Stephen J. Cannell. One of Hollywood’s most prolific TV writers and producers is Stephen J. Cannell (www.cannell.com). Since childhood, he had a vision of being a writer, but for a long time he didn’t believe it could happen. Many facts supported this belief, especially since he did poorly in school. In fact, he flunked three grades before graduating high school. Parents and teachers said he just didn't apply himself, and he thought he was stupid. Why else would he have such problems as not remembering which hand was his left and which was his right? Why else was he always reversing letters in words, messing up his spelling, or being unable to remember simple instructions like step 1, step 2, and step 3?
Today, children with problems like Cannel most likely would not be accused of not applying themselves or be made to feel stupid. They’d be tested for dyslexia, a brain disorder which causes the very problems that made school difficult for Cannel. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, or IQ. Cannell states on his web site, “It’s something you can’t get over. I am bad at spelling and sequencing and all the things that gave me trouble in high school. I am as bad today, as I was then.” In high school, Cannell wrote his dream of being an author in his yearbook. Somehow, he got accepted to college. There he was blessed with a creative writing teacher who told him, “I have been teaching for over 15 years…and you have a gift. You are one of the top writers I have ever taught. Don’t stop writing, if you have to do it on a part time basis, continue to write.” Inspired by his teacher, Cannell stopped believing he wasn't smart enough—even if he still couldn't spell! He says, “Having my favorite teacher (who was also a published author) say that I have a gift from God, started it all. That encouragement and belief in me helped me. I would not be where I am if it was not for him.” After college he went to work for his father. After work, for 6 years he wrote about 5-6 hours. He spent the whole day Saturday and half day Sunday writing. Six years later, he got an agent and they pitched his stories around. Because he knew his agent could only get him 1-2 appointments a year, he over-prepared. One producer told him, “I have been doing this job for over 35 years…all these years I have never had a writer come in as prepared as you are.”
Focus on your strengths!” Stephen still can't spell, but that doesn't prevent him from producing quality work. He just hired someone else to do the spelling and editing for him. Persistence and passion became Cannell's hallmarks. Over the years, as his website reports, he “created or cocreated more than 40 shows, of which he has scripted more than 450 episodes and produced or executive produced more than 1,500 episodes. His hits include The Rockford Files, Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hunter, Riptide, Hardcastle & McCormick, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy, The Commish, Profit, and the hit syndicated shows, Renegade and Silk Stalkings. He has won an Emmy, two Writer's Guild Awards, two Edgar Award Nominations, and he has a star on the Hollywood Bouldevard Walk of Fame. He founded his own studio in 1981 and in 1997 sold it. After that he went on to write 15 novels (as of 2009).” How's that for someone who was told he just didn't apply himself? Notice how Cannell developed confidence and he believed in himself as he had someone else who he admired believe and encourage him? In our lives, we also inspire others. Who can you encourage and inspire right now?