Monday, April 23, 2012

Writers, your career is your responsibility

I consider myself fortunate to have an agent, the lovely Katie Williams who's now with The Agency in London. She negotiates contracts for me, chases payments, keeps me up to date with new opportunities, and gets my writing into the hands of those looking for emerging talents. And that's all great.

But it's easy to sometimes forget that the care and nurturing of your career is your own responsibility. Having an agent opens doors, but it's up to you to make the most of those opportunities. You cannot expect anyone else, even your agent, to do all the hard work necessary to advance your career.

Case in point: last week I had a minor disappointment. Nothing terrible, just a minor setback in the scheme of things. But it underlined a growing frustration that I'd taken my foot off the gas, been too content to let others determine my progress. I was being a passive protagonist in my own life story.

After seeking out wise counsel, I spent the rest of that day taking action. I got on the phone and email, got in touch with people and set up a fistful of meetings in That Fancy London next month. None of them is likely to result in instant offers of work, but I am making myself apparent, starting conversations.

The usual name for this is networking [stop shuddering at the back], but I prefer to think of it as having a conversation. Getting to know people a little better, engaging with them as people - not stepping stones. Be professional, be normal, be someone that they just might want to work with one day.

Fact: there are far more writers than writing jobs. If you want to be considered for those few and far between opportunities, you have to make yourself visible, be known by those making the decisions. In my case that means getting off my arse, going to events, being an active protagonist in my own life story.

Of course, all the meetings in the world won't help if you haven't got the writing to back them up. So I'm also busy progressing my first feature film screenplay, currently writing a step outline. I've spent a lot of time developing this idea, testing the logic, finding the best way to tell the narrative in my head.

Even now, after a premise and two outlines and multiple versions of the treatment, I'm still finding fresh angles and better sequences. I haven't written a word of the actual screenplay, but when I do the results will be that much that stronger for the amount of pre-writing I've poured into this project.

And that's the other place where I believe writers have to take responsibility for their careers: in the quality of their writing. It's no good rushing something sub-standard out in response to an opening. You have to be prepping, writing and rewriting all the time so you're ready when the door opens. Onwards!

1 comment:

David Salisbury said...

I think you're completely right.

It's too easy to blame setbacks on other people "not recognizing your talent" or "the old boy network" instead of working hard to be as good a writer as you can and putting yourself out there.

I'm still very much learning the craft but I have already discovered that networking (done well and not creepily) is as important as being able to write. But you need both.

That does make it tough - balancing the writing and the networking. I'm sure we've all met people who were great at networking but no good at their job. We probably haven't met a lot of people who are great writers and poor networkers as they are still sitting in a cold bedsit in Brentford, waiting for their big break.