26 Feb 2018
dave's picture

I’ve been attempting to read Ulysses by James Joyce (which is sometimes impenetrable but quite often very funny) and am hugely impressed that the writer manages to stretch the events of one day across 600 pages. I shall try something more modest here, and hopefully a little more accessible, to give an insight into what has been, so far, a typically untypical week for me.
If you’ve ever wondered what a freelance writer does all day, in between bouts of rewriting chapters for his book about writing, here’s a glimpse.
I spent most of Monday and Thursday at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, interviewing candidates for their Comedy Writing and Producing Course, now in its third year. In its short life the course has already had a good success rate, with various alumni already finding work writing comedy for radio and TV. If you can afford the time and financial commitment, I can’t recommend it enough.
Almost as soon as I got back home on Monday it was off to the studio to record the latest Sitcom Geeks podcast with James Cary. Before that I received an email from the radio producer who had been pitching a sketch show I’d been working on, explaining why Radio 4 had rejected the idea. Fair enough, rejection comes as part of the job. No time to stew about this.  
Several small bursts of Tuesday and Wednesday were spent planning an episode of 15 Minute Musical for the Radio 4 Christmas schedules, although many hours were also spent in a long and complex email conversation with my accountants, whose new computer system appears to have wiped out my last three months of figures. Rock and roll. Just in case you thought a freelance writer spent all day writing, here’s a reminder that Dave Cohen plc needs someone to sort accounts, business affairs, marketing, stationery purchase (probably my favourite part of the job) and until my first big hit single I shall have to do all these jobs myself.  
In between times I wrote this blog. I’m rewriting it now as a book chapter, if you can get your head round that. Although the fact that you’re reading it means I must have finished it by now. But when I say ‘now’ - no this is getting silly.  
I had responded correctly to the BBC radio rejection, didn’t take it personally, was mindful that the new Radio 4 controller is not yet in a position to take many new shows, had already moved on to new ideas, and so on. Rejection, as I have said many many times, is a huge part of this job, deal with it loser. It was no small irritation then, two days later, to suddenly find myself railing angrily at no one in particular, shouting at the walls about the sheer injustice of it all.  
There was a reason this particular rejection hurt more than most. The project had been a passion of mine for 15 years. It began as a TV pilot for BBC2, which was made in 2001. It wasn’t perfect but was okay, in some ways the idea was a bit left-field and not yet one that anyone was ready to pick up. Over the years I’ve made various attempts to re-think the idea for radio and TV, and this summer I thought I’d finally found the way to do that.  
It was the first time I’d been properly confident that it worked. (Setting myself up for disappointment there). The reason it was rejected? It was too similar to something already being made. If it’s any consolation to me, the idea that was too far ahead of its time in 2001 is about to have its moment.  
Nope, no consolation. If I’d found the right way to do it a year earlier it might have been me writing it. And no, the irony was not lost on me that most of the work I’ve been doing this week has been interviewing new writers, younger keener competitors with me for the incredible shrinking budgets and squeezed comedy schedules that are, in my opinion, currently lacking enough of my genius ideas.  
When I checked my emails on Thursday lunchtime I found that Horrible Histories had been nominated for three Childrens’ Baftas – or as we call them, the Baftas, including best comedy and best writing. That cheered me up, and allowed me to feel less bad about the self-pity earlier in the week.  
As every award nominee at the losers’ table will tell you (politely, they won’t do it during the winner’s acceptance speech), it’s great just to be nominated, even as you can see that the humility is being worked at and the smile is a grimace.  
I try and pretend otherwise, but awards do matter, in the same way that rejection of our most cherished ideas matters – but only so much. Allow yourself some time to stew over the bad news and wallow in the good, but then get back to writing. There aren’t just good days and bad days, there are good hours and bad hours, and even – because some of the best ideas come in a momentary flash – good minutes and bad minutes. What matters most is to keep writing, keep working, keep hoping and who knows – one day you might wake up to find that the accountants have retrieved those missing figures.  
Now what? Still one day of the week to go. Maybe this Friday will be the day I turn into that 600 page novel I’ve always wanted to write. I’ll keep you posted.

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