Yesterday screenwriter [and director] Adrian Mead held another of his occasional seminars in Edinburgh for fledgling and wannabe scribes. I raved about his words of wisdom and experience about Writing for TV Drama back in February and yesterday's session on How to Pitch was just as informative, valuable and entertaining. There's a ton of stuff I could talk about that emerged during the day and maybe I'll upload a few key snippets from my copious notes to this blog, once I finish transcribing it all. [The battery on my iBook started running out of juice towards the end, so I was reduced to pen and paper for note-taking. Alas, I have the handwriting of a doctor without any of the medical training, making interpretation of my scribblings less than simple.]
Two things Adrian said resonated very strongly with me. Firstly, as writers we are physically selling little more than pieces of paper with black ink on them [or the electronic equivalent in these times when most scripts are sent via email]. What we're really selling are our ideas, our skills, our creativity, our grasp of the craft and our professionalism. More than anything else, Adrian hammers home the need to be professional and courteous about everything you do.
It's something I heartily endorse from my time as a comics editor. I loved to employ a creative genius, the sort of talent whose work inspired others and won awards, whose gift for innovation and invention made them unique. However, I tended to find in British comics that the greater the level of genius, the greater the tendency towards flakiness and unreliability. That's a generalisation, but it is generally true. When push came to shove, I would choose a reliable, professional artist who could be depended upon to deliver the goods on time over a flaky genius who was more like to let you down than hit their mark.
I've long since come to the conclusion that I'm not a creative genius. [Stop laughing at the back, I know it was always obvious, but a boy can dream, can't he? No? Oh, well.] So when I went freelance in the year 2000, I decided I would be the most professional writer I could be. Never miss a deadline, write to specification, make myself as useful as possible to people who might employ me. That doesn't mean I grind out lowest common denominator hackwork. I strive to do my absolute best, push myself to make each job better than the last. But I also recognise the fact I'm being employed to do a job and if I fail in that task, I might not get that chance again.
So today's motto is simple: act professional if you want to be a professional. Or, as Aaron Sorkin once wrote memorably for an episode of The West Wing: Fake it till you make it.