Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What's your purpose as a writer?

So it's nearly the end of September 2012. That means a new cohort is about to arrive for the MA Creative Writing course I help teach at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, our fourth intake. Hard to believe we've already had three completed cohorts of full-timers, along with two groups of part-timers [it takes two years for part-time students].

Five years ago I was a graduating student myself, having completed an MA in screenwriting [with distinction]. I had one broadcast credit to my name - a 15-minute play on BBC Radio 4 - and a freshly won first place in the Page International Screenwriting Awards for my script script Danny's Toys. More than anything, I wanted to write for TV.

Happily, I've made some progress along that path. Four episodes of the drama series Doctors broadcast on BBC1. Ten episodes of Nina and the Neurons scripts for CBeebies - five already broadcast, five more for the new series Go Engineering which is on air soon. [Nina is endlessly rerun on CBeebies - one of my eps is on iPlayer today.]

What else have I done since graduating? Got represented by the lovely Katie Williams at The Agency in London. Scripted award-winning computer game Fate of the World. Had my second radio play broadcast, wrote the Doctor Who audio drama Enemy of the Daleks. Scripted graphic novels. Seen my history of 2000AD sell out in hardback.

Ten years ago I was a jobbing freelancer, taking on whatever jobs I could - mostly licensed tie-ins. Doctor Who novels, Judge Dredd audio dramas, non-fiction books, lots of journalism. The first edition of The Complete Inspector Morse had just been published, the definitive guide to Colin Dexter's Oxford detective in print, on TV and beyond.

[The Complete Inspector Morse has since gone through four more editions thanks to the Lewis spin-off - which ends next year - and young Morse drama Endeavour, which has just started shooting its first full series for broadcast in 2013. The curmudgeonly copper might have died in print in 1999 and on screen in 2000, but he endures to this day]

Between 2002 and 2007 I had 14 novels published, seven audio dramas made by Big Finish, scripted some 40 issues of Fantomen comic for Scandinavia, write sixteen long articles that formed the basis for my 2000AD history Thrill-Power Overload, and more. I was churning out content, and some of it wasn't bad. But to what purpose?

One of the first things we ask students to consider on our MA Creative Writing course is purpose. What is their purpose as a writer? What are they trying to say, to challenge, to provoke, to question? We urge them to ask the same questions of every full-length narrative they intend to develop and write: what's it for? What is its purpose?

Writing without purpose still sometimes produces enjoyable narratives. But writing with purpose is much more incisive, more compelling. Doesn't mean you have to hurl a didactic message or theme at your audience - please, don't. But purpose gives your writing meaning. So, ask yourself: what's your purpose as a writer? What are you for?

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