Shawn Ryan on Writing for the Screen: 'Lead as Interesting a Life as Possible'
Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield and now The Chicago Code, is probably the best-known filmmaker to graduate from my alma mater, Middlebury College. Shawn broke into the industry after writing “thirteen or fourteen spec scripts,” a testament to his drive as a writer. In a pair of interviews I found myself reading and watching recently, Shawn gives excellent advice for aspiring writers. The first interview is
actually by a classmate of mine, Astri von Arbin Ahlander conducted by Evan Dumouchel, who asked Shawn, “What advice would you give to young people as they develop their craft?”:
It wasn’t until I did more with my life that I think I became a better writer. My advice is to lead as interesting a life as possible, to surround yourself with as interesting people as possible, to do as many interesting things as possible. You don’t necessarily need a lot of money to do those things. You can sleep on people’s couches. You can backpack across Nepal and eat Ramen noodles for a month. I also really believe that you have to keep writing and work on your writing. You have to be, I think, more brutally honest about your writing than other people are.
When starting this site I felt the same way Shawn did, which was that I didn’t have enough life experiences on which to draw, and I thought the best thing I could do would be to put myself through “life school” as opposed to film school. Thus the name of this site. Writing is challenging for everyone, but I think it’s especially difficult when you’re young, and I’m only now starting to feel like I’ve logged enough miles to have a sense of where I’m going. And of course I agree with his “sleep on people’s couches” advice since I did exactly that for a year.
Here’s Ryan’s appearance on the Fox Movie Channel show Life After Film School from a couple of years ago: