Friday, February 01, 2008

Speculation, but not much accumulation

Trying to build a career as a screenwriter is all about the long game, about having patience. Yes, there are always going to be frakish, one-off cases of people who write a single piece of work and it finds a path through the maze to be hailed as greatness. For the rest of us, it's about the grind. Do good work, strive to improve, nurture the dream that maybe one day someone will pay you to write what you want to write. The vast majority of scribes spend years knocking on doors before getting an opening.

I've been lucky in a lot of ways. I've been making my living from writing for seven and a half years now. I've had 18 novels published, a radio play broadcast by the BBC, even won a screenwriting prize. But the truth is I've no idea if I'm any closer to my achieving my dream of writing TV drama than I was when I started down this road in the summer of 2005. I believe my scriptwriting has improved. I believe I have stories to tell, stories worth telling, stories people want to hear.

But nobody gives you a free pass to success. You've got to want it, and you've got to earn it. You can't expect opportunity to come and offer itself, you've got to go out and find it. That means writing spec scripts, and rewriting them, and rewriting them. That means create new material all the time, and honing it. That means taking time away from the job which pays your bills to write material destined never to be seen in public. That means sacrifices, and the inevitable pain of rejection, and having enough of a stubborn streak to get back up and start again.

What did I do in January? Wrote a trial script for TV. Write some sample prose for an exciting book project. Write a horror short for a competition. Write a pitch for a TV format. Write a comedy-drama short for a different competition. Write to several agencies, seeking representation. Sent a pilot script and series bible to the BBC writersroom. Applied for a mentoring scheme. Read screenplays and treatments for two different agencies. Wrote the synopsis for a 32-page comic strip.

You know what I earned from all of that? Eighty quid. That's about $150 American. For a month's work. Will any of those speculative ventures pay off later? It's too soon to tell. This time next year I may see January 2008 as the month I got my goals and ambitions on track, or as a month I threw away on projects that went nowhere. That's why pursuing this dream is not for the faint-hearted or those short on patience. Genius is genius, and I can't claim to possess that.

But talent will out, if coupled with persistance. I've met plenty of people who could write better than me, but they lacked the discipline to succeed, the willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to break through. If I'm going to fail, it won't be for wont of trying. So I keep plugging away, challenging myself to do better, trying to raise my profile and become known for the quality and rigour of my work. Carving out a career as a drama writer is a marathon, not a sprint.

1 comment:

Laura Anderson said...

OMG I can't believe you can do that much in a month without your brain caving in. Your discipline levels are amazing - lucky you have the tools and the talent as well!