Monday, April 19, 2010

Prepare for Hamlet-esque hang-wringing

You'll have to forgive what comes next. This blog entry is mostly me thinking out loud, trying to come up with some conclusions. Indulge me or don't, it's up to you.

Two years ago I was burning to get one of eight places up for grabs at the BBC Writers' Academy. I'd completed a successful trial script for Doctors, one of the four continuing drama series the academy trains you to write, but wasn't making much progress otherwise. Didn't have an agent, didn't know where my next commission was coming from - or if it was coming at all. I was flailing a bit.

Last year I decided not to apply. I was helped setting up a new Creative Writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University, and felt a sense of commitment to that. In the unlikely event I got through the academy selection process, it would have meant walking out on the course just as teaching was about to begin. Didn't feel I could do that, even as a part-time lecturer on a fixed contract.

This year I'm trapped in should I/shouldn't I limbo. The MA is now up and running, the first full-time cohort will be finished by September when the new academy intake starts. I'm enjoying teaching much more than I expected, so walking away from that wouldn't be easy. [Not to mention a regular salary alongside enough time for my own writing.] So that's one factor in the mix.

Then there's relocating to London. I heart London, lived there for ten years. But getting into the academy would necessitate leaving everyone and almost everything I care about for three months. If I lived within commutable distance of London it would be easier, but I live in Scotland. That means a rented room, not seeing my wife, a total commitment to the academy.

So, what are the upsides? Guaranteed income for three months, with the potential for another year. Fast track to writing for EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City. [I already write for Doctors, so that's not a factor for me.] Incredible learning and networking opportunities, no doubt. My writing could likely make great leaps forward during that three month frenzy.

On the other hand, do I care enough about the continuing drama series covered by the academy to give up everything for them? The chance to write for other shows, or to write my own, original dramas? If one of the four series was a police procedural, that would be a big plus. I heart Doctors, but three of the four academy shows are medical dramas. That's a lot of docs.

Anyone going for the academy can't do it half-arsed, in my humble opinion. You have to make a total commitment, be watching all four shows, analysing their strengths and weaknesses, learning to think and talk like the characters. Ideally you should have been doing that since Christmas, if not before. Not just be watching as a viewer, but as a potential writer for them.

Then there's your sample. Deep knowledge of all four shows and intelligent answers on your application count for nothing unless you submit a cracking piece of original writing. It needs to showcase your distinctive voice, have emotional appeal, display visual storytelling, great characters and dialogue, narrative pace and structure, a credible world and more.

Without those qualities, you won't get close to the academy. So all my hand-wringing above could well be moot if my writing sample doesn't do the business. But I can't worry about that, it's beyond my control [as Valmont would say]. There isn't time left to write a new, polished script from scratch - at least, not one nurtured by months of development time.

I've got scripts I can submit, and am busy writing an original script for a commission that might fit the bill as an academy submission. But do I want it enough? Compared with two years ago, I've made significant progress. Got my first TV drama broadcast credit on Doctors, with two more story pitches in the bank. Writing another broadcast commission this week and next.

Secured representation with a London agent. Developing projects for a couple of independent production companies. Just been accepted on the BBC Scotland CBeebies Lab, a four-day introduction to the world of writing for children's TV. [I've got a lot of mad, daft ideas for shows best suited to a younger audience - and CBeebies could be a perfect outlet for them.]

So I'm making progress. Maybe not with the skyrocket speed you can attain at the Writers' Academy, but it's still forward momentum. I've got a balance of work and life that suits me. It's easy to drive yourself crazy chasing rainbows while failing to recognise you're already in a good place. Would going for the academy be doing that? Right now, I just don't know...

UPDATE: Have come to a conclusion, finally. Will not be applying to the Writers' Academy this year. Am in a good place now, may progress on multiple fronts. Will review situation again at the end of this year, see how things are going on. In the meantime - onwards!

1 comment:

Severia said...

Brave choice, but probably the best choice Dave. You have made a lot of progress on your own which translates into good information and experience to give to your students. Who knows, in 12 months time you could have managed most of what the Academy would have given you chance to do on your own, if not you will have learned other skills instead and can go for the academy even more prepared next year.