Downtime is a big part of life for many people in the entertainment industry who rely on freelance, seasonal, and project-based work. Sometimes months of it. But a strike is a whole different animal.
There are certain specific things screenwriters are not supposed to do during the current strike out of solidarity, both to prevent the risk of scabbing (crossing the picket line, metaphorically or otherwise, and undermining the workers) and to avoid the consequences of ignoring union guidelines. An entire list of specific things, in fact.
But that doesn't mean writers can't still be productive during the strike.
Tempting though it may be, it's important to resist the urge to treat a sudden absence of employment exclusively as a period of lethargy, mental spiraling, or panicked survival-job-hunting.
Here are some ways that you can proactively improve your craft and your career during the strike—without the slightest risk of scabbing.
Join the Picket Lines
If you're able to join the picketers, showing your support can be a great way to garner good will from your peers while also learning more about the situation from some seasoned pros. As an extra special bonus if you're looking to make your steps, many people are reporting that their fitness trackers are showing upwards of 20,000 steps per day from just being in the picket lines!
It's also a great opportunity to socialize. Some people are affixing different colors of tape to their picket signs to indicate what they're seeking in the dating world. Others are getting to meet and talk with people who have written some of their favorite shows. Yet more people are connecting with old friends they haven't talked with for a long time, or meeting people in person who they've chatted with online for the first time.
If your schedule prevents you from picketing, but you're in the neighborhood, you can still get in a little bit of networking and show your support by bringing and handing out food, water, and on some days even rain ponchos.
If you live too far away from places with picketing to join in, or if it's unsafe for you to be in a large unmasked crowd for medical reasons, you can still interact, show support, and counter misinformation by spreading word about the strike online.
Work on Your Samples
It's A-OK to work on your own scripts, whether they are specs, features, original pilots, or what have you. You can even continue getting notes from your writing-friend-groups, parents, or other reliable beta readers in your social circle. If you're not currently in a writing group, now might be a good time to start one or find a good one to join.
In fact, it's a great idea to take this time to polish your old samples or come up with new ones so that you'll be prepared for any jobs, fellowships, or other opportunities that might open up after the strike ends.
Take a Class or Learn a New Skill
The strike back in 2007/2008 lasted one hundred days. I don't know if this one will end up being quite so lengthy, but if it does, a great use of your time could be on this kind of self-improvement.
There are plenty of options, and many of them are free. You can do anything from signing up for a few units at a local community college, to working through an online tutorial, to just deciding that you want to learn about some specific subject and reaching out to experts to find out how—or all of the above, if you're so inclined.
If you like the idea of self-guided learning but don’t know where to start, take a look at my previous article on Becoming a Writing Research Powerhouse for some tools and inspiration.
After all, if you're going to write what you know, then knowing more things gives you more things to write about.
Plan for the Future
If you're in the union and feeling like a real dynamo, thinking of further potential proposals to suggest to your union rep (and potentially even discussing those ideas as legislation with your state legislators if appropriate) is something to consider, too.
Why? As a creative, you know that it takes a lot of minds to come up with what can later seem like obvious ideas. And think about how many federal and state labor laws began as concessions negotiated by unions. Minimum wage, paid sick leave, retirement benefits, safety and harassment standards, and seemingly innumerable other things that so many workers take for granted, were the fruits of hard-fought union negotiations that later became legislation.
Special note: this suggestion comes courtesy of an old-timer activist I know who's been a union man pushing for worker rights since the 1960s, and isn't planning on stopping any time soon.
Take Care of Yourself
A lot of the reasons workers end up having to go on strike is because of conditions that leave them overworked, underpaid, and cut off from time with family and friends. We've all been trained to think about being in, or getting back to, the grind 24/7 these days. But if you don't want to experience big-time burnout before things even get rolling again, another way to be productive is, ironically, to walk away from anything that you think of as work for a while.
Using at least some of this time to shore up your lifestyle by developing healthy habits, doing things that refill your creative reservoir so you have something to pull from, and improving your social, physical, and emotional wellbeing will all increase your productivity both in the short term and in the long run.
*Feature image by Jorm Sangsorn (Pexels)