Kevin asks: I’d like to hear about what revelations you've had since taking up your writing career?
Well, how long have you got? It’s such a deliciously simple question but difficult to answer without boring you to death with long anecdotes of rejections, surprises, refusals and disappointments. I suspect that a neat bullet-point list would be better, so indulge me while I try to combine the anecdotal and bullet-point approach.
When I took the decision to pursue writing full-time, back in 1999/2000, I was fairly relaxed about it. My girlfriend (soon to become my long-suffering wife) calmly advised me: “Danny, so many people are trying to do that. You have to be good”. I knew she was right but I also knew I WAS going to be good (don’t ask me how, at that stage I had written one script, and it was crap). I was determined NOT to be like most people trying to be writers. I had seen their efforts (and approach) languishing at the bottom of the spec pile in the C4 comedy department. I was going to be different. I was going to be polished and professional. I was going to get ahead with some useful contacts and inside knowledge of how the biz actually worked. I set to work, becoming a full-time script reader, partly to pay the bills but also to improve my own writing. So, while I read like a maniac, I also built up my writing portfolio.
Within 2 years, I had what I thought were pretty good scripts, one of them an adaptation of Andrew Davies’s children’s book, Conrad’s War, which I wrote with the mighty Sam Morrison. Andrew Davies himself gave the script his blessing (“perfectly capturing the spirit of the book” - rock!) and I thought this was my ticket to a screenwriting career. Hmm, not so much. People liked the script but didn’t want to do anything with it. Likewise with my other scripts. But I kept on reading. Kept on writing. Four years into my spell, and I won that BBC new writing award, not to mention a couple of commissions on Doctors. Now my career will kick off, surely? Hmm, not so much.
Eight years later, the present day, and things are beginning to turn more in my favour. The last few years haven’t been duds by any means (although, don’t mention 2006/2007, eugh) but I thought 2004 was when everything was coming together, and would set me on my way. So, what have I learned? What great revelations can I share?
- It doesn’t get easier. It gets more difficult. You always have to raise your game, dig deeper, work harder.
- The system doesn’t care about writers. It’s a bit like Mother Nature: it has the capacity to be beautiful and nurturing, and we couldn’t exist without it, but it will also cut you down without any reasoning or judgement.
- You have the capability of writing just as much shite as the stuff you mock on TV or at the cinema every day. It will help if you recognise this, otherwise you’re in trouble.
- Once you get a commission or option a script, it doesn’t mean that work will flow. In other words, don’t expect to make a regular living out of writing.
- Contacts, leads and positive meetings are all very nice but after a while, they don’t mean a thing unless the script actually goes into production or the money’s in the bank (preferably both).
- If you can get through the toughest of times - when it’s really not working out/you want to give up/you need to get a job - and still want to be a writer, you might just make it…
Er… that’s about it. Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing this as meme, to see how what other working writers have learned from their experiences. So, if they’re up for it, how about James, James H and David spilling the beans?
I’ll leave you with some Bank Holiday linkery to keep you occupied:
Filmmaker Magazine’s article on development: The Write Stuff (thanks to Dan Clifton for the link)
Phillip Baron’s Starving Artist article, a great reality check.
John Malkovich’s Snow Angel. The result of his unique scriptwriting project.