Today I am excited to share with you an interview with writer Delondra Williams, who agreed to share her Success Story. Delondra writes for some of the best shows, such as Z Nation and Step Up: High Water. She shares great tips on how to be a better writer.
My questions and comments are in bold, Delondra’s follow in plain text.
About Delondra Williams
I was born and raised in eastern Washington State. I studied theater at Central Washington University, graduated on a Saturday, got married that Sunday, and moved to LA with my husband on Monday. We showed up with no contacts and no savings. I worked in a variety of jobs: receptionist, script reader, talent management assistant, temp, ESL teacher, reading teacher, and private tutor.
The whole time I kept reading and writing scripts. It took me about ten years to get my big break. Since then I’ve written and developed over a dozen made-for-tv movies on Syfy, Lifetime, LMN, AXS, and Animal Planet.
Now I’m a writer on three different series, including Z NATION, the spinoff BLACK SUMMER, and the YouTube Premium dance series STEP UP: HIGH WATER.
How did you get your start writing?
I started writing little picture books and plays when I was a kid. Then I studied playwrighting in college, and one of my plays won a staged reading at The Kennedy Center as part of the American College Theater Festival. That really encouraged me when things were slow-going in LA, it kept me going to know that somebody once thought my work was worthwhile.
In my early days in LA, I had some scripts optioned and worked for some tv shows that never got produced, but what really helped was getting my play SKELETON STORIES produced at Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood.
That introduced me to a lot of people who got my foot in the door in tv writing, like the actor Keith Allan, who brought me into the production company The Asylum to write horror movies with him. The Asylum (the low-budget company that makes the SHARKNADO movies) really put me to work and got me my first credits. I will always be so thankful to them for that!
What have you learned from being successful in writing?
Like a lot of things, it’s just about hanging in there and being persistent. There are so many times I could have given up. There were times when nothing was happening with my writing when we were literally going hungry to pay the rent, and it would have been really easy to just quit.
I kept at it because nothing else made me happy in the same way. And I know I wrote some really crappy stuff at times. It’s true what they say about how you have to suck to become good. Now I’ve written so many scripts in so many genres, I feel like I can walk into any writers room and be able to deliver.
Is there a mistake you have made starting out that you wish you could change?
Not believing in myself enough. I thought of myself as being a nobody from nowhere, and I didn’t bother entering contests and fellowships or pitching myself to management, because I thought nobody would want to take a chance on me. There’s a possibility I was right. But there’s also a possibility that someone could have gotten my career started much earlier. I’ll never know because I didn’t try.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Write a lot and read a lot. My first industry job was doing coverage for Hofflund/Polone Talent Management Agency. I read the scripts that came in for our clients and wrote up a short synopsis and analysis called “coverage.” I think I probably read a hundred scripts a year. It taught me a lot about what worked, what didn’t and why a script would get produced or not. It took the mystique out of the process.
At the same time, I kept taking classes at UCLA Extension and kept writing scripts. Even though I find some of my work from that time kind of cringey now, I really had to get through that green writer phase to become stronger. I also really, really advise writers to be kind to the people they meet…but at the same time not to put up with abuse.
Young writers can be willing to put up with a lot to get their first breaks, but no boss who was verbally or emotionally abusive to me ever really helped my career in the long run anyway.
As a writer, what are you most proud of?
I think just breaking into the industry at all. I definitely have projects I’m proud of—getting SKELETON STORIES produced and published (production rights available at stagerights.com,) the episodes I’ve written for Z NATION and STEP UP: HIGH WATER. But honestly, I’m most proud of myself for getting my foot in the door in an industry that can be really difficult to crack.
I am grateful and amazed every day that I get to work in television.
Looking back on your career, is there something you learned from the industry that you found surprising?
Having a kid isn’t necessarily a death sentence for your career. When I became pregnant with my son I thought it might mean the end of becoming a professional writer. But it actually opened doors for me. I left teaching to focus on the baby, but because I did that people heard I was available and began offering me writing gigs.
At first, they were part-time writing gigs that I could do while the baby slept—like my zombie movies with Keith. And then The Asylum offered me a part-time job in tv development; they liked that I wanted to work from home and they liked that I was a parent like the owners. It actually worked for me, not against me.
Writing about being a parent is also what got me hired at Z NATION, my first writers room. I have connected with so many other writers and executives over our kids. And it also grounded me. Being a parent really made me grow up out of the extended adolescence you can kind of fall into in LA. It also made me respect myself, my time and my money a whole lot more.
What advice would you have for people that have trouble writing?
Do something else. This industry can be really brutal. Even when I’m succeeding and having fun, it can be so stressful at the same time that I wake up with panic attacks. It’s a lot of pressure and so many balls to keep in the air. I really don’t recommend doing anything in Hollywood unless you feel so compelled to do it you can’t stop yourself!
As far as just getting yourself motivated if you have trouble getting started sometimes, just figure out your little ritual—whether it’s the time of day, a certain place, or just grabbing some tea and lighting a candle. Those rituals help your brain understand it’s time to work.
Do you have any tips from writing shows that may apply to bloggers, authors or other writers?
It’s important to understand your audience. Writing a Lifetime movie is different than writing a Hallmark movie. The audience wants something different out of those experiences, and it’s surprisingly specific. If you don’t understand the parameters, you might miss out on the project.
It’s the same for different media outlets. Know your genre, understand what your audience is looking for and make sure that’s what you deliver.
Deviating from the formula sounds romantic, but formulas can save your butt when someone else depends on you delivering a certain product. Of course, when it’s your own work and your own money on the line, then you can be as free and unique as you want, and it’s your chance to really let your voice shine.
Also, meet your deadlines!
It’s so important and can get you hired or fired regardless of the quality of your work. And finally, be kind and easy to work with. That’s what gets you rehired.
If someone wanted to improve their writing skills, is there a book you would recommend?
I love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s about how you don’t have to sit down and puke out your magnum opus all at once. It’s more important that you just keep writing, and she teaches you how to keep moving forward a little bit at a time even when you don’t feel like it.
If you could recommend one book to help people be more successful what would it be, and why.
Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés .
This book should be required reading for all women. It analyzes fairytales for their lessons on how women can unlock their most primal inner selves. Basically, if you want to stop being a pushover or wishy-washy about yourself, this is the guide for you.
Any upcoming projects you are working on?
I just came back from filming my episode of STEP UP: HIGH WATER in Atlanta. I had never produced my own episode before, and it was so exciting and empowering. I’m so grateful for our showrunner Holly Sorensen, who is a brilliant and bold role model for all writers. It’s a dance drama, so it was amazing to watch these words on a page turn into songs and dances by incredible artists like Ne-Yo.
The second season drops on YouTube Premium in January, and you can watch the first four episodes of the first season for free.
I promise you’ll be hooked!
My episode of Z Nation, “Limbo,” premieres in November. And I’m also writing a rom-com for Hallmark.
What does your social media strategy look like; any tips?
I really recommend keeping a private Facebook page for just the people you know in real life, where you can post family photos and more personal details about your life. That’s how I stay in contact with family and friends. But Twitter is for connecting with fans, reaching out to other artists I admire, and just making those random shouting-into-the-void jokes that will result in a call from my mother if I put them on Facebook.
I don’t have a real strategy, other than following people who like the things I like or the things I’m involved with. And I usually live-Tweet with my premieres because I like to see how the viewers respond.
Any mistakes you see people routinely make with social media?
The number one mistake I make personally is to get drawn into arguments. It’s just something that happens on these rapid-fire platforms. It’s really emotionally draining, especially if the other person isn’t being honest about their intentions.
I can tell if the person I’m talking to is authentic because a real person is willing to have an actual back and forth that will somehow resolve itself. But there are also other people who feed off the negativity and will draw it out forever if they can, even coming at you with puppet accounts pretending to be other people.
If you get the inkling that’s happening, just block them and move on. Life’s too short for that kind of toxicity.
Where can people connect with you online?
On Twitter @delondra_w.
Do have any apps, books, or tips that you use, as a writer?
I use Final Draft and a legal pad for notes. I like to write my outlines in longhand first before I type them up.
How do you manage time?
This is the hardest thing for me. I hate having a regular schedule, and I also have a 6-year-old son I care for, so it can be difficult. What usually works the best for me is to give myself a page count goal per day. Like I have to get ten pages done per day, but it doesn’t matter when I do them within that 24-hour period.
Ten pages a day means I can finish the first draft of a teleplay in five days and a screenplay in about ten. That’s about my limit, though, if I push myself to write more pages per day I will burn out and the writing gets sloppy.
What is the best advice you have received?
To stop apologizing for my work.
Do you have any advice for people that may feel discouraged about reaching their goals?
I still feel discouraged about reaching my goals sometimes! That feeling actually never really goes away. It’s normal to feel scared about it so just keep saying yes and taking one step at a time, even if you are freaking out inside.
Also, when I get SUPER discouraged, I think about how many dumb people have done this before me, and if they can do it I can too. It’s a bit mean, but it works.
How import is fitness?
Probably very important, but I don’t really do it. One time I decided to lose all the baby weight and had a goal of getting abs. I limited my calories and worked out every day, and I did get a washboard stomach. Then I realized nobody came to my door to congratulate me on the abs.
In fact, my life was exactly the same in every way except I was hungry all the time. I decided to just eat normally, take the stairs and buy bigger pants. It feels great. My son noticed I gained weight and asked me why, and I just told him I’d decided to get softer for cuddling.
Anything I should ask that I have not?
My favorite food is spaghetti.
What is the one thing you wish everyone knew?
That you can’t control life. That’s the biggest lesson becoming a mother has taught me. You can set goals, but life kind of finds its own path for you.
I became more successful when I stopped trying to control every twist and turn along that path and just took events as they came, going for the opportunities that presented themselves rather than chasing things that weren’t meant for me. My biggest breaks were always surprises to me that came out of left field.
What is it like writing for Z Nation?
It’s so much fun! It’s a room full of the smartest, funniest people you know telling stories about your favorite tv show. Our showrunner, Karl Schaefer, is so open to everyone’s ideas, and it’s a pleasure to watch his mind work. He is just a natural storyteller, and also likes to run a fun, easygoing room.
That being said, we work incredibly quickly on that show. We break a whole season in ten weeks, which is half the time most shows have. So it feels a little like being shot out of a cannon—scary but exhilarating! I feel very lucky to be a part of it.
What your best tip for preparing for and surviving the Z Poc?
Find a good group and stick with them no matter what. Don’t split up! And don’t lose your sense of humor or your willingness to take on a mission, because if your life has no meaning you will lose the will to survive.
If all else fails, get a dog.
They will protect you, give you companionship, keep you warm, sniff out food and water, keep guard while you are sleeping, and still look cute. I prefer cats in normal life, but I have no doubt that if the Z Poc came around they’d eat me first.
Thank you, Delondra for this amazing interview.
I have been watching Step Up: High Water all day in the office, the music is great, please take a moment and check it out you will love it!
Today, I am excited to share a fun success story. Russell Hodgkinson, “Doc”, from the hit show ZNation has agreed to share his story and some valuable life lessons. Can you tell me about yo ur background? I was born on Homestead Air Force Base and grew up in St.