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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Are We There Yet?

So you're not a new writer. You're what I call a "seasoned writer". You've cracked the writing side of this whole malarkey - you've got the portfolio, you've got good feedback; maybe you have a couple of options, contest placings, an agent, various meetings and perhaps some related work under your belt.

Yet still you don't feel *there* yet.

99% of what we do, as writers, will come to nothing in the long run. However hard you work, however many options, meetings, commissions and people you pick up along the way - agents, producers, TV Execs, directors, money men, sales agents - there is certain element of luck involved too. Sometimes you will have great luck and everything will just come together; other times you will have terrible luck and nothing will ever seem to go right for you.

Because of this, it's not wise to focus on the END of the journey - just because you haven't got what you want yet (whether that's a TV drama commission, a feature on DVD, a short at all the major film fests or whatever) doesn't mean you're not "doing it right". Seems to me, that once you've got the writing side cracked, it's the next part of the journey and for a lot of it, it's a waiting game. You need the right conditions to come up and you need to be there, primed and ready. Sometimes this will happen swiftly and all your ducks will line up in a row; you're one of the lucky ones. For most of us, it's a long, hard and sometimes dull, slog.

But that's just it - it's a slog. If it's a journey, it can't ALL be about luck; you can try and make sure SOME of those ducks are in the right place at the right time. You can do this by thinking:

WHO am I? A profile - whether it's online or not [prefereably both], as long as it's in the industry - helps. How can *they* find you if they don't know who you are?

WHAT do I do? [And for what rates]. Lots of writers cock up meetings by not knowing what their rates are for certain work (look at the WGGB website!) and not even knowing whether they would (or wouldn't) do it in the first place. I've turned down several rewrite jobs for example where I've felt women are being represented as vessels for men to screw/over. One offered me a substantial amount, but I still had to walk away because I felt my principles were more important than my credit card bill. What are your principles? Do you know? Of course, sometimes it isn't about principles, but stuff like genre. If you're a Horror writer, should you take the Rom-Com job?! You might be able to give it a go, but if you balls it up royally, who knows how that might backfire on you in an industry where you *can* get the next job based on the last one and whether someone recommends you.

WHERE am I? Knowing where you are on the ladder helps give you a sense of perspective and can ease frustration. If you feel you're not getting anywhere on a particular project, look at the REST of your career. Do you have an agent? Who do you know in terms of other writers, directors, producers? What other projects are you working on? What have they said about your work? Chances are, if they think you're good (and you haven't had to twist their arm), it is. Even though you've had bad news on one project, this doesn't mean the rest of your stuff is crap. Don't worry about what OTHER people say - you don't know them. And certainly don't worry about the people who tell you you've done *nothing*: if they actually say that, then they don't know how the industry works.

WHEN will I break through? Forget about this question. It happens it when it happens. Whenever this surfaces, look back at WHERE you are instead.

WHY am I good? Identify what is good about your writing and about you as the OPPORTUNITY MAKER. There's only one person who's going to really make this happen and that's you (though it always helps to gather allies as you go). As I've said before, you have to be your own biggest fan. Sure, sometimes you'll get bad feedback, but end of the day we all know we'll get more rejections than acceptances and sometimes even rejections are complimentary! In fact, a lot of my biggest opportunities have come from people/places who rejected me the FIRST time I submitted.

So, seasoned writers: you are not going "nowhere". You're just not making as much progress as you'd like. So figure out which part you're neglecting of the above (or paying too much attention too, in the case of WHEN) and... you guessed it:

Get on with it.




Gail Renard said...

I agree that perseverance is everything. Writers need the constant ability to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again.

You mention it's important to know WGGB rates for a job but I can't emphasize enough, no matter what stage you are in your career, that you join the Writers' Guild.

The only way you can insist on Guild rates is if you're a member. And there's much more to it than that. Your rights are often more important than the money offered and you have to be sure you're not signing them away. If you haven't an agent, the Guild has a contract vetting service, so a quick phone call to the office can save you years of grief.

A writer has to act professionally at all times. And the Guild offers advice, protection & the company of other writers to compare notes with!

Gavin Williams said...

Wise words, Lucy. Here's a post on a similar theme which I thought also discussed the "slog" of writing your way up the mountain rather well (it's about novel writing, but still applies I think)...

Someone forward it to me specifically (can't think why, aargh!)

It's especially wearying when you THINK you've gone up a significant rung on the ladder... only to snake it right back down to the bottom because of lousy luck! Sigh (gets up, dusts off coat, trudges back onto the path...)