I recently finished reading legendary writer/producer/director Garry Marshall’s excellent memoir My Happy Days in Hollywood. Can’t recommend the book enough, particularly the audio version to hear Marshall personally describe his own life.
After describing his role in discovering people like Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, and Anne Hathaway, he says the question he is most asked is how someone becomes a star and explains how he has no clue what the secret is. But he is able to pull from decades of experience in television and movies to offer some helpful hints.
As I considered these tips all I could think of was writing and how much universal wisdom here applied to the challenging career many of us choose–to become a successful writer.
Here is a modified version of Marshall’s list, adapted for writers like me who want to be wiser about breaking into the business.
1. Go to school, any school, write for someone, and study writing.
Actors start off with walk on roles in community plays. Writers start off by getting articles published in small community publications that do not pay. I would add blogging as an easy way to hone craft and learn to consistently produce content. Regardless of where you find continuing education, you don’t have to be in high school or college to be a lifelong student of your passion.
2. It’s just as hard to be a working writer as it is to be a star.
Don’t think that writing gets easy once you’ve achieved whatever major goals you’ve set. Legendary writers still work hard, very hard, sometimes struggling through every word.
3. Spending most of your time getting an agent isn’t as important as meeting people yourself at parties, charity affairs, or church.
Yes, agents are huge, but even if you get representation you’ll still need lots of connections.
4. Getting an article or even a book published will not make you a star.
But you will “get experience to do better on the next job if there is one.”
5. Here is Marshall’s rule in his own words. A little scary, yes, but I sense wisdom here.
“Give yourself a time limit to try and be a working actor. If after a certain number of years you have a few credits take these credits home and teach, even teach kids. It is sometimes more rewarding.”
Apply to your writing career as you see fit.
6. Relatives, romances, or connections alone don’t make you a star.
Talent and showcasing will.
7. Get your work out there on the internet.
Someone might see it or send it to someone.
8. Spending loads of money on photos (or any other flashy self-promotional tools) is a waste of time. Instead, spend your money on…
Film festivals if you listen to Marshall talk to actors. I’m adapting this to attending writing conferences. An actor at a film festival is visible. Writers, directors, and producers see the person, their look, personality, and style. At a writer’s conference agents, editors, and publishers are right in front of you.
9. Take every chance to get your work seen in small publications.
Marshall says of small films to avoid nudity and “material that grosses you out.” Actors audition for lots of obscure parts. Writers submit to lots of obscure publications, websites, and collections.
10. Don’t rely on any one person to make your career.
The more people who give you a chance, the better.
“And remember, luck can be a good part of success.” ~ Garry Marshall
11. Stay healthy.
And avoid negative people who try to shut down your dreams. “Cultivate the positive,” says Marshall.
12. Marshall’s self-proclaimed Most Important Hint:
“Jealousy of others is a total waste of time and energy.”
Remember, these are thoughts and tips on becoming a successful, working actor or writer. Many of us will not reach that level, but that doesn’t mean we are failures. I will write for the rest of my life even if I never make another dime off the craft, because I love it.
If you want great rules on the actual art of writing check out the late, great Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing. Number 10 is my personal fave.
To see Garry Marshall’s full resume visit his IMDB page.
What do you think? Would you apply any of these ideas in a different way for yourself?