The other day I was lucky enough to return to USC and speak on a panel at the film school about how to survive senior exit programs like First Pitch and the realities of the post-grad world.
As someone who is just a year out of school and have found employment in the industry as still making time to write while at my agency job, I’m qualified to Pretend to Know What I’m Doing (TM).
So here’s a short guide on how to overcome the struggles of learning how to adult as a writer in post-grad life: from expanding your culinary know-how beyond three flavors of ramen to finding some sort of deeper happiness in the chaos of surviving in Los Angeles while pursuing more creative endeavors.
STEP ONE: STOP MAKING RAMEN FOR DINNER
Once you’ve cut ties with the dining hall, the real leap into successful adulthood is to not turn to fast food and frozen meals, and instead learn how to cook.
Do you think cooking is too hard/time consuming/expensive? I have two words for you: meal prep. For busy weeks, I don’t cook at all, I just make lunches and dinners ahead of time and then refrigerate and/or freeze them. It’s inexpensive, and you just need to put in some time up front making things.
this is my favorite recipe of the moment
STEP TWO: FIND A JOB
As a writer, you have a few choices on how to approach employment while trying to break in:
- Work as an assistant in the industry and work your way up the ladder
- Find a day job outside the industry that gives you time to write
- Go the indie route, making your own films and/or webseries
- A mix of the above
Each method is challenging in their own way, and picking some variation of the above is for another blog post. In the weeks leading up to graduation, it’s important to reach out to people you know in the industry, old professors, and the like to help you find that first, entry-level job.
STEP THREE: ESTABLISH DAILY RITUALS
I’ve written a little bit about my my routine with my current job which you can find here. Building your routine is important because it sets you up for success at your day job: I function better at work when I’m able to squeeze in even a short workout in the morning.
It’s also important because in order to escape the assistant life eventually, you need to be doing little things every day that will eventually get you to where you want to be.
Every day, I try and fit in the following: writing (even if it’s only a page), meditation, yoga or another kind of workout, and reading something interesting that feeds into the script I’m currently writing (as well as reading scripts for work). These set of daily rituals help me stay as balanced as possible during the week as well as keep me on track for one day doing the work I truly love.
One tool that helps me stay on track is my whiteboard: I like to write out my goals for the week, outstanding errands I need to do, and then for each day of the week what I plan to do after work (i.e. drinks, workouts, mixers). I keep an inspirational quote on my board as well to remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing.
STEP FOUR: START NETWORKING
Meeting new people who work across the industry is a critical part to understanding how things work. Additionally, as writers, it’s important that we get out of our shells and make connections with others, both inside and outside of the industry.
You can read my post about my approach to networking authentically here.
STEP FIVE: FIND A GREATER PURPOSE
As writers, our work often explores the search for a greater purpose or meaning, or a protagonist who’s on a quest that will change the world in some way.
I’ve found that I’m happier and more inspired when the work that I’m doing in some way contributes to something greater: in school, I was an Resident Advisor and Orientation Coordinator, where I helped students and parents get the most out of their college experience, and also was there for students in times of turmoil.
Now, in the post-grad life, I find that outlet to give back in the form of volunteering for No Kill LA, a shelter that partners with Best Friends Animal Society and other organizations to save shelter animals from being killed and to help them find good homes.
if this isn’t the best therapy I don’t know what is
It can be hard to stay grounded while working in Hollywood, where trivial disputes can spiral and the stress placed on assistants is constant. It’s hard — I’m still grappling every day with how to deal with these pressures while making smart decisions for my career and my writing. It helps to strive for progress, not perfection, and to try and do something every day that makes you happy and reminds you why you want to write in the first place.
Good luck in the real world, writers — it’s waiting for you.