Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Confidence & Attitude

** NOVEMBER 2013** I've got a brand new site for the blog, it's right here! **

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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.

26 comments:

Jason Arnopp said...

A great, inspirational post, sir.

Lucy said...

Damn straight - and I'll drink to that.

Lianne said...

That's just what I needed today Danny, cheers!

Charlie Williams said...

Good post. But...

"screenwriting in particular attracts more people to the potential flame of success than writing novels or pursuing a career in journalism"

Is that true? Not saying it isn't, but... what are the facts? When I started writing I thought "screenwriting? How the hell do you do that?" Then I looked at books and thought "ah... piece of piss" (I was wrong, but...) Screenwriting just seems a bit more difficult to get your head around. The average punter still may not actually understand that a screen story is *written*, rather than Steven Spielberg just telling the actors what to say. But books? Everyone knows who JK Rowling is.

Danny Stack said...

Thanks all. Yeah, Charlie, it's more my hunch rather than a fact but screenwriting is all the rage it seems. Last year roughly 20,000 people graduated from screenwriting courses so the course/workshop/book/guru market is certainly increasing.

Lisa said...

Great words of wisdom, Danny, thanks. I've been having a wobble after the great day with Red Planet thinking that I don't have what everyone else in the room had etc etc *beats self around the head* so your words are timely and good advice.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, spare a thought for those of us who didn't get invited to the Red Planet day... And Danny, that little snippet about 20,000 graduating from screenwriting courses is utterly depressing - it is impossible for the TV and film industry to employ that many writers. How many are rubbish? How do you know if you are rubbish? Imagine being like one of those saddos on The X Factor who is convinced they are a winner, when really nobody in their right mind wants to listen to them....
When do you give up the day job or conversely, decide to stick with it?

Confidence pills anyone?

NR said...

Mr Stack -

Thank you for that - probably the most inspiring and honest thing I've read on writing, and the challenges of breaking through, that I've read for a while.

Paul Campbell said...

You're on fire today, Mr Stack!

Nice post.

SHEIKSPEAR said...

Inspirational Danny!

A good writerly kick up the a... combined with a pat of encouragement.

Just what I, and it seems others, needed. My p.c. lost my new script ( 20 odd pages-but they were brilliant!) so I was a bit down.

Writers write. End of.
Great stuff.

Anon: Don't worry about the 20,000Jsut worry about your own script and make the best you can...
(and back it up so the b***** p.c. doesn't loose it!

James Moran said...

Danny: This is why you are The Daddy. Incredibly inspiring, sir.

Anon: Submit the script to Triggerstreet or something similar, and you'll swiftly find out what people honestly think. Or start a blog, and get other aspiring scribobloggers into your feedback circle. Sign up with shootingpeople.org, and see if anyone's looking for short film scripts. Those are all free - if you want to splash out 30 or 40 quid, get a professional reader who is also a blogger to do a full analysis on it for you. It means paying money, but you're guaranteed a proper report.

Danny Stack said...

You're all too kind. It was meant more as a reality check than anything else. And anyway, if you want real inspiration, just follow Mr Moran's lead and you won't go far wrong.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this one Danny - for my Film Studies course I recently had to show my awareness of everything I'd learned (genre convention etc) by putting it into a script. I've never felt so dissatisfied with anything I'd written being boxed in by cliches - but I think the point is that I know it's crap (not because its bad writing but because I don't like it). Anyway cheers for this it was a good pick-me-up.

ANON!!! You made me laugh - hard

"How many are rubbish? How do you know if you are rubbish? Imagine being like one of those saddos on The X Factor who is convinced they are a winner, when really nobody in their right mind wants to listen to them...."

but then my laugh turned to a frown...
Sue

Gabba Gabba Hey said...

"Last year roughly 20,000 people graduated from screenwriting courses" - surely not? Even 2,000 sounds high. Would be interested to see a breakdown, if anyone knows of one.

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny do you anything about the BBC Series and Serials Writers Academy, supposed to be for 'experienced' writers interested in crime. Can't find much info but lots of people seem to be talking about it.

JC

Danny Stack said...

JC: haven't heard of that one. Sounds interesting!

Gabba Gabba: I got that particular stat from Adrian Mead so maybe he knows the break down...

Eleanor said...

Excellent and inspiring post, and very well timed (just as a certain someone who I won't name is pulling his "Why bother, you're not going to make is." crap yet again. Just when I'm feeling vulnerable. I want to punch him in the nose. Grr.)

"A writer writes. End of story." Too true.

Jaded and Cynical said...

The problem with the blogosphere isn't the lack of inspiration and general cheerleading.

Everyone is doing that stuff.

The problem is a lack of realism.

If 20,000 new people are trying to break in to the business every year, that's at least 19,950 people who would be better off doing something else.

But no one wants to read that.

wyndham said...

If the working doesn't work out, Danny, I suspect you'll have a a successful career as a Life Coach.

Danny Stack said...

Plenty of realism in this blog, I think. All the good and the bad discussed and shared. Some will make it as a writer, most will slip away but you get nothing done by accepting defeat.

Jason Arnopp said...

Oh, Jaded And Cynical. I can always rely on you to put a spring in my step.

Paul Campbell said...

@ Anon JC

The Series and Serials Academy was mentioned by Ceri Meyrick at the WGGB event on 24 April.

It sounded as though they weren't really ready to make an announcement yet. But a few details emerged.

It won't be a full blown "Academy" like the existing one. It'll probably be a week or two's intensive training (maybe residential?). And then some mentoring etc.

It'll be aimed at writers currently doing continuing drama, but who fancy trying their hand at something like Waking the Dead.

And that's all I know. Hope it helps.

Jaded and Cynical said...

In fairness, Danny, you've always been honest about the business - both in terms of how hard it is to break through, and how long it takes to build a career.

(As for you, Mr Arnopp, after your screen debut last week, I'm officially jealous.)

miss-cellany said...

Sometimes you read exactly the right thing, at exactly the right moment. Thank you :)

[Half-hearted applications for former 'day job' in shredder now...]

Matt said...

How many years was it before "Moby Dick" was considered a classic?

There's a little bit of a dichotomy here: Screenwriting as a job, and writing screenplays as an art form. Of course there isn't a strictly observed boundary between the two objectives (it's downright fuzzy) but they are distinct.

When it comes to being a job, and if you are concerned about feeding you and your family, you are essentially selling yourself, time and time again. Everything you do, everything you write also functions as an audition for the next gig.

The hope is lightning strikes and you end up with both credibility as an "artist" AND financial stability.

This is a tough fucking gig.

Michael Dennis said...

That's a great post, and I feel that I might be returning to it more than once. It's very easy to go a bit funny in the head when you're locked away in front of the computer, day in, day out, waiting for a scrap - no matter how small - of attention from somebody, telling you that - yes - you can write!