How did you become a writer?
My flippant answer is I possess no other skills. I always wrote as a kid. I wrote stories to make my friends laugh. But I had no idea it was a job, or you could get paid to do it. I came from very blue collar parents, and there were no literary influences on me at an early age. I watched TV and went to movies, but still had no idea people actually wrote those things. I went to college and realized you could major in creative writing. While there, I met a fellow student who also had a passion for writing and movies and we left school and traveled to LA to become famous writers and directors. Thirteen years later I finally earned my first paycheck as a writer. Thus, my real answer is, I followed my passion and never stopped writing.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I discovered Graham Greene in college and he blew my mind. Other early inspirations include Flannery O'Connor, Hemingway, and most everyone at the Algonquin round table. Once I realized you could make a career of it, I was in love with the romance of being a writer. Later inspirations include James Lee Burke, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Rogers, David Chase, Steve Zaillian, Scott Rosenberg, Tony Gilroy, the list goes on. As for books, I'm very much in the camp of, Most How-To Books Are Crap. I believe writers can do more for themselves by going out and experiencing life rather than paying for books and seminars. That said, a couple of books I will recommend (like a hundred other writers) are King's ON WRITING, and Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. I also really encourage young screenwriters to read fiction. All screenwriting gurus preach reading screenplays, which is fine and has its place, but I believe reading fiction—where there are no formatting or budgetary boundaries—can help open a writer's mind and really kick the muse into overdrive.
When and where do you write?
I do my best work in the morning. I have to start every day at the keyboard BEFORE I do anything else. Before I check email, look at the internet, check messages. I give myself one good hour of what I call a creative burst before I allow my mind to go into a reactive mode. Then I’ll usually write on and off most of the day. I try to take weekends off because for me, part of the process is letting things marinate on the back burners while you're doing something else. But you must be disciplined about this, or you can quickly find yourself writing two days a week and "marinating" the other five. Discipline is probably the single most important, and yet least discussed aspect of being a writer.
I have an office in my home that I write in. When I'm in LA or on location somewhere, I will write in coffee shops and hotels. Some writers hate this, but I find being around "the world" helps me. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, that just being among others—even if I've got headphones on, and am totally focused—is still better than sitting alone in a room all day.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I am the Co-Executive Producer of THE LIBRARIANS on TNT. We have just started shooting season two in Portland, Oregon, and that's where I am at the moment. I'm also developing two other television projects, and trying to finish a couple more short stories.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Ah, writer's block. Some swear it doesn't exist, while others write books on the subject. To me it's simply a label. Because this job involves making stuff from nothing, literally creating people and worlds and conflicts, there are times when the creative mind is empty. But it's just part of the process. I guess if I had to choose a side, I'd lean more to the "No such thing as writer's block" tip, but I know what someone means when they're discussing it. I think it's one of the many aspects of this life that is a bit too romanticized and embraced. Just do your job.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Write. And rewrite. As a screenwriter, if I had a dime for every aspiring scribe who's come to me with their one or two first draft screenplays looking to "become a writer" I could buy us both a few margaritas. The big ones. Much more so than prose, screenwriting comes with this lottery mentality. Write a screenplay and become a millionaire! Yes, it's happened. It's happened a bunch. But it's maybe a one in fifty thousand chance that the first thing you ever write will create a career. The odds are much better if you quit worrying about selling and marketing and networking, and just get better at writing. And you do that by writing. Over and over. Even the best, most successful, highest paid writers still rewrite and rewrite. If they're doing it, how can you not? Goes back to discipline.
My other piece of advice, and this is a button for me, is to never pay so-called gurus for screenwriting lessons. There are so many people out there taking advantage of aspiring screenwriters by offering these books and courses and seminars all about the secrets of becoming a great screenwriter. But when you check the credentials of these gurus, 99% of them are failed screenwriters. People that were never good enough to have a career doing it. So how can their advice be good?
Paul Guyot has written for multiple television series including FELICITY, JUDGING AMY, LEVERAGE, and THE LIBRARIANS. He is the co-writer of the motion picture GEOSTORM, starring Gerard Butler, Andy Garcia and Ed Harris, which will be in theaters in 2016. His short stories are available on Amazon.