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Creative Tips: Letter to a Young Animation Writer

Courtesy Josh Selig
Animation Writer

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Creative Tips: Letter to a Young Animation Writer

Thank you very much for your postcard from the Bourgeois Pig in L.A. with the word “Help!” written in what appears to be glitter pen. I can only assume you are an animation writer.

I actually threw your card away a few times, worried that any response from me might make us something like pen pals. But I couldn’t ignore you. Your prose was too concise, your howl into the abyss too familiar. So, I fished your greeting out of the trash and, well, here we are.

Since I do not know you personally, I will try to imagine you.  

When you’re not squirreled away in a coffee shop with a script giggling at your own jokes, you are trying to act normal on Zoom, in an email, on Facebook or wondering whether you should get a haircut and attend some kids’ TV market. Most likely you have one or more not-so-serious addictions. If I had to guess, I would say Hemingway Daiquiris, NyQuil and/or My Little Pony.  

In other words, you are not normal, nor should you be. You are an animation writer. A normal animation writer. And the sooner you embrace this, the sooner the pain will begin to subside.

And since it’s just you and me now, I’ll attempt to help you — although I don’t presume to do so from on high. There are far better writers than me (or is it I?) everywhere you look, and even my once humble and awkward script coordinators passed me by years ago, God bless them.   

But you caught me at a good time. For reasons that are unclear to me, I find it oddly pleasing these days to write down the few things I understand and send them off like kites with no strings. If you know me, you probably know I’m a rather selfish person, but this forever-COVID period combined with having a wee baby girl has left me as soft as a well-pounded steak.  

Of course, there are no shortcuts when it comes to being a writer, but there are a few truths that seem to apply whether one is writing poetry, prose, wedding vows or animation. None of them will make you a better writer, but some of them may help to keep you here among us. 

First and foremost, figure out if you’re really a writer. The way to determine this is easy. If you were stuck on a deserted island for the rest of your life, would you prefer to have someone to talk to or something to write with? If you chose the person, then you are not a writer and you can rest easy. If you chose the writing tool, then truly I say you are one of our sitting Tribe. 

Second, accept that there will always be someone giving you notes. These will range from the enlightened to the inane. Try not to be offended, not even when they quote their own offspring. Accept all notes with grace, thank the executive earnestly, and then apply only the notes you agree with. One of the sad realities of showbiz is that maintaining positive and often completely false relationships with people in power is a precondition for any form of success. 

Beware of all chemicals, including alcohol. Your writer’s brain is already wobbly enough. I understand all too well the comfort that these substances provide, but it is exactly this comfort that will keep you from having the fortitude, agility and synapses to do your best work. There are an infinite number of ways to avoid oneself, and all of them work — but only for a while.

Don’t be surprised that there is so little originality in the shows that get produced. This is a byproduct of the collective decision-making that dilutes everything from a good show bible to a good piece of legislation. Most humans celebrate compromise, but I for one don’t recommend it. The first casualty of any consensus is detail. Yes, the Devil is in the details but, alas, so is God.

Try not to take refuge in anybody else’s brand. Work on a show if you need the work (or if you like the work), but never confuse it with the main event. There is something wholly your own that needs to come out. It has no allies in the world except for you. You are its only parent and if you don’t tend to it like a young seedling, it will certainly die. Finish what you start, pitch often and shake off rejection like dirt from your boots. Some of what you create will stick to the wall but, even if it doesn’t, this is still a better fate than living behind another’s creation.

And finally, always remember that life is short, more like a bottle rocket than a sunset. There is a thin whiz and a pop. And then quiet. Lots of quiet. So, while we’re here on what’s left of this lovely orb, it behooves us to be kind to one another. And, when given the chance, we should always answer postcards from strangers. After all, people only write if they absolutely must.

Josh Selig

Josh Selig

Josh Selig is the creator of Wonder Pets!, Small Potatoes and 3rd & Bird. He has won 10 Emmy Awards for his writing and two Emmy Awards for his musical compositions. Selig is the President of China Bridge Content and the former CEO of Little Airplane Productions. 

 

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