Went to Edinburgh yesterday to hear Rona Munro talk about surviving as a writer in film and television. It was a fascinating two hours about she discussed her joyful experiences, the things that made her bitter and the skills she uses to keep going as a writer. Munro is perhaps best known for her award-winning theatre work, but she's also written for Doctor Who and Casualty on TV, collaborated with noted film directors Ken Loach and Antonia Bird, and scripted a film that got nominated for a Golden Globe. Annoyingly, I forgot to take a notebook or pen, so what follows is based purely on my faulty memory. Happily, Miss Read showed more foresight and you can read her excellent notes here.
One thing Rona said did stick in my sieve-like cranium: write two lists. List number one features all the things you're passionate about, things you care about, things you've experienced that left a lasting impression, things that you know about. These can range from things that enrage or delight you [racism, chocolate, stupidity, man's inhumanity to spanners], as well as things you have a personal insight into [being an only child or the youngest in a large family, growing up Buddhist or Catholic or aetheist, being a mum, being childless, being a teacher, a journalist or a lazy git].
List number two features all your favourite films and TV shows, particularly British examples if you live in the UK. In my case, that'd feature programmes like State of Play, Secret Army, Doctor Who, The Avengers, The West Wing, Deadwood, The Sopranos. Now, compare your two lists. What do they have in common? Are you a hypochondriac who loves medical dramas? Are you a middle child who loves family sagas? Then that's what you should be writing about, according to Munro - genres you love and stories you're passionate about. Have to say, that made a lot of sense to me.
Her other key point was about taking responsibility for your stories, your vision and your career. If you want to survive, you must be willing to fight for what you believe in - without being so difficult, emotional or stubborn that nobody will ever employ you again. Munro talked a lot about something I recognise in myself: the good pupil syndrome. That's where a writer will bend over backwards to win the praise of those paying the bills, twisting themselves and their story all out of shape to satisfy others. It's the tendency to second guess what people want, rather than telling a story about which you're passionate, about which you care, the story that you want to write. Setting the good pupil to one side ain't easy, but it's necessary.