I’m reading an advance copy of comedian Carol Leifer’s fun memoir/advice book HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY CRYING. I love people like Leifer (and Jerry Seinfeld, whose show she wrote for) who give straight-shooter career advice that they earned by working hard and working their way up. A couple of gems that she shared from others struck me in particular as wonderful advice for a lot of the struggling writer-types who ask me for advice:
Seinfeld told Leifer before she shot the pilot for a show she created and starred in: “You know, there’s not just one thing. … Take the pressure off yourself. It feels like the most important night of your life, but it’s really just another night in the bigger picture of everything you do. Now, go have fun out there.” Obviously writers don’t have “one night,” but they often act like they have “one piece.” Every piece can feel like the most important one. Not one of them is. Not even the one that actually ends up being the most important. Because no piece that’s written as if it’s the most important becomes the most important. It’s the ones you loosen up on, have fun with, that tend to take off. So you can’t treat any of them like it’s the only one.
Leifer also quotes Amy Poehler in a 2013 Entertainment Weekly piece: “Be okay with writing really bad stuff for a long time — just keep doing it. The act of doing it, the muscle memory of it, is more important than how it is. That’s why improv was so instrumental for me, because you would do shows every night, and they would suck every night, and one night they’d be okay, and it would sustain you for another year.” My “improv” was being a daily local newspaper reporter, writing no fewer than three or four stories a day. If you can find your version of improv (blogging, maybe?), you’ll benefit. You’ll hate your life a lot of the time while doing it, but you’ll benefit.
She quotes Mike Nichols: “I’ve learned that many of the worst things lead to the best things, that no great thing is achieved without a couple of bad, bad things on the way to them, and that the bad things that happen to you bring, in some cases, the good things.” Worse, you never know which ones are the bad things when you’re doing them, and you don’t know if and when they’ll bring good things. But it’s nice to know even Nichols has been there.
And finally, she shares what Bryan Cranston told her about his audition philosophy when they worked together on Seinfeld: “I prepare like you wouldn’t believe. Then I go in for the audition and I focus on giving them my best read. But once I leave that room of casting directors and producers, it’s a distant memory as I leave the lot.” This is the best way to approach pitching in the writing biz: Write a great pitch, send it off, then forget it ever happened unless you happen to get an assignment out of it. Otherwise, it’s all just too painful.