If you鈥檝e been secretly working on a screenplay, TV pilot, or a novel while manning a day job, you know that writing is tough. While you dream of becoming a professionally paid writer, you鈥檙e not sure how to get started. One Scandal TV writer shares that the best writing advice she got was from her boss, Shonda Rhimes, who told her, 鈥淚f your dreams don鈥檛 scare you, they鈥檙e not big enough.鈥 True that.

In this week鈥檚 How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Victoria Strouse, a screenwriter who penned Finding Dory and is currently working on the upcoming Disney live-actionTinker Bell, starring Reese Witherspoon. Strouse shares her journey as a working screenwriter and offers creative advice for women who want to make it in the entertainment business.

Meet the Screenwriter: victoria strouse

victoria strouse finding dory

Growing up in an entertainment family, Strouse always knew that she wanted to work in the industry. Strouse鈥檚 father, Charles, is a prolific Emmy Award-winning composer who has written the music for Shrek 2, Annie, School of Rock, and many more films and shows. When applying to graduate schools, she applied to a bunch of playwriting programs and one film school. She was rejected by the playwriting programs but got into the University of Southern California鈥檚 prestigious film school. 鈥淚 was so humbled and blown away that I couldn鈥檛 believe it. I was so excited to go. It set me on the path to be in screenwriting and I鈥檓 so grateful,鈥 says Strouse. Since graduating from USC, she鈥檚 spent the past 18 years working as a screenwriter and TV writer. (Photo via Jason LaVeris/Getty)

The Tips

1. Film school is helpful (but not necessary). For Strouse, going to film school was invaluable for her. 鈥淎s a fairly anxious person, I needed a set of rules and community. As a bit of a loner, I needed other people around and someone to tell me how to do it. For me, I needed to learn the structure of screenwriting,鈥 says Strouse. Everyone鈥檚 journey is different, so film school isn鈥檛 the only way to make it as a screenwriter, but Strouse mentions that school helped her understand the laws and rules in the structure of screenwriting.

2. Be comfortable in the mess. A month after landing the gig to write Finding Dory, Strouse had a panic attack. 鈥淚 thought, this can鈥檛 be done. You can鈥檛 have a main character who can鈥檛 remember anything. It鈥檚 not like Memento where she [Dory] can tattoo things on her fins. What are we doing to do?鈥 says Strouse. Finding Dory was her first animated feature, and her first time working with Disney-Pixar. 鈥淚 was fortunate to work with a group of people, the director especially, who had been through breaking an animated movie before. We had great minds thinking on the problems, and who were comfortable in the mess. You鈥檝e got to be comfortable in the mess and enjoy spending most of your time problem-solving or discovering problems,鈥 says Strouse.

3. Love the craft of writing. When sitting down to write a movie, the whole world is open as a potential landscape, says Strouse. 鈥淚t鈥檚 incredibly difficult. I think a lot of people start it and then give up because, like all artistic pursuits, you can鈥檛 do it unless you love it.鈥 Even Strouse admits that after 18 years in the business, she still finds the work hard. 鈥淏ut thankfully, I鈥檓 so grateful I love it as much as I do.鈥

4. Write what matters to you. The script that landed her Finding Dory had nothing to do with animation, but instead, focused on a road trip movie about a family. Strouse shares that the Pixar executive who brought her up to meet the director read that script and liked it. 鈥淪he essentially finds Pixar鈥檚 writers,鈥 says Strouse. 鈥淲hat I admire about Pixar is that they genuinely look for quality. What they look for are scripts where they respond to the characters, relationships, themes, and the story. If you talk to other writers who have worked at Pixar, I think probably 99 percent of them had never done a family movie or an animated movie. Writers are really the only job at Pixar that is outsourced, so you鈥檙e walking into a community as the writer and you鈥檙e bringing your own experience to it all.鈥

5. Enjoy the slow-motion process. She started working with the Pixar team in June 2012, and four years later, Finding Dory came out. During that intense time period, Strouse likens the writing process to playing a complex tennis match over and over again for four years. 鈥淚f you鈥檙e playing that tennis match in slow motion a hundred times, you鈥檙e better prepared for any other match. You do this exploration that strengthens your muscles,鈥 says Strouse. (Photo via Disney-Pixar)

6. Love working for yourself. Most days, Strouse works solo. She鈥檚 in charge of her schedule and she loves spending her days coming up with solutions to story problems. Part of her job also involves collaborating with partners on projects or rewriting someone else鈥檚 movie that鈥檚 on a certain schedule, but overall, being her own boss is a dream job for Strouse.

7. It鈥檚 okay to fail. Strouse stresses that she鈥檚 failed a lot in her career. 鈥淚 have failed in scene writing. I have failed an entire script. I have failed selling scripts. I have failed getting movies made. I鈥檝e failed pitching shows. I have failed so much that to say it鈥檚 part of the job is almost laughable,鈥 says Strouse. 鈥淭he expression 鈥榳riting is rewriting鈥 is true. To make something good, you have to hone it and hone it and hone it.鈥

8. Don鈥檛 judge your first draft (or second or third). One thing that Strouse wants other writers to know is not to judge your first draft. 鈥淧robably don鈥檛 even judge your second or third. Certainly, analyze it and learn from it, but do not let that be your standard,鈥 says Strouse.

9. Look at how other artists work. Growing up, Strouse would wake up hearing her father writing a song and later at the dinner table, heard him working on the same song. 鈥淚t was very natural for me to hear somebody playing wrong notes all day as they struggled to try to find something. I saw how much my father loved it. I think that鈥檚 where my tolerance for creative mess came from,鈥 says Strouse. Seeing how her father adored his daily work and how he struggled to find the right notes allowed Strouse to see the creative process for all of its realities, not just the glamorous final finished product.

Perfect Your Skills

1. USC Cinematic Arts Summer Program (tuition fees vary by course credits): During two separate six-week summer sessions, you鈥檒l take classes with industry pros on filmmaking, editing, animation, writing, computer graphics, interactive game design, and the business of the industry.

2. Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft ($49): If you鈥檝e been wanting to finish that movie idea you鈥檝e had and take it from idea to a first draft, take this Creative Live online course with Hal Ackerman, the screenwriting co-chair of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television.

3. Write a Story ($59): If the fear of writing is stopping you from actually writing, this online course with author Joshua Mohr can help you clear that hurdle. You鈥檒l learn how to grow a scene to its full potential, develop your writing skills, and create a strategy to build plot and characters.

What鈥檚 your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!

(Featured photos via Disney-Pixar)