30 Jul 2018
dave's picture

You've watched the videos, attended the writing seminars, read the blogs and heard the advice. Don't worry at this stage about getting an agent, or someone nicking your idea. All you have to do to become a professional writer is... write a brilliant script.
 
That’s a big ‘all’. Sometimes it must feel like an impossible dream. You’re surrounded on all sides by acres of useful advice, competitions, heroic stories of people battling against the odds to secure a deal, and there are plenty of mediocre shows out there inspiring you to do better. There are support groups which can help but may also heighten your feelings of inadequacy, and there are people like me saying how tough it is.
 
Step back a moment, take a deep breath, and relax. Nine months from now there’s a deadline coming up to send your comic script to BBC Writersroom.
 
Think about this nine-month period not so much as the make-or-break phase when you find out if you can get a script ready for a competition, more like academic year one of your Learning To Write Course. If you were doing an English degree no one would expect you to enter the Booker Prize after your first year at college, let alone expect to have a hope of winning it.
 
If you’re working full time, or looking for work, or caring for family or any combination of these, nine months is a reasonable amount of time to aim for. If you have lots of spare time, that’s great, it means you can polish your script and turn it into something special.
 
Apologies to the non-British readers and listeners to Sitcom Geeks who don’t have access to this script window, but if you look around the world there’s bound to be a respectable competition somewhere that you can enter. Choose one that is around nine months away.
 
First the usual caveats and disclaimers. BBC Writersroom get around 3000 scripts, and usually end up choosing 15 writers. That’s steep odds. Don’t expect them to come knocking on your door. And it’s not a science. There are safeguards in place so if one person doesn’t like your script it won’t necessarily get rejected. But you have to accept that personal taste is a factor.
 
And it’s the BBC. I’m still getting stuff rejected by them after 35 years and I rarely understand the criteria – or indeed, why other things occasionally get accepted.
 
Over the next fortnight, I’m going to devise a timetable to help you realise the best possible script in the time you have. Obviously you’ll have to adapt it to your personal needs, but I’m assuming you’ll be able to build in your own flexibility depending on when you have time.
 
As a long August beckons, and with it the prospect of spending hours hunched over the laptop churning out acres of copy, here’s my first piece of advice for Month One of your nine-month journey:
 
Don’t write a word.
 
Even as I sit here adding yet more words to the internet bloggery mountain, I’m thinking how we could all do with a break from writing so many. Facebook posts, tweets, blogs, only a decade ago most of us rarely wrote much more than a weekly shopping list.
 
Stop writing. Look at a tree. Or if there aren’t any trees, look at a building. What’s it made of? Who built it? Who uses it? What goes on in there?
 
All I want you to do this month is come up with an idea. Actually, come up with three or four, think about them and see which one starts to fire you up.
 
Writing a script may look hard, but that’s possibly the easiest part of the process, providing you’ve done enough preparation. Preparation – that’s the really hard work.
 
Two questions have already come up from readers and listeners: “How do I find the time to write a whole script? Is there a way of coming up with the idea first and selling that?” (Thanks Mike!) And ‘Dr Huxton’, who had a great idea but ran out of steam after writing a few pages of script asks “How do you turn a good idea into something more?”
 
At the heart of both these questions is the same dilemma. After your initial burst of enthusiasm, your excitement at thinking of something brilliant, you start to test the idea and find there are problems. Many people’s response to this is “oh, there’s a problem. Maybe this is not such a good idea.” I’ve done that myself once or twice.
 
It’s absurd. I don’t wish to go all Motivational Speaker on you but I’ve read some of these stories about James Dyson and Steve Jobs, and while you may not have the kind of obsessional dysfunctional personality that allows you to invent amazing new gadgets, you will at least have been in tricky situations where you’ve had to stop and think hard before acting.
 
That’s where you are now. You may believe you don’t have time but think of all those moments when your brain is on autopilot. If you’re trying to create a new character, next time you brush your teeth, instead of staring at your dribbly face in the mirror think about your new character and how they clean their teeth. Are they methodical? Thorough? Slapdash? What are they thinking about?
 
Above all, be kind to yourself.
 
Take the pressure off, always keep in mind the reason you’re reading this. Of course you would like to progress, but deep down you enjoy writing, the same way that other people enjoy knitting sweaters or going to football matches. It’s a part of your life that brings you pleasure for its own sake.
 
Thanks for signing up to the course. Tomorrow, month one, we’ll be looking at that great idea and working out what to do with it.
 

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