Strategy (Part One)

When I first started writing I figured it was pretty easy:

Write something, it gets made, you get paid.

There, that all sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

Admittedly, there do seem to be a few gaps in that strategy. Namely, how do you write something good? How do you get it to someone who wants to make it? And why the fuck should they spend their money on you?

Luckily, this kind of delusion also coincided with the ‘telling people I’m a writer without actually doing any writing’ stage.

A day every couple of months doesn’t count. I wash my car once or twice a year – it doesn’t make me a car-washer.

When I finally knuckled down to actually writing in as much of my free time I could spare without getting divorced, I’d thought out a much better strategy.

Or at least I think it’s better – I’m still working my way through it.

I figured that some people do leap-frog straight to the top; they might win a contest or accidentally sleep with the right person. Basically, the very good and the very lucky can go in right at the top.

I’m neither of those things.

So I need to work my way up. The luck thing, you still need; but you can significantly improve your chances by simple networking. Talent – hard work will get you at least halfway there; and since I’m rapidly becoming of the opinion that most pro-writers are decidedly mediocre and just shine because the majority of aspiring writers are appallingly shit, then halfway is good enough.

I don’t have to be good, I just have to be consistently mediocre.

The other thing which occurred to me was if you leap straight in at the top – not only do you have to be bloody good (or lucky) to get there, you have to be consistently good to stay there. Luck won’t help.

I see success as a kind of pyramid, if you fail you get knocked down a level. If you start at the bottom, jump to the top and then turned in something shit – there’s a long way to fall and you’ll look like a one trick pony who will probably disappear into obscurity. There’s no foundation to your career.

Someone who worked their way up, a level at a time, building a consistent reputation at every level – if they fail, they obviously just weren’t ready to move up a level and can settle back into the level immediately below. In other words, the longer it takes to get there, the longer you’ll stay there.


So, I thought, my new strategy needs to contain a lot more steps. It has to build slowly but steadily. Every move needs to be reinforced, ready to build the next level on. I want a pyramid with a broad base, not a pole with a narrow platform at the top.

My new strategy became a series of mini-strategies for each level of the industry. I figured the levels were something like this:

  1. Unpaid work
  2. Low-budget films and corporate work
  3. Mid-budget films and writing for other people’s TV shows
  4. Creating your own TV show and high-budget films

And on each level: Get good, get experience, get a reputation, move on.

How’s it going for me? Okay, I think.

I’m somewhere between levels 2 and 3. The beauty of this system is, I already know some of the people on level 3 from working with them on 1 and 2. Some producers and directors have moved on ahead of me and are waiting for me to get there, some are moving up with me and the ones still on level 2 are eager to work with me again and will gladly welcome me back if it doesn’t pan out.

The key here, of course, is to be good enough and personable enough for people to want to work with you more than once.

Tomorrow, I’ll go through the levels in more detail.

Unless there’s anything good on the telly.

Categories: My Way | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Strategy (Part One)

  1. “I don’t have to be good, I just have to be consistently mediocre”.

    Spoken like a real pro, (as if I’d know) – although you don’t have to be that self-deprecating, as you could’ve finished with the phrase you mention when talking about ‘the key’, being personable etc.,(near the end of the blog), “I just have to be consistently ‘good enough’ “.

    Reminds me very much of an old pro freelancer by the name of Mel Lewis, who, when talking about being prolific rather than ‘good’ said:

    “Being prolific is a must: exhilirating in itself and essential to keep the cheques covering the doormat . . . The main bar to being prolific is nerves. Use every success to make a brave step forward. Learn how to write fast and ask questions later. Revising copy is pure pleasure compared with getting started. And when you get good enough, though your first thoughts may not be your best, they will always be GOOD ENOUGH. And a writer can make a good living by being reliable and consistently good enough.”

    It’s not everyone who can aspire to being ‘good’ like Diablo Cody and get an Oscar for her very first screenplay at this year’s Acadamy awards.
    And anyway, having seen her film, Juno, and enjoyable though it was, I’m not entirely convinced that it was THE best original screenplay of the year, so she better get prolific, pronto.

  2. Nice quote.

    Diablo Cody is a perfect example of someone who appears to have come from nowhere. Winning an Oscar for your first screenplay is an awful position to be in … unless you truly have the genius to back it up.

    You can just feel people gathering to slate her next screenplay. If it’s anything less than monumentally wonderful, people will be hurling rocks at her. If she had a previous body of work to back her up then people may not have such high expectations and would be more inclined to enjoy her next film for what it is, rather then NOT AS GOOD AS JUNO.

  3. Thanks for posting this Phill (I”m the David from the university thread on Lucy’s site yesterday). It’s pretty much in line with my own thinking as I get into writing, since I’m under no illusions.

    I’m still at stage 0, incidentally – figuring out where to get unpaid work.

  4. That’s all part of tomorrow’s exciting episode, stay tuned.

  5. Her next screenplay is going to be a comedy horror about teenage cannibalism, named after a song by Hole. God bless Diablo Cody.

  6. Looks like she’s inundated with work. I thought she was still fine tuning a sit-com as head writer under Steven Spielberg’s patronage, but, quote: “She’s got more movies in the works”. Go girl!

  7. Excellent – I hoped it would be!

  8. Pingback: Strategy (Part Two) « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

  9. Pingback: Strategy (Part Three) « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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