This week I am celebrating two years – yes TWO YEARS – of chasing my writing dream and swearing at onscreen typos. Hurray! *cracks Pomagne bottle open*
It has been two and a half years since I walked out of a relatively secure job because I felt creatively stifled, and wanted – neigh NEEDED to do something else. It took a little while longer for me to say aloud, ‘you know what, I think I can write. So I’m going to try.’ Then, after all the other people on the bus had edged away from me for talking to myself, I wrote it down.. and it was gooood..
It is actually all Will Smith’s fault – or should I say, Chris Gardiner’s. Because one day I sat down to watch The Pursuit of Happyness. And if you haven’t seen it, this is a little of what I saw:
Sentimental as it may sound, this film – the true story of how Chris Gardner turned his life around in one year from homelessness to stockbroker – really struck a chord with me. He said, and I quote:
‘Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something.’
At the time, myself and my husband were just getting by financially and no more despite both of us working full time. My salary was effectively cut in half anyway by childcare costs and the kids had to be up and out at 7am in the morning to be taken to the out of school club and we all got home at 7pm at night. And we were sick of it.
So, in the midst of this and after watching Chris Gardner’s remarkable story, I sat down with my other half and told him that, even though we were broke already, I wanted to quit my job and try and get us out of this madness (and, OK possibly into some more) because I believed I had a talent to do something extraordinary. With terror in his eyes, ‘is she nuts?’ ‘dare I disagree?’ ‘Hang on, you mean she’ll be home to cook me a hot meal at last?’ – my husband agreed.
Last year, I joined the professional networking site LinkedIn and began researching all the writers I admired, all the comedy programmes I loved and set about finding and linking to the people involved. I didn’t know any of them and risked being thrown off the site for doing what you are essentially not supposed to do but then, I’m not known for doing things by the book. I have been known to do things WITH a book – apologies to all the little spider orphans, but I digress…
So, I contacted people in earnest, acknowledging the fact that I didn’t know them, had never worked with them and wasn’t an old next door neighbour looking to ask for my lawnmower back. I said, ‘I admire your work and want to know how you got to be where you are today.’ The surprising thing was, yes, a few people couldn’t be bothered in their busy world to give me the time of day, but for the most part – around 85% I would say – of the industry professionals I contacted have been more than happy to take time out to advise and encourage me.
For those of you that don’t know, Jon Plowman is responsible for producing and commissioning programmes produced in-house at the BBC, of which the greatest successes include The Office and French & Saunders. One of the UK’s most experienced producers, he became head of comedy in October 2005, and now oversees the BBC’s in-house comedy production. In short, he’s (to quote Bridget Jones) ‘very busy and important.’ But he was not too busy to talk to me when I asked, ‘how did you get to do what you do and how did you keep the wolf from the door as you tried to do it?’ This was his email response, which he has kindly given me permission to share:
Well it was a while ago but I got my first break by writing and directing a play for no money and then writing to the place I wanted to work and asking them to come to see the play which luckily had had nice reviews.
In relation to the wolf the answer is that you need long term and short term goals . If long term is work in showbiz/tv/media you also need short term which is eat.
If you really want to do something enough then you WILL do it and if you have to do other things to eat try to do at least one thing a day (like reading something or writing something) that’s yours and towards the longer goal.
So, I am going to share my findings in a short series of guest posts giving hints and tips from writing industry professionals to keep us motivated as we soldier on, pencils at the ready, wolf at the door, singing ‘typo, typo, it’s off to work we go!’
My first guest post will be from Charlie Adams, a comedy writer who wrote gags for the likes of Bob Monkhouse and Bob Hope and someone who has gone that extra mile to offer me loads of joke writing industry insight. Tune in next week!