Getting Stuff Out There

Stuart Hepburn,whose screen credits include Taggart, Monarch of the Glen, Rebus and a dramatisation of Quite Ugly one Morning, delivered a brilliant lecture on scriptwriting, and writing for television, at the Ayr Campus of Paisley University, earlier this week. He managed to be both inspiring, and realistic in that he told it like it is to a group of students, among whom were many aspiring writers. People always assume that once you have had one success, everything will be easy after that. It couldn't be further from the truth. Most writing careers are an uneasy and messy switchback of rejection followed by success followed by rejection. Even hugely distinguished and popular writers can suddenly fall out of favour for no very obvious reason. But for those of us wrestling with the middle ground, every step forward, every acceptance, or successful production, or publication, seems to be followed inevitably by a whole clutch of knock-backs. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it and it is probably the single most depressing thing about a writing career.
Stuart managed to convey this cheerfully, and without recrimination, although he did make us laugh in the process. He recommended a book I am always telling creative writing students about - Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman, a wise and wonderful book full of anecdotes and insights, and genuinely useful to aspiring writers everywhere. And if even the writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can be denied access to one of his own premieres, because he isn't on the guest list, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Stuart gave many excellent pieces of advice among which were: get your work out there because it's not doing any good sitting at the bottom of a drawer, grasp every opportunity that comes your way and finally, be nice to people, because not only will it make you feel good about yourself, but you never know when the Third Assistant Director on a project is going to turn up somewhere else as the Head of Drama!
Grasping opportunities, and getting your work out there, I sometimes think, are what make the difference between comparative success and absolute lack of it. Well, that and realising that if you wait until you have "time" to write, you will never write anything. Aspiring writers are surprisingly diffident about their own skills, and consequently run away from opportunities. We find excuses, because we're scared. And we all have unsatisfactory stuff lying around in drawers - I have plenty of it myself - but it's like the lottery. Small as your chances are, if you don't buy a ticket, you're never going to win. If you don't send your work out, once you feel that it is as good as you can make it, you are never going to get feedback on it.
If you are writing only for your own pleasure it doesn't matter. But if you have ambitions to be published or produced, you have to be amazingly proactive.
So don't file things away and forget about them. Send them out into the world and make them work for you. As Stuart suggested, this doesn't have to be in the more formal world of theatre/publishing etc. You can do it for yourself. Get together with like-minded friends, amateur actors, local theatre groups, develop your script and "do the show right here". Write a blog. If you have the capability, make yourself a website. Think laterally. Search out literary or poetry or drama competitions of which there are many, and submit your work to these. (You will often get feedback which can be useful). Join a club. Submit your stories and poems, not just to the big players, who will be inundated with work, but to the smaller magazines who won't. They won't pay much, if anything, but you will start to build up a body of published or produced work. In other words, as with any product, it's no earthly use complaining about your lack of sales if you aren't prepared to work at
getting your stuff out there!

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