** NOVEMBER 2013** I've got a brand new site for the blog, it's right here! **
At the start of every writer’s career, there’s a combined sense of optimism and doubt about what they want to achieve and, more importantly, how they’re going to do it. After all, the odds of establishing yourself as a full-time writer are mountainous, and screenwriting in particular attracts more people to the potential flame of success than writing novels or pursuing a career in journalism. Still, armed with a bit of naive enthusiasm, the new screenwriter sets off to make the right impression with the industry and when the first bits of positive reaction begin to filter through (if you’re lucky), the writer feels a huge sense of relief and validation. S/he feels emotional, humble and grateful… and rightly so. You’ve made it! The career kicks off and the money rolls in! Right?
Not exactly. What happens is that things actually get harder, rather than easier. Work is still difficult to come by, despite your recent glimpse of success or validation, and the usual stresses of being a freelancer are all very much in evidence. But what has happened is that you’ve raised your game, whether you’re aware of it or not. You’ve moved into level 2 of your career, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get dirty if you want to have a chance of progressing even further up the screenwriting pole. Basically, a shift of attitude occurs. No more are you excitable and emotional when you get a commission or a producer options your work. Instead, you’re thinking: “that’s right, this is what’s supposed to happen. If I’m a good writer, and if I’m to have a career, then these are the things that have to happen, just by natural course.”
Or at least, that’s what you should be thinking. For example, it’s perfectly fine to get excited about the BBC writersroom asking to see your full script. This is a small but significant request, as it means they thought your first ten pages didn’t suck and you might be an interesting writer. But you shouldn’t be surprised or grateful. You know you’re an interesting and talented writer; you don’t need the writersroom to tell you otherwise. Of course, it’s important that somebody with industry standing (like the writersroom) recognises your talent, but you shouldn’t wait for them - and others like them - to give you permission to write, or to pursue a career as a writer.
This kind of ‘permission from the industry’ attitude is bad for writers. It gives producers, execs and script editors the higher ground, making us feel grateful to them when they give us a break, when really, they should be grateful to us for making all the effort in the first place. I see a lot of new writers trying half-heartedly to break in and when they receive a knock back or two, or can’t get pass go with the writersroom, they think that writing’s not for them, and inevitably choose another career.
Listen, if you’re going to be a writer, you have to do it properly. You know that it’s going to be hard and that the rejections are going to flow but that doesn’t matter because you’re a writer, and no-one can tell you otherwise. You’re going to develop an assurance about yourself and an inner confidence about what you write. Not self-delusion, although it’s a fine line, but a knowledge and passion that you know your work is good, no matter what anyone says. I’m not suggesting that you turn into a brazen writer who can talk the talk. What I’m saying is that you need to be more aware and assured about yourself and your work. To take responsibility and ownership over what you write, and why you write it. This way, your confidence will shine through on the page and make a natural impression on the various gatekeepers of the industry, and your chances of a breakthrough are that much higher.
Let me put it this way: when I got my first commission on Doctors, I cried my eyes out. Honestly. And then I blubbed like a baby when I got nominated for the BBC Tony Doyle Award (nominated! I hadn’t even won yet!). They both came at an emotional time for me when I was running into big brick walls of rejection and frustration. That was four years ago. I’ve had bigger walls of rejection and frustration since but I think I’ve developed a more assured knowledge of myself and my work. I feel more confident about my writing and know I can come up with the goods if and when requested. So now, when the phone rings with a bit of work or a commission comes through, I no longer cry on to my keyboard, no sir. I think: “yes, this is what’s supposed to happen. Bring it on.” I still feel elated - I might punch the air or yell something stupid at the top of my voice - as you can never take anything for granted, and complacency is the ultimate enemy of the writer.
Basically, the point is to bolster your confidence and attitude. Don’t wait for others to tell you what kind of a writer you are, or that you don’t have what it takes. It’s all subjective, and it’s all bollocks. Look to yourself. That’s where the real answers are. That’s where the real talent lies. If you feel you’re not up to it or can’t carry on, then that’s a big and brave decision (that only YOU should decide). But if you’re determined to continue and succeed no matter what, then nobody can stop you, especially if you know, deep in your soul, that you can spin a good yarn. A writer writes. End of story.