“Don’t be afraid to suck.”
These were the words of advice University of Miami alumnus Juan Carlos Coto offered a classroom full of students and professors last Thursday.
Coto himself has built a successful career as a television writer, having contributed to programs such as Viper and Freakylinks, and most recently as a staff writer for the hit show The Pretender.
A proud UM alumnus, Coto donned a Hurricanes national championship T-shirt as he recounted the rise of his career from a Hurricane reporter to his current project, a series for HBO.
After he graduated, the film and English major worked for both the Ft. Lauderdale-based Sun-Sentinel and The Miami Herald. While at the Herald, he worked as one of the paper’s film critics, along with famed reviewer Bill Cosford.
But Coto dreamed of making it big in Hollywood, and in 1992 got married, took his brother’s advice, and moved out to Los Angeles to pursue his dream.
Success was slow to come, however. Coto worked as a freelance writer while honing his skills and building his portfolio of personal projects and “spec” scripts, a sample of a television show.
Coto was quick to praise the importance of “spec” scripts, as both a development tool for the writer, and as a way to find employment.
“‘Spec’ scripts are a lot like business cards,” he said. “They can really help open doors for you.”
Coto, known as J.C. while at UM, is a humorous, down-to-earth thirty-something whose experience serves as a beacon to anyone considering becoming a writer. He is encouraging.
“You write your own ticket,” he said, reminding young writers that their dreams may not come true as fast as they would like.
“You have to deal with a lot of rejection,” he says, “[Writing] is a matter of taste and you have to get used to it [rejection]… learn to brush it off.”
Coto is in Miami for the next few weeks, working on a new HBO series on the life of Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, Jr. Greer, a former dean of the UM School of Medicine, is best known for his crusade to help the city’s homeless population.
Coto has teamed up with the Herald’s Liz Balmaseda, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, to write the script for the series, which will star Andy Garcia as Dr. Greer.
Coto says he is enjoying being back in Miami, if only for a short time.
When asked if he had any other words of advice for aspiring Hemingways and Cotos, he nodded and replied:
“Move to L.A. and start writing. The guys who talk about writing don’t make it. The ones who write, do.”
There is no such thing as wasted work, he said, for the process is about learning.
“Don’t stop writing,” he urged. “And don’t be afraid to suck.”
“Don’t be afraid to suck.”