Monday 4 January 2021

Habits of Highly Effective Writers #4: Writing Part 1

Writers read, listen, observe, think and make notes. We've covered that. They also, er, write? So let’s think about actually writing – in two parts. We need to distinguish between motivation and practice. In this post, we will deal with motivation.

What's My Motivation?

Lots of people say they want to write, or be a writer, yet somehow don’t write very much. If anything. Why is that?

People like the idea of being a writer. In a poll in 2015, the most desirable job turned out to be 'author'. Anyone who actually writes knows that most authors make very little money and that writing itself is extremely difficult and frustrating. People tend not picture screaming at a piece of flip-chart paper which highlights the deep flaws in the second act. They don’t think about the relentless grind of having to write a certain numbers of words a day by a particular deadline.

Romanticised views of the writing life never die. They just get rewritten. There used to be the image of the artist in their chilly garret hammering out a screenplay on a typewriter. Now that image has become sitting in a warm, semi-deserted café, sipping an espresso while writing a great novel.

JK Rowling went to cafes to write her much rejected first novel about Harry Potter. We know. It’s a good story. And these stories can inspire you or get you out of bed once or twice, but in the long run they are deeply unhelpful.

Be honest with yourself: Do you want to be writer more than you actually want to write?

If you don’t want to write, or enjoy any part of it, or continually find excuses to not write, there’s a good chance you should probably find another craft which you make take to more readily. Consider something else.

That’s right. I’m telling you to give up now.

And I’m telling you that because no-one else will.

It’s not that I’m trying to scare away the competition. It's too late for that. Apparently writing is the dream job for 60% of the population. I’m just trying to spare you frustration and agony.

Maybe you're eying JK Rowlings millions. She might even be sitting on a billion. Writing could be your path to riches. And hey, children’s books are short. How hard can it be?


Let me tell you now that if want to make money, virtually anything else is more profitable for the amount of work, pain and rejection that lies ahead. JK Rowling’s story is inspiring and remarkable because it so rarely happens, and so rarely makes one person so fabulously wealthy. And let’s be honest, her net worth is probably on 15% book sales, and the rest is merch, movie rights, spin-offs, apps, games and general Pottermania.

What We Learn from JK Rowling

Don’t miss the main point of JK Rowling’s story: It is that she had a story to tell, and she had built a world, a Potterverse, and she wanted to share it. She wanted to write about it. She had to, despite deep personal inconvenience. It would have been far easier not to have bothered, or just talked about it, or blame her own life situation. But she wanted to write more than anything else in the world. So she found a way.

The money was a bonus, not the motivation. Writing was something she had to do, because in the short term, what she was doing made very little sense.

So take a moment now to think whether you want to actually write, or whether you like the idea of being a writer. The two are as far apart as enjoying travelling and actually being the driver of a steam train.

What Will You Write?

If you really do want to write, and you're still reading, and I've not put you off, great. Next job. Think about what you want to write. What story do you want to tell? What genre do you want to write in? What medium? What format?

Don’t chose something just because it seems the easiest in which to progress. There are no shortcuts. And writing’s too hard to be cynical. You need to write about what you want to write about. What you are passionate about. Or interested in. Or excited by.

This blog is about sitcom writing, primarily, so let's use that as an example. In a sitcom context, it’s easy to be in love with the form, think of a new situation, assemble some characters and start writing scripts. Well, not easy, but comparatively easy. But that won’t do. That’s just essentially fan fiction (see YouTube video below).

It's also easy to learn that hardly anyone is writing studio sitcoms, and you heard that they tend to be looked upon more favourably. So you want to get ahead by writing one of those. Or you heard that they still want another Fleabag, so you're trying to write one of those.

Don't. It's too hard and time consuming to write a script that you don't truly believe in. You need to ask yourself hard questions. What do you want to write about? What is your sitcom?

Writing Your Sitcom

That’s the emphasis of my new video course, Writing Your Sitcom. The 'Your' is important. It has to be your sitcom and no-one else’s. Something that is cynically engineered, or generically put together, won’t cut it. And that script won’t get you work and help you progress. And who's got time to waste writing a script that isn't going to get you anywhere?

That's why I've put the course together. It starts from scratch and takes you through the process of helping you create a sitcom that shows what you can do, and will demonstrate your voice and perspective, because all that stuff is more important now than it ever has been.

So if you're new to this, and determined to write a sitcom script, this course is for you. And if you've been around the houses a few times, and nothing seems to be working, maybe you need a fresh approach. So why not take a look?

In the meantime, keep checking back for updates on this blog, which I hope will help you along the way. Next time, we’ll look at the actually process of writing and developing some habits that might actually make that possible and more productive.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I still want to write so that's good ;)
    Thanks James