Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Guest Post: Are You a Black Belt Writer?

Adrean Mead's one day course on The Insider's Guide to Writing TV on the 17th March in London is now fully booked up. They are running a reserve just in case they get any last minute cancellations. If anyone is interested about the course or future classes, then send them an email and they'll keep you in the loop.

I've never met Adrian but he seems like a quality guy, judging from the articles/guest posts he sends me, and sure, they're a free plug for his course, but he offers sound practical advice, and it keeps the blog going while I'm distracted with deadlines 'n stuff. In this post, he compares writing with learning karate. Um, I'll let Adrian take it from here:-


If you have received any info from me in the past I'm sure you will be familiar with my favourite saying-

"If you keep on doing what you're doing, you'll keep on getting what you're getting."

You can apply it to every aspect of life, especially writing and karate. Okay, that might seem like an unusual combination but the challenges for writers and karate students are remarkably similar.

When I started training in karate in 1976 it was the boom time for Martial Arts. Bruce Lee and later "The Karate Kid" had launched a tidal wave of wannabe Black Belts. Every night was like the training scene from "Enter The Dragon" with 80 people lined up in rows punching, kicking and screaming their lungs out. It was the same all over the country.

Of course for many people it was just the latest fad to try, and the drop out rate amongst white belts was about 50% after the first few months. However, the next and most baffling statistic was the drop out rate amongst brown belts. These were the students who were just one step away from achieving the much coveted grade of Black Belt. Roughly 90% of them quit before taking the exam, despite having put in years of effort to reach this point. Thirty years later I know of only one of my original classmates who is still training and I regularly run into ex karate students. They always say exactly the same thing, "I wish I'd kept it up. I was almost a Black Belt" .

This got me thinking about the huge numbers of people who are now signing up for screenwriting classes. What are you going to be saying in thirty years time? Will you have achieved your dream of becoming a professional screenwriter. Will you have created a body of work that you are proud of and a still have whole raft of exciting and challenging projects ahead of you. Or will writing be just another thing you eventually quit?

Are you going to end up as a brown belt writer?

Let's time travel and jump ten years into the future. We find you at home clearing out a cupboard. You come across your old karate brown belt, you always promised yourself you would go back one day, maybe with the kids. Then you find the data stick containing all your writing files. To reach the level of brown belt you must have shown plenty of determination and mastered lots of basic skills. And look at all the stuff that you created! So why did you quit both of these things after all that hard work? As I said earlier, the challenges are remarkably similar -

1. You suddenly realised you would have to seriously increase your efforts in order to go up to the next grade. The problem was you just couldn't see how it would be possible to commit more time. So you quit, promising to get back to it next year. But somehow.....

2. Instead of sparring with the same friendly faces you saw every week at the club you realised you were going to be pitting yourself against a huge pool of hungry competitors. They all seemed so much younger/talented/dedicated. So you quit.

3. Everyone was telling you how tough it is to make the next grade. Your efforts were going to be ruthlessly critiqued and you weren't sure if you could face the humiliation of failing. Best to quit rather than get hurt.

4. Finally, there was the realisation that even if you succeeded it was only going to continue to get tougher. You would then be expected to train with the REAL Black Belts. What if you couldn't cope? You never got to find out because you quit.

Okay, now let's return back to just one year in the future, the point where you are standing at the fork in the road. This is the moment where you made the decision that would decide your future. What's it to be? A professional screenwriter? Or spending the rest of your life doing your current job?

You'd come this far carried along by good feedback from a producer who had read your script or the thrill of seeing your short film screened at a festival. It had finally seemed like things were going to start happening for you. However, that was a couple of years ago and despite your achievements so far you have started to realise that NOTHING IS ACTUALLY CHANGING. You remain stuck just where you are.

This is because your efforts and strategy were good enough to get you as far as you have come....but only this far. You are a brown belt, you've put in lots of hard work and gained some good basic skills but that isn't enough. Now it's decision time. Are you going to take the quitter's road or are you going to get serious and achieve your goal of becoming a professional screenwriter. Remember -

"If you keep on doing what you're doing, you'll keep on getting what you're getting.

In order to pass "The Writer's Black Belt Exam" you now need to examine each element of the formula for success. The formula reads like this.


TALENT - You need to work on improving your skills. There is masses of info about screenwriting but in order to get better you need to WRITE. Are you writing every day?

EFFORT - Human beings are naturally lazy. Let's face it everyone looks for the short cut and the quick fix. Yet the reality is there are no shortcuts to becoming a professional screenwriter. The only way to do it FASTER is to do MORE over a shorter period of time. However, to achieve this you need the next element.

STRATEGY - People will tell you that getting your break is partly about luck. I don't believe in luck. All the so called lucky people I've met have the same tale to tell. They worked very hard, visualised where they wanted to be and planned how they were going to get there. They were ready to make the maximum use of the opportunities that arose.

SUCCESS - Getting a couple of your first short scripts made is great but it doesn't pay the mortgage. The next step up to actually becoming a professional screenwriter seems huge, confusing and a lot of hard work. However, with the right INFORMATION and ATTITUDE you can do it. Without it you might just end up as one of those thousands of brown belts...who almost got their black belt.



Robin Kelly said...

Great post, it's so true. One to print off and keep handy. And I would say that even if he didn't have a black belt in karate...

Anonymous said...


Dan said...

I think I'm a first dan....get it? hahaha! Brilliant! I should take up writing with gold like that.

Lucy V said...

In the immortal words of one great philosopher: "Yeah, yeah, YEAH!!!!"
(Billy in the phones4U advert).

Dominic Carver said...

I shall be there on the 17th and I will be posting feedback on my blog.

Tim Clague said...

Its not quite the same. There can only be so many paid pro writers but there can be an unlimited number of black belts.

Our strategy should therefore be to encourage others to drop out!

Oooo. He's a nasty man is Tim Clague ;-)

Phill Barron said...

Or we could all get black belts and use them to beat up pro-writers?

They can't type with no fingers and someone has to fill the void.

Anonymous said...

As a someone who is writing his first script and training in wadaryu Karate I loved this.

Well the script is started and I am a Blue belt (5th Kyu).

I for one will be printing thisoff, fantastic stuff.

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