Monday, September 24, 2007

Which is harder to get - first job or the second?

I'm trying to break into TV drama writing by various routes. I've been applying for jobs as a storyliner or script editor on soaps, as they're a good place to learn more about the craft of TV writing, and can be a stepping stone to getting commissions as a writer. I'm seeking representation as having an agent will get you meetings you could never secure otherwise.

For example, Life on Mars makers Kudos say they will meet with writers without any previous TV credits, if those writers have an agent and credits in another writing medium like radio, novels or theatre. I'm entering competitions, I'm networking like crazy, I'm trying for schemes like the TAPS continuing drama workshop and showcase.

If any one of those methods works, I need to be ready when the call comes. Craft skills in place, plus at least two different original calling card scripts that demonstrate talent, my unique voice as a writer and my versatility as a writer. But the truth is there's no shortage of other would-be TV writers out there who could boast all the same things and more. Getting first commission is tough.

Sometimes I think I've left it too late, that I'd have been better off pursuing this when I was still in my 20s [or, better still, a teenager]. There's an obsession in TV drama at the moment in chasing the youth demographic, as if teenagers want to spend their time at home watching TV when they'd rather be out living [translation: drinking, smoking, dancing, shagging, etc]. But I can't change my age, so worrying about that is a pointless exercise. Better to concentrate on what I can affect.

In a lot of careers, one job leads to another. Do well at one workplace and you can trade to another; maybe a bigger company, maybe a higher position with more money [and usually more responsibility]. Writing is a strange career in that you're often only as good as your last job, unless you've attained some kind of A list status. The truth is that writers start each new job with an empty computer screen in front them, facing the tyranny of the blank page.

Can I start? Do I still have what it takes? When I am going to be found out? It's amazing how many writers torment themselves with those questions. For some, the more experience they have, the worse those worries get. All the commissions, all the acclaim, all the success are just things that happened. There's always that lingering fear of going back to the well of creativity within themselves to find it's gone dry. There's nothing left. They're burnt out, past it, a has-been.

Not a problem I'm facing right now. You've got to have been something to be past it. But here's another thing to think about. I honestly believe everybody's got one great story inside them. Often it's their own life story, but that's still a tale often worth telling. Maybe they don't have the skills or craft to bring it out, to tell that story, but it's still buried away inside them. It's not telling [and selling] that first story which makes you a writer. It's coming up with the second story.

Just as bands can put out a great first album, full of verve and joy and invention, as writers can produce a great first story. They've had their whole lives to prepare for this moment. But they can produce the goods time after time, have their got the grit and determination and sheer bloodymindedness necessary to grind it a result even when the bucket's bouncing on the bottom of the well, bringing up dregs. Can they still do the business when they're tired or cranky or ill or suffering?

To me, that's the mark of a real writer. Switching off all the other sounds and troubles and conflicts and worries, and focusing on that single voice inside your head, telling you what to type next, letting that storytelling instinct guide you out of the woods. Finding that voice, befriending that voice, learning to trust that voice will be there when you need it - that's the hard part. Amongst others.


Lucy said...

Getting that commission is hard no matter what you do, what you have or what age you are. I really thought I would have had one commission on SOMETHING on TV by now, but hey. If it were easy, then everyone would do this right? Oh yeah - everybody does, that's why it's hard ; )

Elver said...

"I've been applying for jobs as a storyliner or script editor on soaps, as they're a good place to learn more about the craft of TV writing, and can be a stepping stone to getting commissions as a writer."

I was under the impression that people who work as storyliners and script editors are those with years of experience as a writer. Because, you know, editing implies that you know what you're doing and you need to learn / prove yourself first with years of success as a writer before you edit others.

David Bishop said...

Interesting point, Elver.

From everything I've been told, storylining is often an entry level job on soaps. For example, I know several writers who got their start storylining on the likes of Emmerdale.

From there they went on to become story editors, or script editors, or freelance writers.

Some script editors move on to become producers and, eventually, executive producers.

Others get out of the production office to become writers.

But your mileage may vary.

Paul M said...

Hey David, I'm with you there on the age front (how old are you anyway?) not that ancient by my research, I'm 39. Sometimes I think, shit if only i'd found this gig 10 years ago i'd be laughing. But of course I would have been writing with 10 years less life experience. That's the advantage of this career, it's late starter friendly. What other career's can you say that about? I wouldn't let that play on your mind. Except where you are and keep the ball rolling.

Lucy said...

Every script editor I know - including myself - started before getting major writing credits themselves. In fact, I know several script editors who don't actually write at all, but something makes me suspicious of those guys ; )

Stef said...

And by those guys you mean me, Lucy! Don't think I don't know girl! Funny what you turn up with a bit of night surfing...

I don't know any editors over here with big writing credits - in OZ anyway. One girl from my office yonks ago left to write FARSCAPE, so I reckon it's a good way in if you want to write.

English Dave said...

''I was under the impression that people who work as storyliners and script editors are those with years of experience as a writer''

That is not generally the case. That doesn't necessarily mean they aren't good at what they do though. They are very different disciplines.

It's the ones who think they can write but can't that you have to watch out for lol