I’m a TV writer. I never thought I’d be an author.
I’ve always been obsessed with TV—I spent the last ten years figuring out how to get good at writing it. I went to film school, wrote bad scripts, then okay scripts, then a few pretty good ones. I moved to Los Angeles and became a Hollywood assistant. I networked and listened to TV writing podcasts and commuted on the 101 every day. I worked my butt off and made friends and got lucky and finally got my first job writing on a TV show: Riverdale—a show I would genuinely be obsessed with if I weren’t writing for it. And then, something else happened. I sold a book.
Ship It started out as a screenplay. It was my writing sample for Riverdale, something personal and funny and gay that I had intended to be my first feature film, but life took me in another direction. The story is about a teenage girl who writes a lot of gay fanfiction about her favorite TV show who wins a contest to go on a Comic-Con tour with the cast and showrunner of the show and she takes the opportunity to try to convince them to make her ship canon. The cool people at Freeform Books read my script and said, “Hey Britta, this would make a great YA book, wanna write it?” and I said hell yes because I’ve been reading books since before I ever cared about TV and it felt right.
But once I started writing I realized… writing TV and writing books are very different. For one, I had to learn how to describe things. Have you ever seen a screenplay? They’re all white space. Books are solid black text. That’s because movies have whole crews of people dedicated to bringing the scant tone poem of text on a screenplay to life. The costume department decides what the characters wear; the art department decides what the rooms look like; the cinematographer plays with the lighting until it’s right. As an author, I have to be all those departments myself.
The second thing I learned about books is that they take a very long time. Partly because I have to be every department, writing a book takes a lot longer than writing a script. Also because I have to write a book by myself instead of as a member of a writing staff. At Riverdale, our eleven-person writers’ room wrote 13 episodes in season one and 22 episodes in season two. Each episode is 42 minutes long, which means we wrote 24.5 hours of television over two seasons. A whole day of television in the same two years it took me to write one measly book.
So when people tweet me excitedly to say they stayed up all night reading my book and finished it in five hours I’m honored and flattered and delighted and also… that took me two years to write, could you savor it a bit??
But I’m kidding of course. The most exciting thing in the world is when people tell me they read and loved my book. It also feels good when Riverdale fans tell me they love the show, but it’s a different good. Riverdale is a team effort and I’m proud of the work we do together. Ship It is much more my thing, which is rewarding… but also scary. If people don’t like it, well, that’s more personal because it came from my brain (with not-insignificant help from my editor and publishing team, of course!).
Riverdale is starting the writers’ room on season three soon, and it’s still a dream job for me. The only difference is that now I have something to compare it to. And they’re both wonderful.