No-one asked you to be a writer. No-one cares if you write or not. You may receive encouragement and advice, sure, from family and mentors but the decision to follow the literary life can only be found in one place. Luckily, writing can be pursued as a hobby, or as an evening class, or during lunch break. So if your basic emotional desire to express yourself on paper can be achieved and satisfied while still earning £20K at the office, then you’ve struck a happy balance between routine responsibilities and the creative impulses that exist in your personality. But if you have a deeper need to write and think, quite possibly, you could earn a living out of it, then you need to seriously consider pushing yourself into trying to make it as a professional.
This is not an easy choice. And life’s got a nasty habit of getting in the way of your best laid plans. Relationships, money, health, kids; everyday distractions and demands of the human condition. The effort required to make it as a professional writer, of any description, is enormous. It takes constant determination; an indefatigable desire to succeed, an inherent belief in yourself and your talent. And a little bit of luck. It’s physically and mentally exhausting. It challenges you on a daily basis. Because you only have yourself to rely on. And you’ve only got yourself to blame. It all comes back to your decision to give up your job, and just about everything else, so you could write.
Six years ago, I gave up my day job. I always knew I wanted to write, and felt fairly confident that I had the basic talent to do so. Working in the media gave me the opportunity to indulge in my creative sensibilities without actually having to challenge myself into making a habit of my own writing. But it nagged away at me and I knew I had to make a change. Even when I gave up my job at Channel 4, I chose ‘script editor’ or 'development' as my new likely job title. In my first year of being freelance, the fear of not earning any money and my basic insecurity of becoming a writer took hold. As a result, I did stints on two TV shows and script edited a few short animations for Channel 4. I realised I had to embrace my choice fully if I was ever going to realise my dream. So writing became the focus.
The competition though is both huge and fierce. There are a lot of talented writers out there being rejected every day. To give myself a chance, I adopted the Keyser Soze approach: “he showed these men of will, what will really was.” I was going to do what most aspiring writers were not prepared to do (whatever that was). I was going to throw myself into the process with so much discipline, determination and common sense that my chances of success would immediately shoot up just because I got out of bed in the morning. My work at Channel 4 had exposed me to the fact that a lot of scripts were poorly written and writers were making common mistakes. I decided I needed to know more and I discovered what it was I had to do that most aspiring writers were not. I had to read scripts. Lots of them.
It’s been six years. My God. Five if you consider that first year of TV show diversion. They say it takes ten years to make it as a writer but I’m doing okay. It’s been such an emotional ride and it continues to be so. Bad days, desperate days, good days, great days. The first thing you can expect when you go solo is that your phone won’t ring. And the temptation to watch videos and plug Playstation (and call it research) will overwhelm you. But you’re a writer now, so you got to write, and get paid for it or at the very least, be recognised.
I bawled like a baby when I was shortlisted for an award. Shortlisted. I hadn’t even won it (I did win it eventually, you should have seen me then) but the letter came at an especially vulnerable moment, and I cracked. My first TV commission; roars of delight and running around the flat like a loon (then I spotted that the kitchen floor needed a scrub so I did that - the glamour flicks like a switch). The doubts and insecurities still exist but my knowledge and experience grows. I’ve got to do this. I don’t know what else I could do now. I script read and teach screenwriting to help pay the bills but this year, I’ve been able to recede from both as my doormat becomes a regular landing spot for writing cheques. There’s certainly no better feeling...