Tuesday 4 February 2014

8 Terrible Reasons to be a Writer

You might want to be a writer. Or at least you might like the idea of being a writer. Or you might even like the idea of being considered a writer. There are all very different things. My advice? Don't be a writer. But don't take my word for it. Screenwriter Josh Olson says "If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you're not a writer." (He says it in a brilliant article called 'I will not read your fucking script' here). So here's 8 reasons why you shouldn't be a writer.

1. You want to make money
Most writers do not make enough to live on. I have no idea what it is for screenwriters in general, but Adam Bromley, who runs e-Publisher PiqWiq, wrote this:
The average earnings of a professional writer in the UK are £28,340 which sounds acceptable, unless you don't factor the extreme variability and riskiness of their income. Of course the average is skewed heavily by the big earners, the ten percent of authors who make fifty percent of the sales. If you take a median income for writers, it's £12,300. Bearing in mind that's the figure that splits your sample in two equal halves, there will be plenty below the £12,300 mark or just above minimum wage. Consider this paradox: the lowliest, entry-level employee in a major publishing concern earns more than most writers... Proper authors with reviews in newspapers and the TLS earn less than the minimum wage.
Your First Payment
Photo by Shareski
(from: here)

There is money in screenwriting. But not lots. Certainly not for many. A little at most for some. If you want to make money, work in the city, start a ponzi scheme (the two might be linked), get a paper round, start a business. They will all be hard work. Writing is every bit as hard as those things. Often harder. Writing is a bad way for most people to make money. So if that's your motivation, give up now.

2. It sounds fun
Writing can be fun. And you may be able to picture yourself tapping away on a MacBook Air sipping a latte in an independent bohemian coffee-cum-bookshop. It usually isn't. If you're making money at it, its often screaming at the wall, writing to deadlines, cutting scenes because they're too expensive to shoot, cutting jokes because someone important thinks the audience won't understand it and then rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. You're not in some artisan coffeehouse. You're in a busy Starbucks full of tables that haven't been cleaned trying to connect to the wi-fi to send off draft 9 of your script to be torn to shreds by the producer, executive producer and script editor. Oh yes, and bear in mind most of your scripts do not end up on TV. Of the ones that do, that version that is broadcast is an edited version of draft 15. Hard work and fun are not mutually exclusive. But writing is way harder work that most people imagine.

3. You want to be famous
Ha ha. Seriously? No-one cares who the writer is. No-one. Except other writers – and even then most of them will be full of resentment rather than admiration. In the sitcom field, people have heard of Richard Curtis - and that Father Ted guy (the ones who realise it wasn't all made up by Ardal O'Hanlon on the spot). Being a writer is brilliant way of finding obscurity, being left out and not being invited to award ceremonies.

4. You want to meet famous people
You will meet some famous people. But bear in mind you're the unkempt backroom geek writer. They're not all that wild about meeting you. And if you do meet them, they may have 'some thoughts' on that script that nearly made you cry. Get back to Starbucks, Specky, and write the next episode.

5. You’re pretty sure you have a good idea for a movie or a novel that would be successful
Ideas are priceless. And worthless. If you want to be a writer, execution is everything. If you want a sitcom on TV, you have to be able to write 3 hours of television. That's a lot of script, dialogue, plot and jokes. One big idea will not sustain. It's all about plot, character, pace, sub-text, direction and casting. As well as decent idea that hits the right person at the right time.

6. People have told you you’re funny
People say a lot of things.

7. You have things to say
Go into politics. Or, even better, don't.

8. You write because you have to
It’s a bad reason – but it’s the best reason. There is no good reason to be a writer. Unless you absolutely have to be, can't imagine a world in which you're not and would do it for nothing, which is just as well because that's how much money you'll make for quite a long time.

So you still want to be a writer?
Fine. You might want to think about coming to a day with Dave Cohen in September. Details here.

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