Ep16: Writing Your Own (Unique) Path to the Top | with Wendy Calhoun


#AdvanceYourself month continues where we’re diving into the weeds talking about taking practical, boots-on-the-ground action steps to move your creative career forwards, or more specifically to this episode, how to transition from climbing one ladder to climbing a different one, even if that means taking one step back to take several forwards in the future.

I’m incredibly excited for this episode because it’s with Wendy Calhoun who happens to not only be an incredibly decorated and accomplished writer and producer in Hollywood (here are her IMDB credits), but she’s also the very first person to hire me as a professional editor in Los Angeles.

Wendy has worked on such gigantic network TV shows as Empire, Nashville, Justified, and Revenge, to name a few. She is also no stranger to adversity given she has climbed her way to the top in an incredibly competitive area of Hollywood – writing, executive producing, and now show running with upcoming projects such as No Place Safe for FX and Our Kind of People for Fox. And while great strides have been made in the past several years, let’s not beat around the bush. Making it as an accomplished writer/producer as either a female or an African-American is tough, but doing it as both is infinitely tougher. But regardless of the obstacles that stood in her way, Wendy forged ahead, changed her career path several times, overcame numerous obstacles (including a massive case of imposter syndrome), and defied the odds.

In this episode we deconstruct Wendy’s unusual path to climb the ladder to the top to understand the basic fundamental steps that you can take to achieve the same levels of success, regardless of your circumstances.

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Here’s What You’ll Learn:

  • Wendy’s early theatrical writing and how it shaped her life
  • Processing your career goals when the path isn’t clear
  • How Wendy and Zack came to know each other
  • Turning your creative passions into practice
  • Defining yourself by your desired vocation regardless of how you’re getting paid
  • How writing for info-shows led Wendy to hits “Nashville” and “Empire”
  • Learning to overclock the intensity and productivity of the writers room
  • Writing complicated, compelling, and honest female characters
  • How producing Empire was “like a rainbow” for Wendy
  • The importance of nurturing and giving opportunities to women and people of color in entertainment
  • How Wendy plans to revolutionize inclusive production practices as a producer to tell the greatest stories
  • Advice for up-and-coming writers and the importance of reaching your ten thousand hours of mastery

Useful Resources Mentioned:

Wendy Calhoun’s IMDB Page

Our Generous Sponsors:

This episode is made possible by Ergodriven, the makers of the Topo Mat, my #1 recommendation for anyone interested in moving more at their height-adjustable workstation. Listen, standing desks are only great if you’re standing well, otherwise you’re constantly fighting fatigue and chronic pain. Not like any other anti-fatigue mat, the Topo is scientifically proven to help you move more throughout the day which helps reduce discomfort and also increase your focus and productivity. And they’re really fun and a great conversation starter.

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Guest Bio:

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Wendy Calhoun is a series creator developing content at multiple broadcast and cable studios. She’s currently writing and Executive Producing FX’s NO PLACE SAFE, a miniseries about the Atlanta child murders, to star Emmy winner Regina King. Her past credits include Co-Executive Producing and writing the historic first season of Fox’s hit series EMPIRE. In addition, she’s written and produced for ABC’S NASHVILLE, FX’s JUSTIFIED, ABC’s REVENGE, and NBC’s LIFE.

Last summer, Calhoun wrote and directed the virtual reality short, LEFT BEHIND, sponsored by Google and honored as “Best in VR” at Digital Hollywood 2016.  She received a 2010 Peabody Award and WGA Best New Series Nomination for JUSTIFIED. She received her second WGA Best New Series Nomination in 2012 for NASHVILLE.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Calhoun studied film and television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Show Credits:

This episode was edited by Curtis Fritsch, and the show notes were prepared and published by Jakin Rintelman. Special thanks to Krystle Penhall and Sarah Furie for helping to spread the love!

The original music in the opening and closing of the show is courtesy of Joe Trapanese (who is quite possibly one of the most talented composers on the face of the planet).


Note: I believe in 100% transparency, so please note that I receive a small commission if you purchase products from some of the links on this page (at no additional cost to you). Your support is what helps keep this program alive. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, and the creator of the Optimize Yourself program. Zack helps ambitious creative professionals and entrepreneurs overcome procrastination, depression, and creative burnout so they can get sh*t done and achieve the most meaningful goals in their lives...without sacrificing their sanity in the process. If you’re interested in learning how to better manage your time, your energy, and develop ninja-like focus, download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”

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