What do older writers need to know about trying to get back into the business?

It’s a familiar tale. A talented, young writer has some early success, sells a few scripts, but takes a detour when they pursue another, perhaps more stable, career. Years later, the writer seeks to reinvigorate the passion of their youth, but is it too late? Mentor Alfredo Septién (Knightfall; Midnight, Texas) lends some words of advice to a fellow member attempting to get back into the game.

Question: “I’m an older writer returning to my early passion after a successful medical career. Any advice for older writers trying to break back in?”

Alfredo Septién: My gut reaction to this question is, “Stay away! There are so many writers in the pool already, and the world needs more medical professionals, especially NOW!” But, I get it. This is a passion, and we should all follow our dreams. Cool. So here are my two cents.

Getting into a career in film or television is a younger person’s game. That’s the simple truth. In most cases, when you see more mature folks working in the field (I kinda fit that description now), they’ve been at it for a while. They’ve worked a long time to build up their resumes, their craft, and their networks. Entering the field as an “adult” (my favorite PC euphemism for “old”) is tougher. That means that you have to work as hard or harder to break in. Still interested? Then read on.

First, you have to have the material to get you in the door. So, WRITE! Hone your craft! Get your specs and your original pilots in the best shape possible. Give them to pros, producers, or other writers to read. Better yet, join a writers’ group or class and use that as a way to vet your material. In short, have several samples in great shape for when the opportunity comes along.

Second, get out there and “network.” Unless your neighbors or cousins are in the film and TV biz, you’ve got some time to make up for. You’re going to have to make contacts by getting out there and meeting new people who work in this field. Join a UCLA extension class. Go to industry mixers. Go to conferences. Get yourself into situations where you can meet professionals and other writers.

Finally, lean into your expertise. Here’s the good news for you: The one solid thing that makes you unique in the writing world is that you have knowledge and a “mental database” few others have! You have real world experience that makes you stand out. Luckily for you, medical dramas are popular. Thanks to your former career, you have a very marketable skill. You’d be an asset to any medical drama writers’ room. So, lean into it. Make sure that at least one of your samples is a kick-ass medical drama. Once it’s polished up to a place where you think it’s great, make that (and your knowledge) the tip of your spear! Best of luck!

Send your questions about the craft, job hunting, your career, or Guild service to Connect (under 100 words, please) with the subject “Mentor,” and we’ll send them to an established screen or TV writer to answer. Questions might be edited for space or clarity and will be published anonymously. WGAW mentors provide informal career advice and are not expected to read scripts, give notes, hear pitches, or help find representation or work.

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