Good day! It’s wonderful. I’ve found that I don’t have to look far for a little motivation. Seriously, there are days when I either don’t want to do anything or feel completely overwhelmed by pending tasks. But the moment I take a second to admire and acknowledge the varying successes of people in my community, I’m immediately driven to change my attitude. My sluggishness and indifference are instantly replaced with positivity and hopefulness.
If you’re a creative writer, someone thinking about writing, or someone who finds inspiration in seeing people who are thankful to do what they love, read on. If not, well, look away.
Back in February, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Table Read Initiative, organized by Mike Flynn, Lena Waithe and Codie Elaine Brooks. Today, I’m happy to bring you a little inspiration from TRI Co-founder, Mike Flynn (Detroit 1-8-7, Happy Town, Life on Mars). After graduating from San Diego State University, Flynn made the move to work as a professional writer, and has been on a steady climb as a television writer ever since. The Table Read Initiative’s first reading featured Lenox Ave, Flynn’s incredibly ambitions, and if I do say so myself, entertaining, hour-long period drama. The pilot focuses on a diverse African American community during the Harlem Renaissance. Despite the fact that the project hasn’t been picked up, it currently has Dennis Haysbert attached and was responsible for landing Flynn his first staff writing gig.
Even with the success he’s had, Flynn continues to give back. He currently volunteers with Inside Out Writers (IOW), an organization that partners young writers, who’ve been in or are currently in juvenile detention, with working mentors.
Thankfully, I got the chance to ask Flynn about his struggles as a Hollywood writer, what inspires him, and for some advice for aspiring creative writers out there.
How’d you get started writing?
Well if you want to get technical, I’ve always enjoyed hearing stories and telling them. I used to write in a journal as a kid and compose short stories out of sheer boredom. I had a lot of time to myself, but never imagined pursuing a profession out of it. But growing up, I would stay up after 9pm watching television shows with my mother and sister…adult shows like HBO’s “Dream On,” “The Larry Saunders Show,” “Beauty And The Beast,” “New York Undercover,” and the list goes on. I’d hear words and ask my mother what they meant, and she sent me to the dictionary. So I spent a lot of time reading that book among others. But what grabbed me were the storylines and things that characters would say. I loved characters like Sipowicz from “NYPD Blue” — we don’t get to see too many flawed characters like that anymore; people are too scared to venture into that realm. So I grew up wanting to tell stories and create characters that pushed the envelope; stuff that makes you sit back and think, “Wow, this writer really went there.” I carried that passion over into college. I majored in TV and Film Production and minored in English, began writing at 19 and haven’t stopped.
What’s your primary goal as a storyteller?
My primary goal is to entertain the viewer or reader. What would be my purpose if I didn’t? Some times novice writers get caught up in wanting to tell their “life story” that they think everyone wants to hear, but if nothing exciting or interesting happens, there isn’t any reason for calling yourself a writer. Entertain the people and they will return!
Where do you get the inspiration for your scripts?
I get inspiration from everywhere. I once got inspired to write a short story just by playing with my mom’s boyfriend’s dog. I asked her what type of dog he was: a Great Pyrenees — a big white dog that’ll intimidate anyone. I did some research on where these dogs came from (Pyrenees mountains in Europe). Then I thought about monsters and a psychiatrist for some reason. So I put the two together and wrote a short fiction piece about a psychiatrist who treats monsters at an institution before sending them back out into society, set within the Pyrenees mountain range. See how that came together? It was a fun write. But I also get inspired by photography, art, music, stupid things my friends do that makes me crack up, family and everyday people who I meet.
What’s the most important part of your process?
To be honest? Sleep. Whenever I call myself going to bed, I twist and turn for about two hours because I can’t shut my brain off. I’m constantly reaching over to my phone to jot down ideas on the notepad app (thank you iPhone). I find that my best ideas come to me when I’m trying to nap or I just lay down. I’m an artist, so excuse my eccentricities. I know other people pace around the room, or go running, but I just lay on my back and let the ideas flow, man.
I have one, but it’s too ambitious. Period pieces always scare people, from what I hear…yet, they buy them every year. That’s a whole other discussion though. But I have come across a book that I feel, if the rights are available to adapt, will resonate with an audience. Whenever I get a chill down my back and it stays there for a couple seconds, I know I’m on to something. And this book gave me those chills.
T.V. vs Film: Do you have a preference? What elements make each of these appealing?
Film gets you the glory. TV gets you the respect. I love both but I prefer to work in television. People respect the writer on set of a TV show. They come to you for every question and I’m happy to offer an answer. You get to explore your characters more in TV, follow them week in and week out and find out what makes them tick…what makes them love and hate. I recently watched a character take a dark turn on an episode of “Scandal.” It was something that really opened up his character and set up more opportunities to see how his past life and actions may catch up to him. In film, you only get to stay with the characters for 2 hours (unless there’s a sequel), then you’re left wondering what happens next (if the movie is good). TV is gaining a reputation for having a film-like quality and is bringing the A-game. That’s why you see a lot more film actors coming to TV. I don’t blame them; it’s where the pimps rule.
What have been the most difficult and rewarding moments of your experience as a Hollywood writer?
The most rewarding moment was getting dressed up and going to the NAACP Image Awards for writing on a show that was nominated for Outstanding Drama (“Detroit 1-8-7”). It was a lot of fun talking to people about what you do and watching their eyes light up. Today, TV writer/producers are gaining more respect and notice, which is making this profession more and more attractive. I think the most difficult thing was finding my voice as a writer. I’m honestly still trying to hone in on it but I think I’m just about there. It’s very challenging to get your writing to stand out of a crowd of many other talented writers. It’s a hustle that requires discipline and diligence.
Any advice for writers looking to get their scripts in an agent or talent’s hands?
Keep writing. And write some more. Network with assistants, join tracking boards or industry-related organizations. Work for a successful writer or in a production office until you get that opportunity to work for a successful writer who can take you under his/her wing. Have a strong work ethic and swallow your pride. If you want to get your script into a talent’s hand, I’d suggest paying that fee on IMDB Pro. You can see an actor’s representation contact info and contact them. If you want to get it into an agent’s hands, well, you better have a friend who is a star client at X Agency who can vouch for you. That’s the honest truth. Unless you have the gift of gab and can find a way to be persistent without coming off as annoying, go the old fashion route and write agencies that accept query letters. The WGA has a list of agencies on their site that do just that.
I’m thankful that my mom never sheltered me or discouraged my imagination. It’s only grown from when I was a kid and has allowed me to do something that I love while making a living. So to that, I say, thank you, Vanessa Flynn.
Thank you, Mike! Can’t wait to see what you’re involved with next! Continued success to you.
I hope that jump-started any of you with an ‘inspiration’ block. Remember, inspiration can come from the most surprising places. Keep your eyes, ears, mind and heart open. Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday!
Prior article about The Table Read Initiative: here