Though both now make their living by writing creatively, Erin Judge ’02 and Lynn Sternberger ’07 took very different paths, going all the way back to their time at Wellesley. While Sternberger majored in English with a Creative Writing focus and minored in Psychology, Judge majored in American Studies. While the second route may not seem quite as obvious a road to a writing career, Judge said her American Studies background has served her well: “I think there’s a strong sense of regional character in the settings in my work. Also, having an interdisciplinary background makes me more versatile. I tour the country, and understanding a bit about history and regional character and culture really helps me out when I’m doing that.”
After graduating from Wellesley, Judge originally planned on going to graduate school following a gap year, but found that by the time acceptance letters were sent out—“or in my case, acceptance letter, singular”—she had already established herself in the Boston comedy club scene and loved it too much to give it up to return to academia.
By contrast, Sternberger accepted a job as an editorial assistant at an academic press in Boston “after a sweltering, horrible summer spent bussing to New York for interviews,” but after four years at Bedford/St. Martin’s, found herself enrolling to be a student once again, this time at the Vancouver Film School. “I’ll be honest: I primarily enrolled in film school because I’d fallen in love with an alien—French, not extraterrestrial—and I needed a legal way to live in Canada,” Sternberger admitted.
Her film school of choice happened to offer a year-long program specifically for film and television writing. It was ideal for Sternberger, who did not relish the idea of accruing mountains of student debt, nor the thought of leaving the “real world” for more than a year. Though she both pros and cons of attending such a program, she concluded that the decision was ultimately to her benefit. “Film school happened to be a very lucky choice for me, as the pilot script I wrote there became the sample that got me the showrunner meeting that led to my first job as a TV writer,” she said. “I also met instructors who hired me to edit their books and set me up with their professional connections in Los Angeles.”
Fast-forwarding to the present, Sternberger now writes for the television show “The Bold Type,” which premiered this summer to positive reviews and was just last week renewed for a second and third season. The show is currently on hiatus, so Sternberger has been working on a new pilot script. “Pilots are the calling cards of TV writers, and you always need to be generating new ones,” she said, noting that she finds this aspect of television writing to be particularly challenging. “I prefer the ‘think tank’ formula of a writers’ room to sitting alone with my laptop with every choice in the world before me.”
Meanwhile, Judge’s ongoing endeavors include producing and co-hosting the stand-up showcase “Romantic Comedy,” held once a month the Ripped Bodice, the first romance bookstore in the U.S., as well as plenty of writing. She is working on no less than three television pilot scripts of her own, including one adapted from her debut novel “Vow of Celibacy,” published last year. “And I also write for a non-profit here in LA that works in global public health, so that’s pretty awesome,” Judge added.
When asked what advice they had for current Wellesley students, Judge and Sternberger’s responses both included words of wisdom regarding entry-level positions.
“Entry-level jobs in entertainment are a great way to get in, even if you’re a creative. PA and assistant jobs seem really stressful and grunt-y, and they are, but the industry is really built on personal networks and relationships, so don’t be deterred,” Judge advised. “Also, I think young people need to realize that there will be ups and downs throughout their career. So many ambitious young people want to be established and on a rocket ship to success by the time they’re 25. It creates a lot of stress and pressure. The more you can cultivate patience, self-compassion, and a habit of checking in with yourself to make sure you’re on the right path, the easier it will be to weather those ups and downs.”
“Your first job, the city in which you live, and the amount of money you’re making will likely have little correlation to what you end up wanting to do, where you end up living, and how happy it makes you. If it isn’t working, try something else,” Sternberger commented on a somewhat similar note. However, she also had some advice regarding life prior to graduation: “Have some more fun. Leave campus occasionally. Go somewhere new. Talk to somebody who isn’t a Wellesley student. Free your beautiful brain from this beautiful campus for a few hours a week.”
Judge and Sternberger will be on campus to further discuss their work and advice for students interested in pursuing creative writing this Friday, Oct. 13, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Founders 102. Both will also be available after the event to chat with students about their work.