When I was growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, I always knew that Los Angeles would eventually be my home. It was my dream, but it needed to be my reality.
Upon graduating from the University of Nebraska in 2010, I was finally able to move to LA and make it my reality. I got a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Hollywood, and adopted an adorable, sassy terrier that became my best friend. I didn’t have much furniture, (a bed, a dresser, a couch) and I often had my new neighbors over to talk shop, (most of them were actors) and drink Miller Lite. I was slowly finding my place in this town.
After 7 years of living here, I’ve seen my fair share of ups and downs and learned many valuable lessons on what it takes to make it in LA.
Here’s my story and the valuable life lessons I picked up along the way…
Overcoming the Fear of LA
I’m just going to say it: Moving to LA can be scary AF if you don’t know anyone and don’t really have a plan. But I was determined to make it work.
I got a job as a floor manager in a restaurant in Hollywood, found my local hangout, which is a bar near Sunset and Crescent Heights, and started to make both friends and contacts. I became part of a solid social circle. I partied with a well-known male celebrity. And I was so incredibly happy.
I started auditioning for things and was really excited to get my life as an actor started. And then I realized that all these scripts and sides I was reading were total garbage. After reading a typo-ridden script with no story, I tossed the pages to the floor, saying, “I can write better than this.”
And I started writing a screenplay. It was terrible. I had a screenwriter friend who said he couldn’t even get through it.
But I kept at it. I read books on screenwriting. When I hung out at the WGA library, I read actual scripts. I watched as much TV and as many movies as I had time for, focusing on genres that I wanted to write, and learning the art of tone.
Mastering the craft of writing for the screen was the number one thing I needed to focus on, which is more of a challenge than just writing in my journal.
And one day, something magical happened. I had gotten great at writing. It appeared to have happened out of nowhere.
After being in LA for a year, I became friends with the guy who did the social media for my local hangout. Our first outing as friends was a hike through Runyon Canyon. I mentioned I was miserable at my job and just wanted to find something that made me happy. Not long after that, he offered me a job at his branding firm as a social media manager and copywriter.
I learned even more working with him. I wrote copy until my fingers were sore. I populated websites, figured out the workings of SEO, and even learned a little code.
But writing was where I truly sparkled.
Do the Work
I stayed with the company for a few years and then moved onto an ad agency working as a full-time copywriter. This job didn’t make me happy. I often spent my days editing medical copy and never given an opportunity to be creative.
I was at a crossroads. I knew I wanted to write. But I didn’t really know if screenwriting was feasible as a career at this point.
That is the actual worst thing you can tell yourself. Aside from telling yourself that you’re not good enough, never, ever tell yourself that something isn’t possible. It is. Anything is possible. As clichéd as that sounds, it’s the absolute truth.
If you want something, go out and get it. Dream, dream, dream, and then dream some more. And when that’s done, dream even bigger.
And here’s where it gets tough.
It does you no good to just dream about it. Just wanting it isn’t enough. Just saying you’re going to sit down at the computer and write doesn’t work if you’re just on Facebook for six to eight hours. You must actually DO THE WORK. You have to put in an effort to reap the rewards.
And this is what I did.
After leaving my final office job, I went back to waiting tables where the money would be solid and I’d have plenty of time to write.
For three years, while I worked at this little spot in West Hollywood, I made contacts, wrote four pilots, was hired to write a comedy feature for SNL alums, shot a web pilot that I wrote, was a finalist in a writing contest, wrote and directed a short film starring an Emmy award-winning actor, and pitched my animated series to a major network.
I had come so far, and was (and still am!) so proud of myself. I had gone from not thinking that writing could be a profession to starting my own production company, entering Project Greenlight, and being on the brink of selling my own TV series all because I work at it every day, network, (yes, networking totally sucks, but as a writer in Hollywood, it’s a must) and I never stop dreaming.
This is not to say that I haven’t had those moments of writer’s block, or had little breakdowns after not getting any writing work for what felt like ages. But that’s when it’s most important for you to stay in the game. Especially if you’re getting signs from the universe. Listen to it. Trust it. And if it’s your passion, find a way to follow it. Eventually, it will fall into place.
Persistence is Key
I remember being at a seminar where a successful TV writer was speaking. Someone asked him, “Why is it taking me so long to break in?” He replied, “The timeline is not your concern. This business belongs to the ones who refuse to give up.” And he’s a thousand percent correct. It will weed out the slackers, the people who just want to be famous, the ones who want it too quickly, and the ones who eventually can’t take the rejection. If you keep at it, it will happen and you have to believe that.
That being said, rejection is a whole other beast entirely. For me, rejection isn’t half as bad as not knowing. The pesky crickets that chirp incessantly as you wait to hear back from a suit regarding buying your script. The thoughts that run through your head as you click refresh on your email 60 times a minute in hopes that the showrunner you’ve sent your script to wants to meet you for coffee. Nothing is harder than radio silence. If you can deal with that, rejection is a peaceful walk in the prettiest park of all time.
My Advice for You
My biggest piece of advice to people moving out to Los Angeles to pursue a dream is to come out here as prepared as you can. Get as much of your house in order as you can before making the move, and you will be much happier. And once you get here, hit the ground running.
For those of you gunning for work on-set in any way, find a way over that wall.
Get into a class. Join a writing group. Find work as a PA. And NETWORK YOUR FACE OFF.
Stalk people on social media sites and ask them to have coffee with you so you can “pick their brain.” Tell them it’s on you. In my experience, they never end up making you pay anyway.
And whatever your craft is, EXERCISE it. Two years ago, I thought I was at the top of my game. I just re-read something I wrote around that time, and now I’m re-writing it. Because it’s not as great as it could be.
Get a solid, core group of positive, intelligent, creative types who believe in you. It’s hard to do in this town, but it’s SO worth it. Get rid of anyone in your group of friends who is negative and brings you down. Hang out with the doers, not the fakers. Surround yourself with people who are more successful than you.
Make plans rather than setting goals. Work on your plans every day. Don’t listen to the haters. And most importantly, never lose sight of your dreams. Make everything you’ve ever truly wanted your reality.