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The Truth Gap

TRUTH #1: You need to work 50% on the writing and 50% on the career

TRUTH #2: Most writers ignore Truth #1


In the ten years I couldn’t get hired as a writer I operated in a certain way.

I behaved in predictable ways and thought predictable thoughts.

I became an expert in this role, doing all I could to write well and get hired.

The problem was I was basing all my plans on the crumbs of information I could get while I was on the outside.

There were few sources of inside knowledge available then, and, as I've mentioned, I got nowhere.

It was only when I joined the BBC in the mid-1990s that a shift began.

A slow transformation.

It didn’t happen instantly.

There was no light-switch moment.

It was a gradual realisation born from seeing how things really worked.

Slowly, very slowly, even reluctantly, I moved on from the years of mistakes, false starts, hard knocks, and brutal trauma of rejection, and learned everything I could from being finally on the inside.

I had to give up some of my most dearly held beliefs.

It wasn't easy. Sometimes it was very tough, as I felt continually out of my depth.

Of course, that's a great way to learn.

And learn I did.

The next few years of being around the industry slowly dissolved all my unhelpful beliefs.

I eventually emerged on the “other side”, transformed.

Nowadays I have a whole different way of operating: a very different set of upgraded beliefs and worldviews.

I can still remember how the old me thought and acted.

You might understand it well, because it's how most new writers think and act.

So I’ve created two characters to represent this:

Joe and Liz.

Joe thinks and operates like the old me.

The person who spent ten years banging their head on any wall he could find.

And perhaps the current you.

Liz operates like the new me - and perhaps like the future you.


Are you Joe? Or Liz?

Let me guess.

You work hard and you're smart.

You have this sneaking suspicion your writing is brilliant - if only you could get the right people to see it (even though you have that sliver-of-ice fear sometimes that you are fooling yourself).

You might be just starting out full of confidence, or you might have been around for a while. Either way you know you have the basic talent and the skill.

Chances are you're a capable, even successful person. You can learn how to do most things. Life more or less always work out for you.

Apart from (so far) this writing game.

Liz vs. Joe

Liz is what Joe can be, if he can only break through the barrier that separates these two types of people.

Liz is the after version. The Joe 3.0.

Where Joe struggles to make any long-term headway with his “writing career” because of his flawed thinking and flawed behavior, Liz seems to be able to almost magically begin to enter the industry and get hired to write scripts.

Year on year Joe never sees his work taken up. He’s basically writing as a hobby.

He doggedly persists in the same old behaviour, of writing a random script that only he and his mother could love, and occasionally sending it out blind to an agent or two, or a competition or three.

So he will continues to taste that bitter flavour of frustration, and rejection, and know that time, is, very slowly, passing him by.

Liz on the other hand sees the wider context.

She knows she is in a business, she knows the audience is hungry, and the commissioners and production company are ravenous, and so she constantly homes in on how to make the connections she needs.

Her web of connections grows, her scripts get more on point, her focus on her career plan is tight – and the results start to come.

What's up with Joe? 

Joe's big problem is that (underneath a certain cynicism that toughens up every time he sends a script out and no-one gets back to him) he's a really nice person!

Joe believes life is fair, and the universe will recognise his brilliant writing, and that talent will eventually rise, and new writers should be given a chance. 

This belief causes him such pain that, over time, it is the single biggest reason he will eventually give up and decide the writing game was fixed against people like him.

The truth is the industry is actually fair.

Very, very fair in fact.

But just in a different way.

The industry is fair because it rewards people who take the trouble to understand its true nature. 

The industry rewards the people who work within the way things really are, not the way they wish things were.

The industry rewards people who can deliver what it needs.

The industry is bigger than you. No writer can beat it, or even consciously second-guess it. 

But if you can find a way to be true to yourself while giving it what it wants, the industry will reward you beyond your wildest dreams.

Liz's edge over most other writers is that she is prepared to compete in the real world, not expect fairness in a fantasy fairyland.

Liz operates from the knowledge there are two words in 'writing career'.

Liz understands the 50:50 Rule: she is committed to being an ace writer, AND to getting loads of industry connections.

Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, Joe makes bad choices, because he cannot accept the reality.

His own ego, the way that he insists the industry should be as he wants it, rather than working to deal with the industry as it really is, always gets in the way.

When it gets really bad, Joe is in the 'excuse business'. He has lots of very good reasons why he isn't getting anywhere. The sad truth is that the market doesn't care.

The even sadder truth is that, barring a massive fluke of fate, he will never see his scripts on screen.

Liz makes good choices. Her chances of seeing her work on screen, or even getting her invitation to that BAFTA ceremony, are infinitely greater than Joe's.

If you're more Joe and you'd like to be more Liz, there's a lot you can do about it.