A recurring theme in my career has been a caution – a hesitancy, even – about promoting myself and my writing to the levels of the industry where I believe my potential will one day make me belong. Because another recurring theme has been that if you grow organically, you can build a much more solid, stable, and sustainable platform than you can achieve even by getting a big break at a young age.
Let me break down first some of the reasons why I’ve not yet wholly gone for the jugular. Many of them may be familiar in your experience too.
- Fear of failure.
- Having too much riding on it – financially, creatively, emotionally.
- I’m a writer. Arguably the most introverted profession. Isn’t publicity and marketing all a bit exhausting and wrong for a person like me? Shouldn’t recognition come naturally and automatically, but without needing us to enter that tiring and distracting social world out there? (People like me might like to think!)
- The presence of a ‘gatekeeper’ culture that is looking for reasons to refuse, rather than enthuse. Do I actually want to work within a system like that?
- Not being able to make enough time to do the promotion of my writing as thoroughly or committedly as I’d like – efforts in fits and starts, momentum quickly dissipated.
- But above all, simply none of the writing I’ve been promoting to industry before now has been good enough. In my opinion, but also borne out by a lack of response to the scripts and pieces that I have directly promoted to industry.
But yet. While I’ve been half-heartedly putting myself forward to the heart of the industry, my work and image and reputation on a much more personal and local level has just grown and grown naturally. Without any big gestures or explosive breakthroughs. Just by being me, engaging with other people in my sector and the wider creative industries and the community, by delivering good, solid, useful work for them, by growing my skills and expertise, and amassing an ever-bigger portfolio of projects, products, colleagues, clients and contacts. And that hasn’t felt like hard work at all. It’s just come naturally from being me and engaging.
And here’s the thing. Even though I’ve felt like this has been a year (2015) almost totally focused on creative business rather than being a ‘true creative’, along the way of succeeding in creative business I’ve actually been achieving a lot of delivery of exactly the sort of writing and productions that I’ve been struggling to get done for years. Here are some examples:
- My interactive series, CITIZENS: Excision, has actually gone live and in a package and interactive platform that’s arguably more interesting than the series itself – and supported by a very large number of quirky and informative articles and resources to stimulate anyone with an interest in its themes. This launch has been possible thanks to the fact that I was able to hire a paid intern for 6 months into my business.
- I and director Gabe Crozier have filmed a cinema-quality short film, jointly written by half a dozen professional members of Screenwriters’ Forum, exploring social themes from new perspectives. The aim is to create an impressive ‘calling card’ to showcase ourselves and the Forum.
- My full script for a primetime TV comedy-drama pilot for a CITIZENS-inspired series has made many substantial leaps forward.
- I’ve also written a wry comedy pilot episode that could work particularly well on Radio 4.
As a writer – even as a great one – your writing itself is only part of the business model that enables you to actually make a living: most of the work being done by other people than the writer. Of course, every great writer should focus on their writing every day as much as possible. But for those of us who also have to make a living from other things – as practically every writer does before their career gets the chance to get going – why shouldn’t we feel that other sorts of work, and even a vibrant life away from work, aren’t in themselves a massive contribution to a successful writing career? I’m pretty sure that if I died tomorrow, people would say that I lived life as fully and as productively as it was possible to. And I think that – however long they might have spent on my websites – everyone who would come to the funeral would learn about a lot of other interesting sides of me that they never realised about.
Writing is simply a means of communication. The craft of structuring and communicating through writing are certainly skills that can be learned and honed – and the more constantly we practice them, the better; but that’s a life skill, as much as a writing skill, and doesn’t have to be done through constant creative writing. The other half of writing is about having something to write about. And that comes from life and the world and your understanding of people and how they think and talk and behave. The things that people do, the reasons they do them, and the repercussions and consequences of those choices. So the reality is that although it pains me that I’m not actually doing much writing this year – in the long term, what I’m doing now may do my writing – not to mention my sanity, my humanity and my bank balance – a world of good.
A world of good that I was often very much lacking during the five years of my life when the main part of my living was made up by actually doing paid scriptwriting commissions. And I can’t help thinking that my writing has been getting a lot better – especially my characterisation and empathy – while I’ve been growing every day as a person.
So even while I’m avoiding going for the jugular with major works, I’m becoming a better writer and someone whose survival won’t need to rest desperately upon their creative hopes. In the meantime? My position within the writing industry is getting more established all the time, thanks to my chairmanship of Screenwriters’ Forum, my freelance consultations and reports for WriteMovies, my new productions and my ongoing open-access Creative Writing courses. So that when I do have the right piece with which to go for the jugular of the industry – I’ll also have the credentials and track record that they will take it – and me – seriously. And who knows. Maybe one day it’ll actually be them coming to me.