I wouldn’t call myself a conventional writer. I guess that’s because I haven’t become one in a conventional way. I didn’t grow up with my head buried in books, I wasn’t a massive film or TV buff, I didn’t study English beyond GCSE, and I don’t think I ever spent much time actually writing. I’m not sure these are conventional traits of an aspiring writer, but I guess I’m just trying to say that I don’t feel like a ‘stereotypical’ writer. Is there a stereotype? Sort of. I’ve met and worked with a number of writers that are intelligent (sometimes to the point of being slightly condescending), awkward (mainly socially), quite reserved (off the page) and usually fairly eccentric in their own special way (if only in private). Obviously not every writer is like this, but I’ve found these can be fairly common characteristics. I don’t think I’m ANY of these things, but I’m still a writer. Maybe that’s why I always question my title? I used to say ‘I’m an aspiring writer’, but I was swiftly corrected by an ‘established’ writer and told that if I write…I’m a writer. Makes sense I guess! You don’t have to have an album in the charts to be a musician. You don’t have to have a piece of art hanging in the Tate to be an artist. Once I got my head around that, I was able to fully embrace all the delightful benefits that come with being a writer – the stress, the doubt, the lack of confidence, the sleepless nights, the being ignored and undervalued, and of course – the being refused car insurance. FACT. I was once refused insurance on account of my occupation. I put myself down as being a writer and they immediately said they couldn’t insure me…seriously, what’s with that? Anyway, I’m not just saying all this because I’ve had a bad experience and I’m feeling sorry for myself…I think other writers will agree that most of the above is true. But why? Throughout my studies I’ve had it drilled into me that being a writer is NOT a career you choose if you want an easy life. I’ve heard it put more bluntly – ‘don’t become a writer, it’s crap’. So why the hell did I choose to become one? I think it’s like any creative career…it’s not something you necessarily choose to pursue; it’s something you’re drawn to and can’t NOT pursue. I’ve had many wobbles along the way (and still have a long way to go). So many moments when I’ve been scrawling through old friends profiles on facebook – seeing them with their nice cars, lavish holidays, getting married and having kids, buying houses etc. Then I look at how they achieve these things and they’re usually in some sort of trade – plumber, electrician or just working a typical 9-5 office job, but they seem happy and are achieving everything they want to. I kick myself and say ‘why can’t you be like that?’ It’s not because I don’t have the capability, and it’s certainly not because I think it’s beneath me, it’s just because I know it would drive me insane not being able to do what I love.
You’ll be forgiven for thinking that if I’m heading for a career with the knowledge it’s going to be a tough ride, I shouldn’t really have too much to grumble about. Well, if we thought like that about everything, we’d put up with shit for the rest of our lives and nothing would ever change for the better. It is true it’s going to be tough, and that’s something I’ve accepted, but that doesn’t mean writers should have to deal with people making a tough career even harder than it already is. In fact, I would say the same for all creative careers. This is my way of asking people to give us a break. So if I haven’t had a bad experience and I’m not just sat here feeling sorry for myself, what’s spurred me on to write this? Well, a number of things really. If you don’t already know, I write radio scripts for a living. When I say radio scripts, I don’t mean radio plays…I mean scripts for those annoying adverts and jingles that get stuck in your brain and make you want to head butt you car’s steering wheel until you go careering off the road into a tree to finally be rid of those infuriating lyrics or straplines forever. It would be fair to say I don’t sell my job as being too glamorous, mainly because it isn’t, but there are times when I really do enjoy it. Those days when you’re given complete creative control by a client that understands YOU’RE the expert and they really should listen to your ideas and advice. These clients are extremely rare. Generally, people won’t listen to a word you say, and then they blame you when it all goes tits up. It’s amazing how many clients we get that think they know everything there is to know about radio advertising, when they’ve never actually advertised on radio before. A hairdresser wouldn’t let me walk in off the street, pick up a pair of scissors and start cutting someone’s hair…so why should they be able to ring us up and tell us how we should be writing our scripts? Well, basically, it’s because they’re paying for it. They just seem to forget that they’re paying for our expertise too! I honestly couldn’t care less if some random hairdressers are insisting they have a shit advert running on a radio station I’ll never EVER listen too, but just remember people – I’m not to blame for it. I tried! That’s my day to day struggle, but it happens everywhere. There are people that really don’t understand the value of ‘good quality’. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to measure? With something tangible, there are factors that define its quality – the materials made to use it, the time it’s taken to create it and the finish it has. So why don’t these translate to things like TV programmes, films etc? Well I think they do. For example – the BBC were recently slated for their coverage of the diamond jubilee, and rightfully so. Personally, I had no time for the event, but I completely agree with comments that the show was aimed at a fictitious audience of dummies. Admittedly the coverage wasn’t scripted as such, but this seems to happen a lot. Take Prometheus – one of the most anticipated films of the year (for me anyway). I refuse to go and see it due to the negative feedback regarding the storyline. I saw the trailers and I was really excited – it looked slick. It had big shoes to fill with Alien being the masterpiece it is, but on hearing it fell flat because it was relying too heavily on special affects and strong visuals to provide a spectacle rather than a good piece of filmmaking, I was gutted. I know I’m relying on other sources for this opinion, but they’re sources I trust. It’s like Avatar. I went to see that in 3D after hearing it was a ‘must see’, but I didn’t go expecting much. Sure enough, it looked nice – but that was it. I hope this isn’t a sign of the times – people really need to understand that audiences aren’t stupid. 90 minutes is a long time to expect people just to stare at pretty things, we need substance. I can understand if a newbie filmmaker was to come along and make a film that looked beautiful, but the script sucked…but these are some of the most well established Hollywood filmmakers with almost unlimited budgets, and still they can’t get a decent script??? That sucks. And the problem is it gives writers a bad name. The thing I fear (being the cynic I am) is that the scripts were fucked up by producers, directors, maybe even actors? I’ve heard stories about this sort of thing happening, and have experienced it myself (on a much smaller scale, of course). I wrote a short film a few years ago that was set in a security van. It was based on true accounts of illegal immigrants that had died in transit due to the way they were gagged and bound. The main character was a new officer on his first arrest riding with a female immigrant the unit had just picked up. Whilst on the journey to the station, the unit have to restrain the woman as she becomes hysterical, and the new officer has to decide how far he will go with the brutal treatment. In the end, he goes along with it, and she dies. The key element of the film was the setting. The van provided a dark, claustrophobic interior that no one could escape – it was integral to the decision making of the main character…he couldn’t escape the situation, he had to either go along with it, or try and stop it somehow. I thought the script was intense and dramatic, and was praised by a number of people who read it. I can’t remember how it came about, but I gave the script to a number of MA producers at Bournemouth and they were keen to get it made. I think their brief was to produce a short film that challenged them with cast and location – my script was perfect! A tricky location and 5 characters (a lot for a 5 minute film). What happened? Well, as they began to organise the shoot, it became apparent that they were struggling to find a security van. To be fair to them, they had no budget – I did offer to pitch in with some cash to make it work, but this didn’t seem to help. As time was getting on, they took the problem to one of their tutors (I assume) and were advised to think about changing the setting. When they told me their tutor had said ‘it could work just as well having her in a cell in the station or something’ I was pretty dismayed to say the least – it was one of those ‘shoot me now’ moments. Again, to be fair to the tutor, he/she may not have read the script. Well, I fought for my van, and I got it. To cut a long story short, the shoot didn’t quite go to plan. While I think the guys did a great job with the time and budget they had, I can safely say what they did will never see the light of day. All I know is if I weren’t involved and they’d run with a different setting, it wouldn’t have been anything like the film I’d written. I’m not saying producers, directors, actors or anyone else involved can’t change things for the better (sometimes), but generally a script is written in a particular way for a good reason – don’t go fucking it up too much!
That’s radio, film and TV, but what about elsewhere? One place I’ve noticed good writing to be lacking is right here on the internet. You can put any old shit on the internet, and people do. I guess it’s because it’s so easy. I’m not talking about facebook or twitter (I put loads of shit on there myself) I’m talking about websites and pages that are actually aiming to promote an individual, service or product. I had a meeting recently with the head of content at a big web design company, and she told me how difficult it still was to make client’s understand how important good content was. It’s all very well having a website that looks slick and functions well, but if your copy reads like it was written by a 12 year old, what’s the point? It’s the Avatar syndrome all over again. Admittedly you don’t want blank pages with expertly written copy, but you do need to get someone who understands your brand and objectives to convey these in a way that speaks to the audience you want to captivate. Believe me, it’s not easy…and just because you got a B in English at GCSE, it doesn’t mean you understand the art of marketing and good copyrighting.
To bring it back to my own writing for a second, I’m proud of the fact I’m writing a low-budget British drama. I want my script to jump off the page with colourful characters, witty dialogue and great visuals that utilise the arena in which it’s based. I don’t want special effects, I don’t want high-concepts, I don’t want things jumping out of the screen at me…I just want a well-written, entertaining piece of film. Fingers crossed! However, I will take the special effects and high-concepts, just make them enhance the film, don’t make them the film.
So the next time you’re watching a crap film, you hear a bad advert or see some really stupid text on a website, just remember the writer might not be to blame. Writing is a craft and it’s worth investing money in if you want your website, TV programme, film, flyer, magazine, newspaper (or anything else that involves copy) to work well. And if you do invest in it, trust the writer. If they’re good, they’ll most probably be right. If they’re not, they’ll most probably be mental. How do you tell the difference? That’s your problem!
To writers everywhere – keep writing to a high standard and defend your craft…I’ve got your back! We all have those ‘shoot me now’ moments, but the most important thing to remember in life is to do what you love, no matter how much of a struggle it can be. Finally, to a very special person attempting to write their first ever novel (without any previous writing experience), you’re doing a great job – keep it up!
Until next time…