Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls. Though both of my books draw from my real life a little bit (Ballads is set in the town where I grew up) and I have blogged about my personal experiences, I didn’t have much experience writing non-fiction or personal essays. But then, there I was writing one or two essays a month, and it was incredible. The editors at Rookie, especially Anaheed Alani, are insightful genius goddesses. We’ve gone through sometimes six drafts of 2,500 word essay just to get it perfect. It was like part two of MFA program, that’s how much I learned from them. That’s honestly what kept me going while I was struggling to write and sell my fiction and questioning my entire existence as a writer.

So I was building this experience and this portfolio of essays, which because Rookie’s awesome, I maintained all the rights to, and I thought, I could do something with this. As a teenager, I’d put out quite a few zines and working on Rookie really reignited that passion, so I started talking to a couple of illustrators from the site, asking if they’d be game to collaborate with me so I could basically make one big zine about my adolescence. I’d probably been kicking the idea around for about a year, but last summer I moved across the country from Chicago to Seattle and started working full-time. I still wanted to write, but I just wasn’t in the place to plot out a new novel. I was busy and exhausted (in a good way, the move was one of the best decisions of my life) and honestly feeling pretty burnt out about my fiction. I mentioned the zine-style essay collection/memoir idea to my agent and she told me to go for it because she thought it could be really cool and different. I didn’t honestly sit down to work on it until the end of 2013. I thought it would be easier to put together than a novel because a) it already had a plot/structure—my life, and b) non-fiction books like this are sold on proposal, so I was like, I don’t even have to write the whole thing! Of course I was not at all prepared for how involved a non-fiction proposal is. It’s got a whole standard structure with market research and comp titles—you’re basically outlining and marketing your book at the same time. Fortunately my friend Alexa Young, a YA writer who has also written non-fiction for adults showed me some of her proposals and my friend Jessica Hopper from Rookie, who is just an incredible mentor to all of us, recommended this book, which totally maps out the non-fiction proposal. I used those things to work on the proposal part and then put together the sample chapters. Those included one of my Rookie essays, two brand new essays, and an example of the zine-style aspect, which was basically a series of lists that demonstrates how I changed from middle school to high school illustrated by Suzy X from Rookie so it really looks like pages out of a zine.

Altogether, it probably took a really intense two-and-a-half months to write the proposal. Then my agent took some time to seriously craft her list of editors and her pitch. When it went out, we had an offer in a week-and-a-half. That was total insanity to me. My first book took over a year to sell. I’ve had other projects on submission for even longer than that. I don’t even have words for how stunned and amazed I was when the proposal sold that quickly and to my top choice editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton. I’m definitely in that magical unicorn field right now.

2. Your editor described your memoir as “pull-no-punches raw” in the Publishers Weekly write up. How were you able to write so honestly about your past?

I’m a hyper-emotional Cancer. I’ve never been very good at keeping my emotions under wraps. The zines I wrote in high school when I was at my angriest and most messed-up were blistering, maybe too honest. I lost friends and scared people away. That experience was kind of scarring and it’s why I channeled my emotions into fiction for so long. I’ve been circling around a lot of issues in my past through my fiction writing and then I started writing for Rookie and tackling the real stories. Because I had some distance and those amazing Rookie editors I was able to really get to the heart of what I was thinking and feeling in a way that felt cathartic instead of out of control and scary. But it’s definitely not easy to do. One of the new essays that I wrote for the proposal is this 13-part epic—like the essay version of a novella, I guess—and it’s about the emotionally and sexually abusive relationship I was in as a sophomore in high school. I’ve been circling that story for years. It was the subject of those angry teenage zines. Pieces of it show up in both my published YAs and I drew from it heavily in my unpublished YA. Writing that essay was the last part of the process. Honestly, I really didn’t want to write it. I almost shelved the entire project to avoid it because I knew I couldn’t write around it—for better or worse, that relationship defined my adolescence and it’s central to this memoir. I am not looking forward to revising it, but I know that working with an editor like Julie, I will be able to make it more powerful than I ever imagined.

3. I read on your blog the amazing way your agent broke the news to you that you sold your memoir. How did you find your agent and how has your working relationship developed over the years?

Adrienne is my second agent and she is Literally The Best Agent Ever. Of course I will always be grateful to my first agent too—we just reached a point where we had different visions and were going in different directions; she isn’t even agenting anymore. When I was looking for a new agent, I asked my writer friends for recommendations. Barb Ferrer, who writes YA as Caridad Ferrer and was a fellow MTV Books author, told me that her agent loved my first two books, so I queried her with my new manuscript. It was an adult book that hovers in between upmarket women’s fiction and New Adult (which wasn’t even really being taken seriously then) so other agents were hesitant to take it on because they weren’t sure how to shop it. Adrienne was one of the agents who loved that book enough to try, her feedback on the manuscript totally clicked for me, and since she was very enthusiastic about my published novels as well, I got the sense that she would really be in it for the long haul. So I signed with her and I’ve repeatedly told people that it was the best decision I’ve ever made aside from marrying my husband. We’ve been working together since 2010, so she’s really been through it with me as editor, career planner, and cheerleader. She was there during the darkest periods of writerly self-doubt and even sent a copy of The Little Engine That Could to encourage me at one point. After having a few projects out on sub together, she knew how eagerly I was awaiting The Call and I’d told her that previously I’d only gotten The Email so I made her promise to actually call, so I’d have a story to tell. She took it to a whole new level by sending a singing and dancing gorilla telegram! Basically, this woman knows how to make me grin like crazy and I trust her advice implicitly, so Best Agent Ever and I can’t wait to see what is to come next for us.

4. You’re a staff writer at Rookie. How did you get your start there, and what do you love about writing for the online magazine?

I got the Rookie gig through blind submission. Tavi’s from my hometown (ie. the town Ballads is set in), but um, she was born the year before I graduated high school and got the hell out of there (at least for a little while), so we never met. A few friends of mine had told me about her blog, the Style Rookie, and they sent me her call for writers, illustrators, and people interested in helping her create a Sassy magazine for the next generation of teens. I started making zines right around the time Sassy disappeared partly because I’d always wanted to do something like Sassy (but maybe more DIY and underground), so I wrote a letter to Tavi and crossed my fingers. A few months later, she wrote back and was like I can probably only pay in candy and mixtapes, but I’d like to have you write for me. I said OMG gadghaghajdga YES! We got together for coffee, she told me about her vision for the site and I was blown away. She’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And they don’t pay me in candy, but I would totally do it for candy because I’ve never been a part of something so positive, so energetic, so powerful. The Rookie generation has given me renewed hope. These girls that I’m working with and the audience that we’re writing for are going to change the world. That’s the best thing about writing for Rookie. It’s the best community on the internet and it has made me work my ass off to be a better writer. As I mentioned before, the editors have been real mentors and teachers, but also have you read Jenny Zhang? Hazel Cills? Pixie Casey? Danielle Henderson? Every writer on that site is made of pure gold. They are so freakin’ talented and set the bar so high, it keeps me inspired and motivated. Finally, Rookie is such a GORGEOUS site. I’ve always been word girl, not image girl, but working with the illustrators and just taking in the eye candy our artists create every day has really given me a new perspective. The photos and images on Rookie are one of my biggest muses. I never would have thought about doing the memoir zine-style without being surrounded by these art and design geniuses. So, um, in short, I love EVERYTHING. I’m grateful every day to be a part of Rookie.

5. You’ve published two YA books—I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia. What would you tell aspiring YA authors about your experience as a YA author and what advice would you give them?

Well, I guess to continue my metaphor, that the road is endless and you will likely have to climb some seriously steep mountains, but there are also delightful valleys filled with magical creatures and singing, dancing gorillas. In other words, write because you have to, because you love it so much you can’t stop, and if you don’t stop, Good Things will happen. Also, nothing will go as planned. I wrote a letter to aspiring writer me about that on my group blog, YA Outside the Lines, just four days before I learned that I’d sold my memoir. Part of me hates it when nothing goes as planned, but the detours that I took are what led me to where I am and I’m very happy with that.

You can follow Stephanie on Twitter at @writerstephanie, Instagram at @stephaniekuehnert, and read more about her on her website.

Author Stephanie Kuehnert

Author Stephanie Kuehnert

My 5 Vegan Must-Eats in Los Angeles

I’m really lucky to be vegan in Los Angeles. There are SO MANY GOOD EATS that it’s mind-blowing. Plus, we’re soon getting a vegan cheese shop. It’s crazy.

I wanted to do a roundup of some of my fave eats for any visitors to LA who want to try some of the best vegan food we have. Of course, there’s way more than this list, but these are my die-hard favorites that I love so very much.

1. Viva La Vegan grocery store

viva la vegan

As you know, I rarely visit the west side of LA, but when I do, I love the Viva La Vegan grocery store in Santa Monica. The store is chock-full of goodies that I dream about like Phoney Baloney’s coconut bacon—it’s crazy good!—and VegeUSA’s vegan tuna roll. It’s basically paradise. I just wish it wasn’t so far from where I live. (They also have a second location in Rancho Cucamonga, which is also not close to me.)

2. Pizzanista

pizzanista

Having lived in NYC for 10 years, I am a picky bastard when it comes to pizza. Pizzanista in downtown LA has the only pie that worth’s calling pizza here. PLUS, they have hella vegan eats like this Seitan Meats Jesus pie with tomato sauce, Daiya vegan cheese, vegan pepperoni, vegan sausage & vegan bacon. We asked for spinach too, and they gave us a ton of spinach! They also serve Clara’s Cupcakes, which are also vegan.

3. Gracias Madre

gracias madre rellenos

Gracias Madre is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco so I freaked the F out when the restaurant opened a second location in West Hollywood. With fancy cocktails and an expanded dessert menu (because that’s all I really care about), the LA iteration of my fave vegan Mexican eatery is just as amazing as the original.

4. Frozato at Hugo’s Tacos

frozato

Pre-vegan, I loved me some frozen yogurt. Hugo’s Tacos is a small taco stand that offers a ton of vegan options (you must try the soy chorizo tacos), but my favorite thing is the Frozato, which comes in chocolate, vanilla, or swirl. It’s kinda the best thing ever.

5. The Whole Bowl at Cafe Gratitude

cafe gratitude

I know some people find the hippie-dippy/Question of the Day at Cafe Gratitude a bit too much for them. I LIKE IT. I used to eat at the Berkeley location regularly, but now I frequent the Larchmont Village Cafe Gratitude, which is colorful, pretty, and usually has one celebrity sighting. For me, the Whole Bowl has everything I need in life in one delicious meal—braised Garnet yams, adzuki beans, sautéed kale, housemade kim chee, sea palm, black sesame seed gomasio, teriyaki almonds, garlic tahini sauce, and a mix of brown rice and quinoa. I love this bowl so much. Let’s get married Whole Bowl!

What are some of your must-eats in Los Angeles?

7 Things Writers Wish You’d Stop Saying to Them

When I tell people I’m a writer, inevitably there comes some questions that are really hard to answer. Well-meaning people ask me questions that NO ONE WOULD ASK ANYBODY ELSE*. I thought my fellow writers could sympathize with this list, and the non-writers can understand why these types of questions bug us. Enjoy!

1. Have I read something you’ve written?

I know this is well-meaning, but for me, I stand there dumbstruck, thinking, am I supposed to list off my resume to you? Do you read magazines? I just MET you. I have no idea what you’re reading. There are like a million things to read in this world.

2. Where do you get your ideas?

I would like to tell you that I have an idea machine that generates ideas or Simpsons writer monkeys that do most of the work for me, but the truth is, I write things down that interest me. I know that’s not the sexiest answer, but it’s the truth.

3. You went to school for writing. Why did you do that?

Thanks. While you’re at it, just slash my tires.

4. Can I read something you’ve written?

I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I have a very short list of people that are my beta-readers, meaning people who read my work before (hopefully) the public reads it. Writers, if you haven’t guessed already, are neurotic, insecure people who just want everyone to like their writing. When asking for feedback, our dream scenario is that you read it and say, “This is brilliant. I couldn’t put it down. The only thing I found is a typo on page 7.” BUT in reality, we need constructive feedback from trusted readers and fellow writers. As much as we want a pat on the back and a gold star sticker, we need real feedback from people who love and know the genre we’re writing. For example, my TV writer husband still hasn’t read my latest YA book draft. Why? It’s not ready to be read by someone who doesn’t know the YA world. To an outsider, it may look like a pile of emoji poo.

5. My friend/boyfriend/next-door neighbor wants to be a writer. Can you help them?

I’m happy to give advice and talk to somebody who wants to be a writer, but I can’t do anything for them. They need to do the work themselves. Also, if I help make a connection, please be sure that this person doesn’t screw up the networking opportunity by sending a script, then when you give feedback, says I think the script is fine. I don’t have time for fine.

6. I heard freelance writers can make $100K a year.

I have no idea who this refers to. I am jealous, but no, if you’re in it for the money, please do something else.

7. My boyfriend is funny. He could be a comedy writer.

Great! Comedy, to me, is one of the hardest things to write because you have to make a person laugh while moving a story forward. It’s like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. I don’t know how the good comedy writers do it, but let’s all agree that it’s not easy. Try it some time and then get back to me.

*Let me state: We appreciate you talking to us nerds at all.

If you want even more fun, I love this Electric Literature post titled “If Strangers Talked to Everybody Like They Talk to Writers.” It’s hilarious.

Five Tips for Getting a Personal Essay Published

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In March 2013, I sent a personal essay to an editor at MARIE CLAIRE. She expressed interest in it and asked to see a draft. We went back and forth, and then she brought it to her executive editor. She and the executive editor found one sentence in my draft that they were interested in turning into an entirely new essay. So I wrote that. Unfortunately, the essay didn’t go anywhere after that. The drafts I turned in just weren’t working for my original editor. She was extremely helpful and nice—giving me feedback when I hadn’t even landed a proper assignment.

Downtrodden, I tried to take the personal essay to other editors who also passed on it. But I knew it was an interesting story about what happens when two writers—myself and my husband—gain success while the other doesn’t.

I ended up taking an online Mediabistro advanced personal essays class with Paula Derrow, a freelance writer and editor, who was the former articles director at SELF. Paula’s lectures and feedback, along with the feedback from my classmates, helped me to revise the essay a few more times.

I finally sold it to THE WRITER magazine for the “Off the Cuff” section, and it was published in the September 2014 issue. You can read the essay here.

That’s right—September 2014. More than a year later, I really see how much the essay changed and how hard it is to nail down everything in one 1,200-word essay that conveys my personal story to an audience.

Of course, some writers sell their personal essays much quicker than that! But it was a great lesson in the art of patience, revision, and how to make a personal story work for a larger audience.

Here are my tips for making a personal essay work:

1. Get your essay read by people who don’t know you.

Your husband and your best friend are wonderful people, but they aren’t the best at perspective on your life. Have someone who doesn’t know you well read your essay. What’s confusing to them? What information are they missing? Is your premise coming across? For me, people were confused by dates and what exactly happened when. If someone knows you well, they might not question certain things about your life that strangers find confounding.

2. Take a Mediabistro personal essays class.

The online Mediabistro personal essays classes are helpful because your instructor has often published many personal essays in places like the NEW YORK TIMES Modern Love column, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, SELF, etc. Use their knowledge, experience, and contacts. Your fellow classmates are perfect readers to give you feedback because they don’t know you.

3. Hire an editor.

Often, the story is so personal to you (hence why it’s called a personal essay) that you have trouble seeing what’s working and what’s not. An outside perspective like an eagle-eyed professional editor can help you. Paula Derrow, the instructor who I took a Mediabistro class with, offers one-on-one personal essay editing. Check out her services here.

4. Read lots of personal essays.

Read a ton of personal essays and take down notes about what you liked about them. How did the writer tell his or her story? What details stood out to you? What made the essay good? Paula made a good point that the juiciest part of your essay is usually later in the piece after you’ve rambled on in the beginning. Read the beginnings of several published essays—how does the writer grab you?

5. Research the market for personal essays, and make your wish list.

Hopefully, the first time you send out your personal essay it sells. But making a list of your top choices to send it helps when you get rejected. Just keep sending it out to your list—one at a time. Every editor wants a chance to review your work and if you submit it to multiple places at the same time, you risk pissing off someone if more than one editor is interested.

My personal essay in the September 2014 issue of The Writer magazine. Yeah!

My personal essay in the September 2014 issue of The Writer magazine. Yeah!

 

Even More Great Vegan Products at Costco

A few months ago, I wrote about great vegan products I found at Costco. I thought it was time to feature some new stuff. I can’t get enough of Costco. I am obsessed. The wholesale store’s gas prices are the best (a major bonus in LA), fantastic deals on everything, AND they pay their employees a fair wage. I used to think that a vegan wouldn’t find anything at Costco—isn’t it just meat and giant croissants? I couldn’t have been more wrong.

So here some of my new favorite finds. Of course, products vary from store to store so what I found in my Burbank location might not be in your store. BUT I HOPE YOU CAN GET EVERYTHING.

1. Kirkland Signature Shampoo & Conditioner

Costco Shampoo

Dude, it’s 100% vegan and clearly states that it wasn’t tested on animals. Also, it’s a gigantic bottle that is seemingly endless. The shampoo and conditioner are sold separately for $19.99. They smell great too.

2. Victoria’s Marinara Sauce

MarinaraSauce

I’m from Jersey, and so I’m really picky about my Italian food. In Los Angeles, I miss bagels, real Italian food, and Italian ice the most. ONLY Elizabeth Castoria‘s dad’s marinara sauce with vegan meatballs cuts the mustard for me. But I have to say that this Victoria Marinara Sauce is a good substitute for when I don’t have Elizabeth’s dad’s sauce. You get two giant jars, which can tide me over until I see Elizabeth next.

This company also makes a line of vegan sauces like a vodka sauce and alfredo that are hella good too.

3. Kirkland Almond Butter

AlmondButter

I am an almond butter fiend, but the stuff is expensive elsewhere. This giant jar is less than $10, and lets me feed my addiction.

4. Hail Merry Meyer Lemon Mini Tarts

HailMerry

When I saw these tarts at Costco, I freaked out. I love Hail Merry‘s miracle tarts—the Chocolate Raw Almond Butter is my fave (see above), but the Meyer Lemon one is a close second. It’s so cool to see this company at Costco.

5. Harmless Harvest 100% Raw Coconut Water

harmlessharvest-579x250

Yes, coconut water is everywhere, but the Harmless Harvest brand is the real deal. Costco sells a big pack of four for less than you’ll find for the smaller bottles at Whole Foods. And if you get a pink bottle of coconut water, don’t freak out. It’s natural.

6. Gardein Meatless Breaded Cutlets

GardeinMeatlessCutlet

I just spotted these bad boys recently. Brendan and I like to douse the breaded cutlets in Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Sauce (accidentally vegan) for buffalo chicken. I cut up a cutlet into slices to put on a salad. I’m going to pair the cutlet with Victoria Marinara Sauce and vegan mozzarella for chicken parm. I’ve also found the Gardein Mandarin Crispy Chick’n and the Chick’n Sliders too.

What great vegan items have you found at Costco?

 

 

In the TV Writers’ Room: An Interview with Theo Travers

I’ve interviewed quite a few lady TV writers so I thought it was time to interview a guy. Not just any guy. Theo Travers is a writer on Showtime’s House of Lies and all-around nice dude. Theo and I went to NYU together, and I swear that he hasn’t aged at all. Theo was kind enough to share his thoughts on breaking into TV, advice on diversity in television, and great networking advice.

1. We both went to the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and studied dramatic writing. How did your schooling help you in your career today?

Tisch gave me a high bar to clear and a mountain of debt, both excellent motivators for following through on my bright-eyed aspirations. The Dramatic Writing Program as it was called in my day, now rebranded as DDW (Department of Dramatic Writing), was in every sense a think-tank of creativity spearheaded by pros who didn’t shy away from sharing the brutal reality of making a living at the craft. They encouraged us to search inward, and equipped us with a platform to share our voices however we felt best. In my case, the results yielded potential, but not a portfolio strong enough to attract an overall deal. It’s a good thing I knew how to make coffee and eat humble pie with my mouth closed. Tisch lived up to its reputation of being a world-class film program. And while my time there was a transformative experience, I often find in an industry built primarily on relationships that the true value of the degree yielded years later in the association with the program and the friends I made while there. When I moved to Los Angeles 5 years ago, the NYU recent alumni association was my lifeline. The board was made up of folks who knew me before my late-teen complexion cleared. They pointed the way, gave me a lay of the land, connected me with resources and, most importantly, a strong tug back from the ledge when I was ready to clear it.

2. You currently write on the Showtime series, House of Lies. How did you land the gig? What do you enjoy about writing on the show?

I get that question often. Along with it, a variety of mixed responses when I tell the answer. The abbreviated version begins with a chance meeting of the show’s creator and executive producer, Matthew Carnahan, in an Irish bar in Santa Monica. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance that worked on the show. We talked for a bit, mostly about life in NYC, and what followed was the thing that almost never happens in that kind of situation: Matthew offered to read something of mine. Correspondences over email in the months after led to the most surreal, creatively challenging and life-altering experience of my life. I caution though, there’s an inherent flaw in taking too much stock in the truncated, romanticized version of my “breaking in” story. No one cares or has time to hear about all the shitty scripts I wrote in the 12-plus years before that night. At best, some of my more exciting assignments as TV news reporter in Memphis make for good icebreakers, but the dull truth is I cut my teeth on hundreds of not-so-exciting stories before I ever moved to Los Angeles. I learned how to approach people in awkward situations, how to get to the point quickly and read a person’s face to gauge how badly I’m offending or boring them. I worked for years as an assistant to busy production executives, learning the business and politics of the industry. I was vetted by several of the professional writing programs housed at the networks (more on that in a bit). And yes, over time, I’ve also learned how to drink in public without getting naked or throwing up on myself. It’s harder than it looks. And all of those combined experiences were the wind in my sails in that moment.

I’m now back in the room on Season 4 of House of Lies. This part of the creative team includes Matthew Carnahan; veteran comedy writer David Walpert; executive producer Jessika Borsiczky; my fellow NYU pal and Entourage alum, Wes Nickerson; Taii Austin; and yours truly. There are so many things I enjoy about writing for this show. Our sandbox gets messy as we attempt to break narrative conventions and tell honest stories in ways we haven’t seen before on screen. It helps that we’re writing for one of the best actors of our generation, Don Cheadle, who is also an executive producer. Cheadle brings a hurbis to the character of Marty Kaan, a scrupulous management consultant who feeds his own greed with the blubber of corporate whales deserving of being gutted. Marty’s most redeeming quality is the love he has for his son. He rises to the challenge of being a single father in spite of his other insipid qualities. He’s a very complex character inhabiting a very complex ecosystem. This gives us some much latitude as storytellers. We also have the support of a premium cable network (Showtime) that encourages us to push the limits. The end result hopefully speaks for itself. We have as much fun making this show as the characters are having on screen. It’s an ideal creative workspace.

3. For minority TV writers who are trying to break into the industry, what suggestions would you have for them? What are some great programs that writers should apply to if they are just starting out?

Good questions. I have numerous thoughts on this topic. Some based in fact, others opinions I’ve adopted over time. I’m happy to distinguish between the two. Gone are the days (hopefully for good) where widespread exclusionary practices tied to discrimination were so blatant there was no mistaking them for anything but what they were and no recourse to correct. Our thinking as a society has evolved and continues to evolve. The demographic landscape of the viewing audience for film and TV is growing, and getting browner by the day. So too are technological advances that are giving consumers a burdensome amount of choices. It’s a perfect storm of change that makes inviting a diversity of voices into the halls of power and decision-making not just the fair thing to do, but plainly smart business. It should come as no surprise to anyone that institutionalized racism, sexism, and homophobia is only a problem when it hurts the bottom line. But the less cynical way of thinking about it is this: one could argue there’s never been a better time to be a writer, especially if you’re someone who feels your worldview has been underrepresented in Hollywood.

In TV, CBS, Disney/ABC, Fox, NBC, Nickelodeon, and WB offer the most reputable programs for writing, largely due to the direct access they offer to executives who oversee development and production, as well as additional money to shows for staffing writers. These programs are the closest thing to the apprenticeships that existed before the fall of the old studio system. Getting into one of these programs is often viewed like winning the lottery. The impression is if your name is pulled out of the hat, you’re on the fast track to stardom. While the programs all have bolstered successful records for participants staffing, it’s a misnomer that you’re guaranteed work. I went through three of them without landing a writing gig. Another myth is that these programs have created a reverse-discriminatory policy that excludes white men, making it harder for them to break in. Also, not true. First off, there’s no shortage of white men getting work in Hollywood. Some writing programs don’t have strict diversity background requirements. And the money allocated for staffing through the programs only adds seats at the table, doesn’t take any away. Smaller rooms are now the results of shrinking budgets and a struggling economy.

My advice for any writer is come with strong material, a great attitude, and a willingness to work and you will find a job eventually. If you get bogged down with concerns of discrimination, real or perceived, you’ll adopt an offense based on defense, which over time creates an aura around you that doesn’t inspire confidence in your abilities nor the desire to work with you. Pursue all avenues. Be patient. Constantly work on your craft. Create and launch your own projects. Network and collaborate. Don’t wait for someone else’s permission to tell the stories you want to tell.

4. Before making the transition into TV writing, you had a different career in journalism. Can you tell me what you learned as a journalist that you can apply to your TV writing?

Everyone lies, especially to themselves. No one’s an expert. All good stories, regardless of the medium you’re writing in, have the same elements: a central character with a problem and the drive to do something about it. Writing is like any craft, it requires a lot of work and discipline to master. Brevity is king.

5. I’ve joked that you look exactly the same as you did in college. What’s your secret? You are ageless!

I have a cucumber and charcoal scrub that works wonders. ;)

You can follow Theo on Twitter at @knifepartynikos.

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