I’m Annie Nishida, and I’m a television writer who went from being un-repped to being a staff writer on Disney Channel’s Gabby Duran & the Unsittables, in what feels like a total whirlwind.
Almost exactly two years ago, I wanted to quit writing. I had graduated from USC’s screenwriting program three years prior and had yet to land any sort of screenwriting gig, while I watched my classmates succeed in the industry. But then I took a step back and reexamined what was really going on.
I hadn’t written a new sample in three years.
I hadn’t put my work out into the world.
But most importantly, I hadn’t been making things. So, I started to do that again.
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I started with a passion project– a written/illustrated novella. Prior to this, I hadn’t written prose, and the only art training I had was from one semester in high school, so this was an experiment that ended up being quite liberating, especially because I chose to self-publish it and didn’t have to address anyone’s notes. After that, I continued to illustrate autobiographical comics, and with each one completed, I felt like I was strengthening my voice. I got a real handle on my style of humor and started to get a sense of the types of stories I wanted to tell, which is something I hadn’t done up until that point. After a year, I was ready to go back to screenwriting, and within a year of that, I was staffed in a comedy room.
Here are some of the most important things I did for both myself and my career that led me to where I am now.
Find your voice
Upon graduating from film school, I didn’t have a clear voice. My samples were all over the place, and at the time I had written them, I was still grappling with finding who I was, and what made me unique. I was writing characters I didn’t connect with and didn’t particularly care about. I started to find my voice by experimenting with prose, illustration, and looking back at my (and my family’s) experiences growing up. But, you can start anywhere — including just stepping back and looking at the stories that resonate with you. This was definitely a process for me, but also so helpful and necessary for anyone in creative fields.
Make cool things
I am a true believer in the idea that if you make something cool that you believe in, somebody WILL see it. Make something that only you can make, whether that’s based on a real experience you had, or populated by people you grew up with, a totally fictitious story that you feel like you absolutely have to share with the world, or a combo of all three. Write things that make your heart sing, that are painful, that you absolutely cannot bear to keep to yourself. Just make things! Every time you write a new script, you’re learning from your previous work, creating something people can potentially see, and learning more about yourself. It’s a win-win-win.
Get your work out there
Once I wrote a pilot that I was proud of, whether it was received well by others or not, I entered it into contests. I started with one at first, just to gauge what others thought of it– and it ended up being a finalist. Then, I started entering it into a few more– including ScreenCraft’s Pilot Launch and their Screenwriting Fellowship— to see if this was just a fluke. When it continued to place, I knew that not only did the script resonate with me, it resonated with others. Then, I started sending out query emails to reps, making sure to mention how I placed, as well as a tidbit about my background as a writer. I ended up signing with my manager, and then later with my agent. But, this only happened because I was willing to put my work out into the world.
Know your story
When you go to any sort of meeting, whether it’s with a potential rep or a showrunner, they will always ask you to tell them about yourself. This question always caught me off-guard. I knew my stories like the back of my hand and was ready to pitch them out, but I wasn’t ready to pitch myself. I didn’t find my life particularly interesting, which was a mistake. I realized that if I think that about myself, then it would come off that way to others, too. So, I started digging. I reflected on my favorite and least favorite memories from childhood, what got me into writing, what my family is like, what things I enjoyed as a teenager– anything and everything that led me to where I was; anything and everything that made me, me. Once I got this down, I finessed it into a 2-3 minute story that could give a complete stranger a good sense of who I am. If the person you’re meeting with doesn’t connect with you as a person, they’re not going to want to read what you write. I realize that this can seem daunting, so if meetings still make you nervous, sometimes I like to pretend I’m a totally cool, successful writer being interviewed on a podcast.
With all of this said, no matter where you are in your career– whether you’re taking generals every day or writing before and after your shift at work– you have the power to take these steps, and you don’t need anyone’s permission to do so.
Annie Nishida is a screenwriter, illustrator, and activist who uses her experiences as a fourth-generation Japanese-American and product of the MySpace Era as inspiration for her coming-of-age themed stories. She is currently a writer of Disney Channel’s Gabby Duran & the Unsittables, and exhibits her comics at indie publishing events up and down the California coast.