Between shows like Degrassi: Next Class and the upcoming Hulu Series Holly Hobbie, Sarah Glinski has accomplished a lot. From staff writing, to story-editing, producing, and show-running, Sarah Glinksi has worked in almost every role TV-writing has to offer, and she has also been kind enough to act as guest instructor for Storybird’s Television Writing Course.
But what does she think about her career and the process of TV writing? What drew her to TV in the first place?
We sat down with Sarah to learn more about her inspiration, her career, and her advice for aspiring writers and filmmakers.
“There are lots of people who want to become writers. There are not a lot of people who actually write.”
A lot of people watch TV and imagine what it would like to make it in your business. What were some shows that made you passionate about writing for TV?
I loved so much TV growing up. My first passion show was Beverly Hills 90210. I think it’s because I was the exact same age as the characters. We were in the same grade at school.
It felt like we were having experiences at the same time.
Their experiences were very different from mine but it was kind of an opportunity to live aspirationally through those characters.
Okay, you loved TV growing up, but how did you make your writing true to yourself and your experiences? Isn’t TV just meant to entertain?
I was working with a writer who was an older man. I was sort of the other writer who was brainstorming with him and one day he said write ten ideas for episodes.
He said “These are all fine. These could all be episodes of TV, but I could have come up with every one of them. I hired you because you’re a young woman in your 20s and you should have totally different ideas than I have. You should come with your own POV, with your own voice, with stories that I couldn’t come up with.”
And I took that as a challenge and the next day I came up with ten ideas that he couldn’t come up with. So I succeeded.
I think that’s something to always think about. Just keep on trying to come up with stories that no one else will come up with. As young people, you know so many more things about the world than us old people do. You guys have a unique view on the world that is really special.
So you’ve come up with a story that’s original, but how do you get people to care about your characters?
The question I think you should always ask yourself is why are you the best person to tell this story? That doesn’t mean that you have to be exactly like that person. You just have to have insight or a point of view on this person that is so strong, so unique and personal to yourself that no one else could have those ideas. I think that makes characters that people fall in love with.
What about people who haven’t taken those first steps yet? How does a young TV writer get inspired to actually start writing and get their work out there?
“Say ‘yes’ to trying new things and trying new experiences, because that will give you more ideas to write.”
A lot of people are the “writer type,” but many people struggle to find the right platform. What about TV’s structure sets it apart from other storytelling mediums?
Over thousands and thousands of years we’ve found humans respond to storytelling in a specific way. So I think it is very important to know structure. The difference between TV and other forms of writing is that you are literally writing up to a commercial break telling people “this was so exciting! You’re going to want to come back in 3-5 minutes.” And then you’ve got to tell your audience they really want to come back next week. So structure in TV is quite important. Above and beyond people respond emotionally to stories being done in a particular way.
Some people think of writing as a solo experience, but TV is mostly written in teams. How do you manage working with a roomful of creative minds all bursting with ideas?
So typically at the beginning of the season I get other writers to spend a week of blue sky. What are all your big ideas?
Once it’s all up on the board, you can feel the room vibrate with excitement.
People get really interested in things. Usually, it means there’s a hot debate because people have a lot of opinions, which means there’s a lot of conflict, which means it’s good for story.
That sounds really exciting! But what about getting other writers’ feedback? Isn’t that scary?
I try to create an environment where everyone feels safe. I say on Day One you’re going to get a lot [of feedback], especially to baby writers. You’re going to get a lot of notes. The script that you write might be 100% different than the script that we shoot. We’re all going to work together, we’re all a team, and we’re all here to support you. Don’t be afraid to pitch an idea that doesn’t get approved. That’s OK.
We’ve all pitched thousands of ideas that didn’t make it to TV.
This is all useful advice about working as a TV writer, but what should you know before you start working on a show? What should a young writer know walking into their first day on a series?
It sounds like you’ve had to work hard to get where you are in your career. What’s the process look like? How has your hard work paid off?
I think the best part of my job is that every day is different. At the beginning of the season, I’m in a room with writers and we’re brainstorming ideas for the season. Then we enter prep, I’m working with wardrobe and art department and other producers and directors and we’re figuring out how we take these episodes and shoot them and that’s really exciting.
You get into production and you’re actually shooting it and then you get to see your words come to life!
You’re making sure that the world looks the way that you imagined. Then finally you’re in post which means you’ve shot everything already and you’re working with editors to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to make that final episode of TV that everyone gets to see.