Fellowship Season Prep Part 7: The YES
May 27, 2020
We’ve covered how to mine your life for personal stories, clarifying your creative voice, prepping for a killer interview, and actions you can take to overcome any painful rejections in the fellowship season process. Now we wait, and out of the handful of fellowship applicants that make it to the interview round, an even lesser few will hear those joyous words, “Will you accept this rose—” Sorry, not those words. I mean, “Congratulations! You’ve made it!”
Talk about a niche audience… This article will cover what to do when you get into a fellowship: Exercises and advice for how to proceed when you’ve grabbed the brass ring and the next step in your dream-come-true COMES TRUE. But really, many of these tips will apply to any moment in your life when your career is about to level up in a big way.
Like many previous fellows, this may be the 4th or 5th time you’ve applied to a fellowship, and the whirlwind of emotions that hits now may fog your mind a bit. But you’ll soon be busier than you can imagine, so when you take a break from celebrating, here are some tips and to-dos that will help prime you for your upcoming adventure:
Set and communicate expectations with your family, friends, significant others, and roommates. You’re about to eat, sleep and breathe your writing. If you’re not speedy at outlining and turning in pages, these programs will give you the deadlines to MAKE you speedier. But it’s still your job to prioritize and protect your schedule so you can focus on and finish all of your assignments. You’re basically in the writer’s version of a medical residency or like a law student prepping to take the bar. The more clearly you clarify to your loved ones that you may go full-hermit during this program, the easier it will be to protect your writing time when you need it most.
Speaking of prioritizing your writing over everything else:
CLEAR YOUR CALENDAR
A fellow from the WB fellowship had this advice: “Are you someone who volunteers with three different animal shelters and is on a competitive karaoke team plus throws axes every Monday? Great. Cancel all of it. For the duration of your time in this fellowship, it's your priority. Anything that isn't 1) the fellowship, 2) paying your bills, or 3) taking care of your family's needs, is a distraction. You can return to those hobbies once you get staffed.”
As with any success in the industry, whenever you move up, close friends, old acquaintances, and complete strangers may reach out asking for advice, time and attention. Since you remember being in the same spot so very recently, it’s natural to want to field every question, favor and request. I’m a big fan of paying it forward, but pay attention to your limits, because you do have them, and it’s far too easy to let your inbox zap your writing energy before your day’s even begun.
One fellow mentioned passing along this tip to strangers, “You are not the only person asking me for advice, so if I don’t respond, do not take it personally.”
UPGRADE YOUR TIME MANAGEMENT
You wouldn’t have gotten into a fellowship without having some strong time management skills. However, it’s not a bad idea to back-pocket a few new options for when the heat is on and you need help staying on task. Check out these for a start:
PREPARE FOR SELF-CARE
Having a shortlist of self-care options ready as you get busier will be a lifesaver down the road. Set a budget for planned takeout, do weekly meal prep, figure out the healthiest fast snacks you’ll eat, download a sleep app or meditation app to manage stress, and have a list of family and close friends with whom you can lean on, vent to, and process this strange new experience with.
TAKE A NOTE
Some of you have never had to take notes from others for your work, and it shows. And I mean taking a note you really don’t want to take. It’s one thing to discuss ideas with your friends, peers and teachers, but the execs running the fellowships are in their own league, and for good reason. You may not agree with every note you get from them, but it’s your job to hear them, consider them, and to avoid getting defensive while you do.
One previous fellow from the CBS Writers Mentoring Program offered this advice, “The first thing to remember is that they chose you because they want to invest in your career. So, if you get critiqued during a workshop on your personal story or pitch, remember it's not an attack on you, it's feedback to help you.”
You’ll be pitching and writing a lot in your fellowship, so it’s a great idea to start brainstorming stories and loglines as soon as possible. The deadlines in the fellowship are likely to be quicker than those you’ve given yourself in the past, so the more you prepare beforehand, the easier it will be to hit the ground running on day one.
First, check out the articles earlier in this series designed to help you mine your personal life for story ideas and flesh out your creative voice. Those exercises are a treasure trove for new ideas that will be rooted in your own story.
And second, push yourself to get vulnerable and weird with your ideas. David Bowie once advised, "Always go a little further into the water than you feel you're capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. When you don't feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you're just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
Those weird, uncomfortable, personal stories make you an asset to a writers room, so don’t be afraid to dig into them.
WELCOME TO THE TEAM
As a previous WB fellow told me, “Once you’ve gotten into the fellowship, the competition is over. You’ve won. You are NOT competing against the other fellows.” You’re entering an interactive experience, and for the next few months to forever, this ragtag group of dreamers will be your second family.
Your job now is to give notes, support others, be vulnerable, and to share your weird, interesting self. Writers rooms depend on unique personal insight and unusual stories to generate fresh ideas, so there’s no better time to get comfortable putting yourself out there. And the more you bond with your other fellows, the easier it will be to open up and get to some great and wild ideas. It’s a skill that will pay off in future pitch meetings as well as when you’re staffed.
One last thing to remember before you head off to your first day: They didn’t pick your name out of a hat. They spent a lot of time discerning the final fellows for your program and your inclusion was no accident, so consider letting go of feelings of inferiority, an irrational fear of failure, or any sense that you might not belong in that room. The sooner you shake off your nerves, the sooner you can enjoy the process and get to the work at hand.
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter, playwright, and development consultant, and has sold shows to CBS (sitcom) and NBC (crime/mystery). Raised on a mix of Gilda Radner sketches, Columbo reruns, and neuroscience conferences, Liz’s love of comedy, mystery, and the puzzle of human behavior is woven through every story she writes. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook and can be found at www.BletchleySpark.com.