I got my first TV writing job at 55. It was hard being the oldest person in the room — but I'm glad I never gave up.
Craig Williams had been trying to break into film and TV for decades.
Williams says he often found himself the oldest person in the room as he pursued opportunities.
Writing what he knew and making personal connections ultimately led to his first TV job at age 55.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Craig Williams, a 55-year-old TV writer based in New York City. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I've been a writer and producer in New York For over 20 years. My wife and I started a production company and we've produced somewhere over 50 projects — lots of short films and a couple of documentaries. We do a lot of work for the health department, like vaccination, mental health, and social awareness commercials for the city of New York. That's what we do to pay the bills.
I've been working towards a TV writing job for a few years, but I've always wanted to write for the screen. I'm a native New Yorker, and for many years, I was trying to make a feature film and get it into Sundance or Tribeca — one of the big festivals. I wanted to go that route and produce and write my own features.
However, about five or six years ago, TV started to explode and all these channels and streamers popped up, so I turned some of the things I'd written into TV and started writing pilots. This journey has had a lot of stops and starts, but recently, at age 55, I got my very first job as a TV writer on a series.
I got the job sort of out of the blue
The way I got my first writing job was through a 20-year-old relationship. I have a manager, but that's not where it came from. I was in the WarnerMedia Access Writers Program, which was a great experience, to be chosen as one of 20 writers out of thousands of applications — but it didn't come from there. Ultimately what got me this opportunity was being consistent and making my creative community aware of that consistency.
Whenever I'd place in a writing contest or get a new opportunity, I'd share about that on social media. Those things built my credibility — and showed the creative people I've been building relationships with all these years what I'd been doing over time. It really is the community you make that will help you kickstart a writing career, more than any other thing that you can do. My story is a great example.
The way I got my job felt sudden — a showrunner I know called me up a couple of months ago, and said, "I'm on my third season of this show. I got a little bit more money to have a writer's room, and I want you to be one of my writers." He hadn't read anything I'd written.
I ultimately sent him a script, because he'd said to send him a sample just to be sure. But because I had social proof that I'd been working at my craft, winning awards, and mentoring other writers, I put the energy out into the world that I'm a TV writer, before I had any real TV writing job. All this person knew was that after 20 years, I was still out there hustling and living my craft.
I had to overcome a lot of rejection, and my own negative thinking, to get here
I entered writing contests ad nauseam — I'd enter and there would be no wins for awhile, then suddenly the next year I'd make it to the quarterfinals, and then a few years after that, I'd make the semi-finals. It wasn't panning out, but entering contests gave me confidence in my writing because it showed me that people who didn't know me or love me were responding to it.
In 2019, I wrote a comedy pilot that won best original 30 minute pilot at American Black Film Festival in Miami. When I won the award, I was flown to Miami for the festival — two other writers and I were treated like the toast of the festival. The executive who'd read my work was a Black woman at a network, and I met her there. She was really, really complimentary.
After the festival, she says to call her in a couple of weeks so she can set up some meetings for me. She seemed really excited about my show — but when I got back and called her, the meeting we set up kept getting pushed. When I was finally able to get in touch with her again by phone, the first thing she said was, "You have 15 minutes. What do you want?" I knew it wasn't going to go anywhere after that.
That win put me in front of a lot of other people as well, but nothing came of it because the TV industry changes so quickly. I would get in front of an executive, and then three months later, that executive would be gone and moved on to something else. I might be able to keep the relationship, but now they're no longer with that network because it got bought by somebody else, and on, and on, and on. All I could do was keep writing.
As the years went by without my first big break, I started to think I was past my time
At a certain point, I started to struggle with the thought that I'm too old to do this writing thing. A big moment for me during that time was in a pitching class I took. As we were taking the class, they were going around the room and each person said what scared them the most about being a TV writer. I said something generic — but then the middle-aged guy next to me said, "I feel like I'm too old to do this." That really hit me like a ton of bricks. Then I said, "Whatever I said was bullshit. That's my answer."
The showrunner and TV writer running the class told me, "You are not too old. We are in rooms with a whole bunch of middle-aged guys who are doing this, and they're vibrant. To be frank, some of them aren't half the writer that you are." That moment in that class really changed my perspective on the thoughts I was having, and gave me the courage to keep going. It also seemed to help me find my voice as a writer.
When I let go of that thinking, I was able to concentrate on honing my voice, and decide what I want to say as a Black man, as a creative person, as a father, and as a husband. I started to write the things only I could write. I also wrote a TV pilot called "How You Like Me Now," which is based on the rivalry between Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J, that got me a lot of traction. I started winning contests and fellowships, and that's when I got into the WarnerMedia Access Writers Program.
Once you figure out what you want to say and you've made a habit of honing your craft — create a community and be open to it
I tell other writers not to wait around staring at your belly button, waiting for someone to pick you. Be proactive — share what you know and go out and meet people who know what you don't. Particularly for older writers, being open to criticism is really important. It's hard because any writer's work is personal to them. What makes things even harder is that older people are sometimes set in our ways — so to have someone half your age and with half your life experience give you notes on something can be a little bit disheartening. It's necessary though — because writing is a collaborative art.
In my new job, I'll be working with writers of all ages.
If you work in Hollywood and would like to share your story, email Eboni Boykin-Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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