You probably haven’t heard the name Sonay Hoffman lately, but you’ve most likely heard the name Shonda Rhimes. You know–the woman who owns ABC on Thursday nights, creator of the hit shows How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Private Practice, and Grey’s Anatomy. Like the credits state, Shonda did create all of these shows–but she didn’t write every episode single-handedly. During Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy, Sonay Hoffman was working as a production assistant when she and the rest of her fellow production assistants were offered the opportunity of a lifetime–they could write and submit an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and have the opportunity for it to actually be made. This turned out to be Sonay’s big break. Out of all of the production assistants Sonay’s episode was chosen, not because it was brilliant, but because she was the only one who finished a script.
“All you have to do is finish one thing and you set yourself apart from a lot of people.”
In this case, Sonay set herself apart from the handful of production assistants, and in actually being chosen to write an episode of Grey’s she set herself apart from thousands of wannabe screenwriters desiring to be paid to do what they love–to write. Now Sonay has an incredible resume and a job as a writer on another television show. But she says that those other production assistants are basically in the same place.
“You have to be ready for your windows, that one shot.”
I was able to meet Sonay at a networking event last month where she not only shared incredible advice for aspiring writers, but her personal story. Sonay grew up in South L.A. and was raised by a single mother who had three vices: drugs, alcohol, and men. She left home at the age of 17, graduated from Crenshaw High, and didn’t know if she’d make it through college. But then she found theater and through it a group of people who understood real hardships. They wrote short plays together and acted them out and when she saw an opportunity to work for David E. Kelly Productions, she said, “I can do that” and she went for it. This mentality of “I can do that, and I can do it well” and then actually doing it has gotten Sonay to the point she is today.No matter what it is you want to do, whether it be screenwriting, starting your own business, or anything else that seems impossible, Sonay says to consider where you’re at as a stepping stone, to listen and pay attention to everything, and to work diligently even if that means smiling after fetching coffee for the tenth time today. And while you’re doing this, you write or whatever it is you aspire to do–just go do it, finish something, and then celebrate that victory.
“I firmly believe that this is the difference between making it and not making it. Just finish it.”
What do you need to finish today? What phone calls do you need to make? Research you need to do?
Go do it and be ready for your window, because you might only ever have that one shot, and it might be that the one thing that pushes you over into the net, that makes you stand out, is the fact that you’ve persevered and finished something. Anything. Even a blog post.