I often get asked, via social networks, if I have any advice for aspiring writers.
This is what I know:
My path to writing was incredibly circuitous, so I wouldn't recommend my career approach. It took me a long time to find my voice and realize that my need for expression could be expedited through a keyboard. I had a dozen careers before I landed on The Shield and as a result I was a generation older than most of my peers. I think those "wasted years" (and by wasted, I mean, I was literally fucking wasted) fueled my need for success. I've always felt like I've had to "catch up" to everyone else. Truth is, I still feel that way. I'm not one of those writers who can feel good about the success of others. When I read about a writer getting a gig or an award that I covet, I burn with envy. That burn fuels my desire to win, to produce, to take action. And I do. Which brings me to my first and most important piece of advice -- writers write.
Every loser douchebag in this town has a screenplay in their back seat. Or an "amazing idea" for a movie or TV show they want to share. If you want to be a writer, don't worry about selling your shit, that will happen. If you are a writer, you write. Every fucking day. You generate a body of work like any artist. Screenplays, TV specs, pilots, etc. If you are good, if you have a voice, you'll work. Trust me, the industry needs original voices. A substantial percentage of working writers in this town are hacks who keep failing upwards. They bounce from show to show after one season and for some reason showrunners keep hiring them. Why? I'm not sure. I think we get lazy and seduced by credits instead of looking for an original voice. I know I'm guilty of it. Although my last three hires on SOA have been uncredited writers with more diverse voices. And my show is better as a result of it.
My second piece of advice is to stop reading the trades to find out "what's selling". That's creative death. If your writer friends or agents are encouraging you to write the next Inception, Lost or Modern Family, tell them to go fuck themselves. Write what excites your imagination not your wallet. Find something that inspires you, that makes you feel something, that pushes your primal buttons. This process will lead you to the discovery of your instinctual themes -- the emotional motifs that identify you as a human being and an artist. A few of my themes are redemption, fatherhood and the identification of manhood. These are the emotional pulls that fuel my need to create and guide my creative choices. Find yours.
My last piece of advice is to stop buying ridiculous fucking books that teach you "how to write". Most are written by writers who couldn't get a job. If you want to learn how to write screenplays, read great screenplays. If you wanna learn how to write television, read TV scripts from shows you admire.
Those are a few random thoughts off the top of my head. I hope it helps. And no, I will not read your spec Sons of Anarchy.