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IQK - Productions & Writing by Ian Kennedy | How technical skills and experience boost writers

I’ve long believed that the better you understand the jobs of the other people who help to turn your writing into a product and market it, the better your writing will realise those goals. And what better experience could there be than actually getting paid to do those jobs?

I’ve earned more money from scriptwriting and script readings than from any other work I’ve done, by a considerable margin. But if there’s one certainty in writing, it’s uncertainty. To help to smooth over the cracks that causes, making my living has often depended more on other things – and most writers need some alternative career at some point in their careers to help them keep their cash flow stable. Here are some of the non-writing jobs I’ve been paid to do, all of which I think have had a clear benefit to my writing by helping me appreciate the full sweep of jobs that are involved in turning my writing into a fully-formed, successful creative project, in tangible ways I’ve also described. It’s worth noting that I’ve never been formally trained in any of these things. It’s great that so many people have had the confidence to employ me in things that are at, or beyond, the limits of my skillset at that time.

  • Radio and audio production – shows you how producers will labour as they turn actors and different versions of your scenes into completed episodes and series.
  • Theatre production and directing – OK I’ve not been paid directly for these, but I have gained professional experience in various Fringe shows; and the benefits to scriptwriters are pretty obvious.
  • Web design – every project needs a web presence now; why not be able to provide one to a high standard yourself? Meanwhile, this work also means providing copywriting and feedback on copywriting and business concepts to clients; exactly the sort of feedback your writing needs to be informed by.
  • Video production – producing a quality video is extremely difficult. Producing a bad one is extremely easy. Getting experience of what separates the two will help you write your scripts (and novels, if you’d like someone to make a movie of them one day!) in a way that will make them practicable and affordable to produce, and easy to edit and market afterwards. For me, making promotional videos for theatres and theatre festivals was a great excuse to be paid to watch theatre and industry discussions then digest and package them in a totally different format.
  • Minute taking – in my case for social workers who were struggling to safeguard vulnerable older adults. It involves lots of writing every day, with clarity of expression to describe the most convoluted and jargon-heavy information cogently. Mastering shorthand – even if it’s your own one, like mine is – is a super way to help you take easily-skimmable notes whenever you’re at training sessions or taking notes in the future. And above all it proved to be a huge eye-opener full of fascinating research material, which I did successfully pitch later for a ‘special week’ of episodes for the BBC drama series I was writing for at the time.
  • Copywriting, marketing, journalism and communications – one way or another have a part in every project you write and publicise anyway, whether from your own point of view as a promoter or by looking at your work and publicity materials as a journalist or marketing professional would.
  • Living abroad to teach English to speakers of other languages – I think you’re really missing the point as a writer if you aren’t fascinated by language, and the way that different people and cultures use it to express themselves and their attitudes; indeed, language can even encode our attitudes and experiences. So, what better way to explore that than to immerse yourself in it? Intriguingly, I was more productive as a writer during my spells living in Italy in 2010 and 2011 than I’d been at any other time since graduating. And if taking the full plunge is a bit much for you, short-term summer schools and other EFL roles are available across the UK if you’re qualified (and a one-weekend course was enough to get me started with it all).

What other roles have you found that have improved your writing? Leave your comments below…

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