You’ve just written the greatest script to ever grace a ream of Wernham Hogg’s finest 80 g/m² paper. It has everything: great characters the audience can sympathise with, an intricately woven narrative, drama, suspense, action. It will have audiences running to the multiplexes and it has more A-list star attraction than you can shake a bunch of Oscars at. It will have Tom Cruise jumping on that sofa all over again. Trouble is, no-one knows you. No-one knows who you are. This is your passion, this is the real you – but this isn’t the life you have. You work a day job in an office, spending your evenings forgoing a social life in order to create this masterpiece. So now what do you do with it?
When I first knew I wanted to write, that’s all I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote some real shit but I wrote some stuff that was alright. I wrote more, I got better. I was always passionate about each short story, each short film, TV series or feature film that I wrote, but I never felt like they were worth pursuing (apart from 42 Slumber Road but I soon realised the error of my ways and stopped myself getting a bad name trying to sell that one as ‘the next big UK sitcom’. Sit down, Kris). I always felt like I was just practising and developing my skills. Eventually, I got to a point with The Common Room where I felt the need to start marketing them, to get them read by industry professionals in the hope that one would see the promise and allow me to do what I love the most as a living. I researched the industry and the methods with which I could get someone to read it and I quickly discovered one thing: this wasn’t going to be easy.
Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect that the first person to read my script would instantly commission it and I’d be writing full-time, but a girl can dream. I knew it would be a challenge: I knew I’d get several rejections but though I was passionate about The Common Room and the pilot episode that I’d written, the key for me at this stage was to get feedback from those in the industry that would be able to tell me what I’d done right and where I went wrong. To do that, they had to read it. And that is a lot harder than it sounds.
There are a lot of opportunities out there for writers. From competitions to blogging submissions, the 21st century has provided several means by which a writer can publish their work for five minutes before moving on to the next project. For a writer, the ultimate goal is to sell their work. To have their novel published or their screenplay commissioned; to see their vision in print or on screen. They want people to read it, to see it, to feel and connect with it and then come back wanting more, because that’s what keeps them in a job and being able to do what they love as a means of income (don’t get me wrong, it’s not about the money in the material sense. It’s about surviving, it’s about working a job you love rather than working one as a means to survive and writing as a hobby). So, talking strictly from a screenwriting perspective: I found two options. BBC Writersroom, or get an agent. Back when I was first submitting my ideas the Writersroom was available for submissions throughout the whole year and had a concept that was more than appealing to a budding writer: we’ll read your script and if our interest is maintained after the first 10 pages we’ll carry on reading. If it’s not quite up to scratch, we’ll tell you why. If we think it’s alright, we’ll ask what else you’ve got. The Concept of the Writersroom is not to commission the script that you send in to them (although if one is strong enough then it will be put forth); it is to assess the strength of the author for their potential and to see whether they have any ideas or whether there skills could be applied somewhere within the BBC. So I sent a few. I didn’t get feedback on a couple which I was a little disappointed at because I personally felt that it held the attention for the first ten pages, but nevertheless it was an experience I chalked up and I learnt to analyse those scripts for how the opening was paced. The position of Writersroom has now changed slightly. They now have specific windows for submissions and from the last email I received from them: 84% of over 1800 scripts submitted did not make it past the first 10 page sift. It’s not an easy avenue to explore as the guarantee of receiving feedback is limited, but nonetheless it’s still one that, given a lot of time, you might eventually break through. Unfortunately time isn’t always on a writers’ side, especially when at first you just want feedback on what is right and what needs working on.
The second thing I looked into was getting an agent. With an agent I could have someone that has faith in my work and/or my writing abilities, someone that would use their contacts and industry knowledge to put me in touch with the right people. Trouble is, it’s quite difficult to obtain an agent. From my research and experience, agencies seem to be split down the middle: those that accept unsolicited scripts, and those that don’t. An unsolicited script is basically one that is not represented or championed by an agent, it is solely the writer contacting the agent to ask them to look at their work. It’s always seemed a bit like a conundrum to me: an agent will not accept a script that is not being represented to them by an agent. Hmmm. Conversely, if you’re looking to market your script to a production company, they often state that they do not accept unsolicited scripts. Yet it is difficult to obtain an agent when they don’t accept your scripts without you being represented by an agent. The cycle is almost dizzying. Personally I’ve never understood it. Other agencies do accept unsolicited material. Most often they request sample pages along with a treatment, a writer bio and a brief description of other scripts you’ve written. At least with these your are given the opportunity to showcase your work with a view to getting some feedback or achieving the goal of obtaining an agent. It might not always be what that particular agency are looking for but still, it allows you get your work read by someone. However, when it comes to feedback it’s limited at best.
I understand I sound quite bitter about all of this and I guess to an extent I am – I’m human after all and I’m subject to all sorts of emotions that we don’t always wish to feel. I don’t consider myself a great writer as I know I still have so much more to learn, but I have faith in the ideas and their potential. All I want, all we ever really want, is the recognition for that hard work. It is one of the hardest industries to make it in. There are thousands out there just like me with their manuscripts piled high and their rejection letters piled higher. There’s so much competition out there it’s understandable that the avenues with which a budding writer can be read or represented are small, but it just feels like sometimes it is so hard to maintain your faith. It can be hard some days to go on writing with the difficulty faced in getting your script read. It’s the faith in the idea and the belief in yourself that keeps you going. Yet sometimes that belief is challenged, and it’s challenged often. Being a writer can be very lonely. You often shut those out that you love because the concentration is so intense, the time so short and the patience even shorter. The struggle can make you feel isolated. It’s an isolation akin to being marooned on a desert island with the skills but not the tools to get you home. No-one can understand the daily internal struggle you go through to just maintain that belief, to sit down each night and carry on.
But you must. Despite the adversity you face and the battles you fight (mainly with yourself), the faith in your ideas and your ability to write is key to ensuring you carry on. Despite the difficulty you face in getting your work read – someone, someday, somewhere will like what they see. It might not be next week or in the next three years, but one day that person will give you a chance. Until then – keep doing the day job, keep the roof over your head and the electricity on to power your laptop, keep using social media as a way to promote yourself, but most importantly: write. Write write write. Write everyday. Even if it’s just a sentence, a scene, an idea to develop, a character bio, a film review, a critique of your past work. Whatever is, keep yourself invested. Keep your faith in yourself and in your ideas, and when shit gets low take comfort in the fact that you came out of it before so you’ll come out of it again. It might be difficult to get out of bed some days; it might be difficult to commute to work and it might be difficult to fight the urge to put down the pen. But you won’t, and you know you won’t. So keep writing. Keep ringing their doorbell, keep knocking on their door and keep up your presence as a writer. And one day we’ll be watching your film or reading your book and coming back for more.