I was that kid, sitting in my 3rd grade class, learning about descriptive writing and eating it all up. After reading my first descriptive story, my teacher Mrs. Jones told me I should be a writer. Great! At 8 years old, I totally knew what profession I'd be going into. I wrote my first novel at age 10. I wrote short stories that kept me up all night because I didn't want to leave my characters to solve their own problems. I carried R.L. Stine, Beverly Clearly and eventually Terry McMillan in my purse because if boredom ever tried to sneak in, I would disappear into another world.
I wanted to be an author, knowing that I'd need a day job because you don't become Stephen King over night. You have to pay your bills somehow. .
So, I majored in English and Journalism at Texas A&M University to become a Magazine writer. During my senior year at an internship at Pathways, the research magazine of the TAMU College of Liberal Arts, my mother sent me a magazine article about TV Writers that changed my life. Naively, I had never thought about the people who wrote tv scripts and screenplays. I was so immersed in creative writing that I thought all movies were adaptions of novels. I mean, I told you Terry McMillan was one of my homegirls.
That article thrusted me into researching graduate film programs. Then I realized I needed to write a feature-length screenplay for admissions. WTFrack! More research to do. I actually went as far as going to LA for a weekend to take a crash course at UCLA Extensions. (BTW, I love that program. Industry professionals teaching classes. Look into it.) I received all the tools necessary to write a screenplay. And I did it. Not very well but the structure and characters were there. At least enough for me to get into AFI and the Florida State University Film School. Your next question, please tell me you chose AFI!!!? Nope. FSU. Read about it more in my next blogpost AFI or FSU.
My graduate program gave me the privilege of learning writing from three departments: The Film School, The School of Theater, and the Creative Writing Department. It was an exhilarating experience. I wrote two feature films, a full-length play and several short stories, wrote/directed/edited a five-minute short film, and put up three one-act plays and two ten-minute plays. Whew! Two years and so much experience.
So what changed? Why don't you write, Shannan? Well, Film School happened. What I learned about myself is that I am very, very good at giving notes. Having a writers' group, the 5 other students in my program, gave me the opportunity to constantly give notes. At one point, my screenwriting teacher Tim Long said, "You have a knack for notes. Why can't you give yourself these kinds of notes." It may sound like shade to you but it turned my world around. I realized how much I enjoy the notes process. It is even more creative to me than writing. I love finding the loopholes in people's stories, helping them build diverse, likable characters, and helping them find the most efficient structure to tell their stories.
That's why I applied for the NBCUniversal Entertainment Associates Program. What's an Entertainment Associate? It's the most junior executive title at NBCU. The next title is that of manager. What's a manager? Ok... that's another post. Anyway, I was placed at The Syfy Channel where my education continued. I had the opportunity to work in development and current programming (hence the list of shows on my homepage). I was reading scripts, taking meetings with writers, directors and producers, and giving notes on scripts and dailies all day and all night. Working at Syfy further showed me where my real talent lay.
So, there you have it. I'm a writer. But I don't write. I critique. I give notes. I revise. I even rewrite. I help writers bring out their writer within.
Shannan E. Johnson, a writer who doesn't write.