EDITOR’S NOTE: Making a living as a writer isn’t always the easiest thing in the world to accomplish, but many Chapman alumni have been able to do so. A perfect example of that is Michael Ashley (MFA/Screenwriting ’07), who has had many of his screenplays optioned and co-written a book about how to turn your passion into your business. Today, he shares with his story with us.
Attending Chapman University was one of the formative experiences of my life. Great instructors, such as Dave Kost, Ron Friedman, David Ward, Ross Brown, and Paul Wolansky helped shape my story-telling abilities and thinking. Before entering the program, I had only written one screenplay. Over 250 pages long, I typed it in a Word doc and I’m pretty sure it was closer to a novella or stage play. By the time I graduated the Masters Screenplay program in 2007, I could write professionally based on the guidance of the above teachers as well as my helpful peers. I still remember Dodge College’s Film Chair Joe Slowensky’s words to us at orientation one hot August day in 2005: “The friends you make at Chapman will determine your career in the entertainment industry.”
His prescient words couldn’t be more true. Due to friendships I made through the Conservatory, I had a screenplay optioned and received my first “Hollywood job” working as a professional reader for the head of the Literary Department at Creative Artists Agency. Several years later and because of another personal connection, I sold a treatment to Disney that was turned into the movie,
Girl versus Monster
These wins, along with other writing commissions, allowed me to leave my corporate day job and pursue writing professionally. When I was growing up and told people I wanted to be a writer, I was met with derision. So-called experts and serious-minded folks assured me, “Being a paid writer is about as likely as winning the lottery.”
Though there have been hardships along the way, I’m glad I didn’t take their advice and stuck with it. As a working writer with my own creative content company, I get to do what I love every day. And to prove it’s possible, I wrote a book for other aspiring writers to turn their passion into a lucrative business.
Co-written with Sham Shivaie,
The Six-Figure Writer
is a guide to earning a substantial living from your writing. I met Sham in Marin County where I was commissioned to write a young adult fantasy novel. An entrepreneur who had started and sold businesses, he and I shared a synergistic connection. Growing up, he too was dissuaded from pursuing his writing dreams by other “sensible” people. Together, we decided to pen a book demonstrating how it’s possible to not only earn a living through writing, but actually thrive.
The disruptive power of the Internet to instantaneously share ideas and simplify once heroically daunting tasks, such as self-publishing, has led to what marketer Seth Godin has called, “The Connection Economy.” In this brave new world, writers are no longer at the mercy of gate-keepers, such as studios, literary agents, publishers or producers. Rather than passively accept polite declines, we encourage our fellow writers to
. For instance, if your screenplay has been passed on by every studio in town, or worse, ignored, we counsel you to produce your own film. Through the web’s power, you can build your own platform, bypassing the traditional system.
Though these ideas may seem far-fetched to the un-initiated, my co-writer and I stand by our assertions that this is the best time ever to be a writer. We live in a world where previously exorbitant commodities are dirt-cheap due to mass production. What cannot be out-sourced is the human mind. Writers are content creators. All of our beloved devices, from cell phones to tablets, run on content. Once writers learn to understand their growing importance, they stand to mightily benefit from the exciting times we live in. Chapman University and its fantastic group of faculty and fellow students prepared me for a life of professional writing. I am immensely grateful for that. In the spirit of comradery and empowerment, I will happily provide a free book to any student who wishes to receive one.
To find out more about the book, visit its website at
To learn more about Michael’s business, visit