ARUN RATH, HOST:
Diane Ruggiero-Wright has written for a number of TV shows, including the cult classic "Veronica Mars." But before that, she only dreamed of being a writer while she was stuck working as a secretary.
DIANE RUGGIERO-WRIGHT: So I quit to write and could not write a word. I had like the worst writer's block ever.
RATH: While she waited for inspiration to strike, Diane Ruggiero-Wright had to make ends meet somehow.
RUGGIERO-WRIGHT: I was working as a waitress at a restaurant called the Park and Orchard in East Rutherford, N.J. I had a customer that would come in on Tuesday nights with his daughter. And the father was super nice and asked me what I really did, assuming that I wasn't a full-time waitress. And I said I was a writer, which I wasn't.
And he said he was a writer too and asked to read something. And I just blew him off 'cause I figured, yeah, whatever, everyone's a writer.
And on Sunday nights, there was another customer who came in. He was the nicest guy in the world. But he always made the waitresses crazy because he would come in before we closed and work on his laptop. And you were like ugh (ph). And one day, I completely lost my patience and said, you know, you're not the only writer or something ridiculous like that. And he said, oh, you're a writer. I have a friend who's a successful writer. Maybe he could help you. And again, I just blew him off. You know, it's East Rutherford, N.J. - you're not going to think that someone's this hugely successful playwright that you're seeing once a week.
And then a year later - a year of seeing the one guy with his daughter on Tuesday nights and the other guy on Sunday nights - I saw them having dinner together. And the man with the daughter was the successful writer. His name is Mark St. Germain. He was a writer on the "Cosby Show." And he said now can I read something? And I said, oh my God, please, but I only have 10 pages. It was 10 pages of the script that was a suicidal writer who couldn't commit suicide because she had writer's block and couldn't write the note, which was basically where I was at.
So he put me on a writing schedule. And every Tuesday when he would come in, I would give him about 10 pages. Once I started writing, you know - once Mark put me on a schedule, it was really like that's when I felt for the first time like myself in my life. He promised me that if I finished and it was any good, he would give it to his agents. And I finished, and he gave it to his agents, and they picked me up. And coincidentally, the agent lived across the hall from Nora Ephron and slipped Nora Ephron the script. And Nora had Columbia Pictures buy it for her.
I was, you know, working with my little order pad getting a phone call from an agent that I suddenly had writing down what this deal was. And it was the best moment of my life. I was going around to all my customers saying I just sold a movie. They surprisingly tip you very well when you sell a movie. It was before selling a movie that perhaps I could have used the good tips. But that night I made bank.
That was my first completed movie - it was the one that I sold. It was called "Pretty The Beast." It was never produced, but there was some press. And I had mentioned in one of the interviews that I had attempted to go to college at 27. And coincidentally, CBS had wanted to do the thirty-something answer to "Felicity" and thought she would be great at writing this. And they hired me to write the pilot. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never seen a pilot script. But surprisingly, they picked it up and made it.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THAT'S LIFE")
HEATHER DUBROW: (As Lydia DeLucca) Look, I just have to check my chemistry midterm grade, alright? I'm right on the border between a B and a B plus. So keep your fingers crossed.
RUGGIERO-WRIGHT: It was called "That's Life." It was on CBS and ran for two years. And that was my extremely cool, awesome big break. For a while, I was still waitressing and going to meetings in New York with my black and whites and, like, a backpack, and meeting with Danny DeVito's company and feeling like this amazing rock star. It was the most surreal, fantastic Cinderella story that I'm so glad is mine.
RATH: That's Diane Ruggiero-Wright. Her latest TV show, "iZombie," premieres on the CW this Tuesday. You don't have to be a waitress turned writer to have a big break. Send us your story - mybigbreak@NPR.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.