How the $&%** did all this happen?
Here's a question I want you to keep in your mind as you look back over your writing life so far.
You say "I want to write for TV" - but what are you actually DOING about that?
You know how, when people train to be software engineers, or doctors, or engineers, or solicitors, or architects, they turn up on a daily basis and work for hours on taking practical steps towards their goal?
On a day to day basis, what practical steps are you taking?
If you can see your efforts have been less than totally, overwhelmingly massive so far, I don't actually blame you.
It's easy (ish) to sit and write.
People finish scripts all the time.
BBC Writersroom receives literally thousands of them every year.
But it's fiendishly hard to get hired as a screenwriter.
It's much easier to keep writing, and think you'll work out the selling bit somewhere down the line.
Until you realise you've spent five years, or ten years, or more, simply getting nowhere.
It's all 50:50
There are two basic skills you need for a writing career:
- 50% How to tell a story
- 50% How to get hired as a writer
Just as you can learn how to write, you can learn how to get hired.
Before I explain how, I need to give you some context.
Let me take you back to what seems like prehistory: the end of the baking hot summer of 1995, all sunshine, blue sky and green trees.
My home town, Brighton, had a massive influx of travellers that summer.
They squatted the lawns on the seafront, then moved to the derelict pier, and for a month it seemed that wherever you went people were out chanting and playing guitars and congas and drums 24 hours a day.
I remember that summer so well because that was the year my life changed.
Irrevocably, and for the better.
To the people in the office where I worked I may as well have gone off with those travelling musicians.
It was the summer I got my first job in TV.
Up till then I had been working at a software house.
I got the TV job through contacts.
In the course of that first job, someone (Robert McKee actually) finally helped me begin to understand how a story worked.
Those two things happened over, and over, and over again over the next twenty years:
- More and more learnings about story telling from people who really knew what they were talking about.
- More and more script work, 90% of the time being hired by people who I knew and liked in the industry.
I gained knowledge and built connections, over and over again.
Until 21 years later, December 2016, I ended up at the Childrens' BAFTAs, as the script editor on a BAFTA-nominated episode of The Dumping Ground.
Here I am at the event, extraordinarily unhappy in a suit, with Emma Reeves, the brilliant writer of the episode:
Actually I'd been script editor for all twenty episodes of that series.
The series eventually gained two separate BAFTA nominations, plus a nomination for a National Writers Award, all for the scripts.
I was lucky enough to have a tremendous team of writers that year - but I do like to think that I brought something to the table too.
My last job in corporate TV was as Head of Development for a company that made one of Britain's biggest drama exports.
I finished up in the industry with over 70 broadcast credits as either writer or script editor.
Not too shabby for someone who spent ten years unable to sell a short story.
I say this not to boast, but to point out one thing:
If I can learn to do all this script stuff after my incredibly shaky beginning, then I suspect you can too!
You just need to know how.
So what's the biggest difference between writers who get hired, and writers who don't?
The choices they make.
Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, writers who can't sell their work make different choices to writers who are constantly employed.
The good news: a large number of those choices are simple to describe, and very easily understood.