Ivory tower

People seem to have a really odd attitude towards attaining success as a writer, particularly when it comes to competitions. It’s almost as if the industry is an unscalable tower with the professionals forever out of reach at the top. At the bottom of the tower are thousands of aspiring writers who are desperate to get up there, but feel they are being ignored.

They throw their scripts at the people at the top, who are not interested despite every single word being pure genius. It’s a hopeless, frustrating situation. One which dooms you to perpetual failure and obscurity.

Until a competition comes along.

A competition is perceived as a lift which will take you straight to the top and make all your dreams come true. This is your only chance, you have to get on that lift or all is lost!

Except, the lift only holds a few people and there are thousands of you. The odds are against you, even if you were all superb writers of the highest calibre – only a couple of you can get on that lift. Naturally, the majority of writers are disappointed and spend the next few months/years whinging about how unfair the lift is, how it’s prejudiced and how the people chosen to board weren’t worthy.

Until the next competition comes along and the cycle starts again.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand: THERE’S A STAIRCASE!

Instead of trying to cram yourself into the lift or waiting for someone to peer over the edge and pick you from the crowd – take the stairs.

Apply for every job on every website every day. Paid or unpaid, it doesn’t matter – get stuff made, learn the craft by experience, work your way slowly to the top.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t enter competitions, of course you should. They are fantastic opportunities which aren’t to be missed. Winning can leapfrog you straight to the top and you’d be crazy not to apply for every scheme going, but it’s not the only way.

Hell, even people who win things like this don’t always carve out a career for themselves. Yes, it puts you in a much better position – but you still need to put in the hard work when you get there.

The most recent example was the BBC’s College of Comedy – an amazing opportunity and the six winners are incredibly fortunate to have their talent recognised and be selected – but for all those left at the bottom, don’t whine about it or get depressed. The odds are you weren’t going to win anyway. 1400 entries, 6 winners: 233 to 1 against. Not the worst odds, but still not good.

I see competitions as diversions, potential short cuts. I enter them and then I immediately forget about it and carry on plodding up the stairs. I doubt I’ll ever win a competition and I don’t really care because I’m doing alright on my own. Yes, I would love to be given the opportunity and I’d break down in tears of joy if I ever won anything; but I never get upset when I don’t – I just keep plodding onwards and upwards, one step at a time. It’s slow going, but at least I’m moving.

Reading people’s blogs, I often wonder what everyone else is doing – are you just submitting stuff to the BBC Writersroom and hoping? Are you waiting at the bottom of the tower for the next lift or are you actively pushing your career forward? Are you waiting for it to happen to you or are you making it happen?

Basically, are you on the stairs yet?

If not, why not?

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Categories: Career Path, Industry Musings, My Way, Random Witterings | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Ivory tower

  1. Well said sir!

    The responses to the writersroom blog posts about the selection process of the Comedy College have been absolutely unbelievable. I think my favourite was the guy who announced that, as Michael Jacob is a BBC employee, he was “literally” paying his wages and therefore if he says bark, Michael is to bark. And wag his tail.

    Good grief.

  2. Not a bad idea though, I think I’ll swing by the BBC next time I’m in London and demand they make one of my scripts on the grounds I pay them £11 a month.

  3. OMG you are so right.

    When I started writing I hadn’t got a bloody clue what I was doing – and I’d just done a bloody degree in scriptwriting. I got a couple of jobs straight after uni thanks to blind luck but was essentially writing in the evenings whilst working in a cash office of a bloody supermarket. Then I discovered Shooting People quite by accident. And Talent Circle. And message boards, And Writers Guild netowrking events. And other networking events. Short courses. And blogs. No I don’t make much money. But I DO make money.

    As you say: APPLY FOR EVERYTHING. Talk to everyone. Writing is not just about writing. Why don’t people get this???

  4. I’m loving the stairs/lift analogy, young man.

    I like to think of myself as determinedly climbing the stairs, while glancing shiftily at the lift on each floor.

  5. Lift. Stairs. Lift. Stairs. Lift. Stairs.

    It’s like they haven’t even finished building the bloody tower. The lift only takes me up a floor, then stops.

    Ah well, back to the stairs again.

  6. ContainsNuts

    Very inspirational, I will take that job at Subway!

  7. Ah, right, yes. I should clarify that: apply for every WRITING job on every website … blah, blah blah.

    Unless, of course, you want to be a professional sandwich maker. In which case: apply for every job specific to your career goal on every … and so on.

  8. Stu Beale

    Good article

  9. I believe at Subway they’re known as Sandwich Artists, god bless ’em.

  10. Dear me, the last person you want to hire to make a sandwich is an artist. You’d be forever waiting for them to be inspired and then they’d probably throw a strop because the light wasn’t pure enough.

  11. Pingback: 2008 « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

  12. FrankA

    Great analogy. Should be required reading post-Red Planet notifications… like all great Truths, it is blindingly obvious once someone else tells it to you. Thanks for telling, Phil!

  13. Pingback: The Required Reading List | Bang2Write

  14. Pingback: Red Planet blues | The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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