Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Whatever it Takes: Redux

I was going to expand on the last post by talking about what it takes to be a professional writer, and what kind of approach you might need but then I realised I had done it already in a post of June last year called 'Whatever it Takes'. So, this entry is a semi-story vault really as that post is retreaded in full, below. However, I thought I'd add a few more comments and thoughts to the mix.

The kind of advice on this blog isn't meant to be directly 'inspiring' or 'reassuring'. I look at it more as discussing the practical necessities required if you're going to get ahead. It may sound positive or inspiring but it still takes a heck of a lot of commitment and effort to get some results. It's true that I'm not one for the gloom and doom merchants who say 'don't bother'. You get nothing done by accepting defeat and it's too easy to be dismissive of the system or talk down someone's chances of being a writer. The way I see it, we're all in this together and the more we can share our experiences and strengthen our positions as writers, then the better it is for us and the industry. It may be idealistic and naive but in this cynical world of the 21st century, surely there's room for a bit of fresh thinking.

It should be obvious that anything I write about here is usually a direct relation to my own style and approach. I'm not doing too badly and this year is going quite well but there's been a lot of doubt, frustration and anxiety along the way. That's all part of the process. The only way to earn success is to work extremely hard, and knock back all the crap (as much as possible) that comes your way. One of the things I'm particularly proud about is the Red Planet Prize. This came about from a simple email and a genuine desire to create a decent screenwriting initiative that opens doors for writers rather than paying lip service to their efforts. That's called 'making a difference'. Anyone can do it: why can't it be you?


“I've finally decided to take the plunge and give writing a go full-time. But the sheer enormity of the task ahead is making my head hurt and, writing aside, I just don't know what are the very first steps I should take - aside from the writing, of course. Any sage advice for a writing toddler would be very welcome.”

Three Ps. Practical. Proactive. Professional.

A writing career doesn’t happen overnight. If you’ve decided to take the plunge and live the dream, then that’s great, it’s very exciting. It’s also horrendously daunting, especially if you’ve severed normal job ties, and have nothing lined up to pay the bills.

So, look at your practical options. How am I going to make money while I build my writing portfolio to such a standard that I earn money from writing itself? Do I take a part-time job (likely) or can I get an industry related part-time job like script reading or script editing (preferable, but harder to achieve)?

Domestic issues will vary from person to person (married, kids, illness, disability etc) but you should ask yourself “what is the very basic income I need to survive? How am I going to achieve that?” Once these essential concerns are dealt with, then all effort can be focused on writing. But make sure you’re applying your energy in the right areas, like: new writing opportunities, Doctors, short films, and using all relevant contacts to nab potential writing gigs (corporate, commercial, internet).

A lot of writing opportunities will emerge not because of what you know and the quality of your writing, but who you know and the broad appeal of your personality. Get out there. Attend industry events. Make contacts. Start a blog or a MySpace page, or get a Facebook profile. Be friendly, supportive and positive. Don’t expect opportunities to come to your door. Go out and find them yourself.

Take responsibility for your writing. It’s not ‘them’, it’s ‘you’. The system doesn’t suck. The system exists for itself. In the process, professional courtesies may fall between the cracks. Sometimes, it may be understandable, occasionally it will be rude while other times it may be plain unforgivable. Get on with it. Let off steam with friends and fellow writers, but don’t burn bridges. Don’t take rejections personally. Take criticism on board but keep it in perspective. Stick to your conviction. Be assured about what you want to say. Develop your original voice. Realise the strengths of your writing and try to understand the weaker areas so that you can develop a balanced critique of your own material. Keep writing. Get your work out there. You never know what’s going to stick - where and with whom. Now, how much do you want it? Really? What are you prepared to do? Then do it.

And now, a fourth ‘P’. Patience. It’s going to take time. There’s going to be a lot of rejection and frustration that, hopefully, will be worth it for one or two moments of elation or validation, which will kickstart a writing career. But it doesn’t get easier. It gets harder. Competition is fierce. Opportunities are few and far between. Don’t get complacent or bitter. Stay focused. Keep writing. Take inspiration from your favourite films & TV shows, and the success stories of your peers. Be wary of writer envy. Everyone finds their own way to success; they don’t imitate others. There is no right way to go about it except by writing consistently good material. That’s what it’s all about. Your unique talent. Hopefully that will be enough to earn you a living, and, Disney time, give you the foothold to make all your dreams come true.



Anonymous said...

congrats on the Broadcast nomination for Sofia's Diary!

Danny Stack said...

Has it? Cool. What for exactly?

Anonymous said...

cut & pasted:

The waiting is over! The shortlist has finally been announced for the Broadcast Digital Channel Awards 2008, the most established and prestigious Awards for the UK digital television industry. As expected weve received a record number of entries this year, spanning 13 categories.


current tv

Dubplate Drama

ITV1 and Emmerdale online

Sofias Diary on

Spooks Interactive - Series 6

Danny Stack said...

Thanks, Fara!

Jon Mitchell said...

Just stumbled across this blog and I'm a big fan already.
I'm a Welsh screenwriter working on the opposite side of the world in Yokohama. (Talk about setting myself a double handicap - it's hard enough breaking into this business in your own language, let alone stumbling through pitches in Japanese...)
A couple of contest wins and a lucky break later and things are looking up, though...
Keep doing what you're doing,
Jon Mitchell

Danny Stack said...

Hi Jon. Thanks for dropping by! Our very own screenwriting yakuza via the Welsh valleys... Nice!