Hello and welcome to the becoming a screenwriter podcast, I’m Kate and this podcast is all about my nosedive into learning about screenwriting and sharing any resources I find along the way.
Persistence. Persistence is key. Watching the Cardiff half marathon today keeping an eye out for my incredible friend Jo who ran for the Stroke Association made me wonder, what keeps a person running for such a long time? I mean, it sounds like hell to me yet over 27,000 people turned up at that start line this morning. The one thing that all of them must have had to finish was persistence.
I have been looking forward to my youngest starting nursery for a few months, even though obviously apprehensive I was excited at the prospect of 2 hours a day to write and also I knew I needed a plan. 2nd time mum I knew if I had nothing to do on that first day and those first weeks of getting us all into a new routine that I would go home and cry basically. It’s just the kind of mum I am. So the plan was to dedicate some time to writing. Ignore the housework, ignore the niggling ever present mum guilt, ignore the feelings of invalidity I experience on a loop being a stay at home mum and march through the front door immediately after the school run upstairs to my little office back bedroom and sit down and write. Or research writing opportunities. Find screenwriting competitions to write for and learn about screenwriting in any way I can.
I had plans aswell for the hours I would have alone. Like planning to get a new ear piercing, which is not something easy to do outside the hours of 9-5 or with a toddler in tow and maybe starting counselling planning in a session every 2 weeks to finally get to grips with my generalized anxiety that still rears it’s ugly head from time to time. I thought I might have a look around at some volunteering opportunities too. Basically there was a lot of stuff I wanted to get done between 9 and 11 am. Which is normal, I think. But then I thought that can all be looked at later, what I need to do first is, I need to get a discipline in writing and work around that.
So I did, I entered the Channel Four screenwriting competition and planned the time I would need to complete a pilot episode by the deadline which was the end of September. Something nice and definite to get my teeth into but it had to be an idea I didn’t particularly want to pursue because part of the Ch4 scheme is to write an hour long episode and it has to be different from your competition entry, so I wrote a pilot of a series about a young sales rep Jaime who is caught between his new shiny exciting sales life world which isn’t quite as shiny and exciting as we first think and his sort of grass roots background at home where he lives in his mum’s pub and has had a string of crappy jobs. He’s an ambitious boy but his past seems to wrap it’s knarly tendrils around him as he keeps trying to move forward. Anyway, it is inspired by my husband Rich, he’s in sales and he’s told me lots of funny stories over the years about anonymous people and shenanigans at work. It’s really a whole nother world in Sales honestly.
So I was pleased with myself about that because I’d had to do a bit of research before I could begin writing the project and I’d planned my time really well. It’s something I’m good at is being organised and I always feel really accomplished when I’ve organised something well. So even though it’s yet to be announced I felt good about having entered and I really enjoyed writing it as well. So I was feeling quite pleased and maybe giving myself a little pat on the back because I was thinking you know it’s definitely better than other scripts I’ve written but not so much like you’re awesome that script is awesome but more like you’ll never learn if you don’t do it first to learn from so yeah I was like feeling brave I guess. That’s the funny thing with writing isn’t it it’s always a little piece of your soul in it and you have to send it out for criticism but we really need that to improve don’t we so yeah it’s one of those things.
Now bearing in mind I have no expectation of making tons of money from this. It’s something I love to do and it was actually Richard’s idea, I was like what the hell am I going to do when my son starts nursery and it was Rich who said just write. Just sit down everyday and write, because you love it. Can’t argue with that can I. It’s been a weird thing for me to pursue because usually when I want to do something I want to be good at it right away and I get a bit frustrated when I’m not and maybe embarrassed when I make a mistake but with screenwriting it was just such an off the table thing to do I knew from the start I’d have loads to learn. And also because I’ve always written in one form or another it’s really a hobby, and naturally when it’s not your job, it’s enjoyable. If I miss a deadline…nothing happens. I’d love to see something I’d written acted out of course the script is only a blueprint for a whole production and I’d love to work in a creative industry alongside other writers, producers and actors. I’d love my daughter to be watching something one day and be able to casually say ‘my mum wrote this’ that’s the dream, but it feels as far fetched as hearing her say – ‘That’s my mum there the lead character’. I’m accepting of the fact that I have a long way to go and a lot to learn and I’m genuinely excited to be at the bottom looking up because I feel like learning and gaining experience is going to be fun and maybe a lifelong pursuit. I know then, that I have to write and I have to be crap because I’m just starting out and I won’t ever get better if I don’t write the crap first.
The reason this all made me think of doing a podcast about persistence is because you always hear people saying it as their top tip. Published authors on panels say, ‘Keep at it! Don’t give up!’ and in other things that always felt like a bit of a wash out. We want to know how to be good at what we’re doing. What was it that made you a success? What’s your secret? Did you fellatio a producer or are you just naturally a brilliant writer? Because that gives me a reason to say well I’m not naturally gifted, maybe this gig isn’t for me after all. Or I don’t live in L.A. where people bump into producers…Oh and of course I wouldn’t do that anyway. Wink. Any producers listening.
But really, when you love writing, persistence is key. Like I said earlier, how can you ever hope to improve otherwise? The more you write, the more you learn about writing, there’s that great saying, You can’t edit a blank page. When I read my own stuff and cringe at how bad it is, sometimes I don’t know what I need to do to fix it but the more bits I write the more I learn what works and what doesn’t. The more I persist in writing scripts the more time I spend connecting with other writers on twitter, reading their work and finding what reads well and what doesn’t.
Not every single person who turned up for the Cardiff Half today is a naturally gifted runner. A lot of them perhaps, have not been running very long, they have a lot to learn but they’re never going to improve on their last run if there isn’t one to improve on! And we can’t promise them that if they run marathons for enough years and persist enough that they will one day win one but we can see how much they love running and we can say for definite that if they do choose to persist with running that they will improve.
I had a bit of a wobble last week though for some reason. That week I’d watched the genius that is Phoebe Waller Bridge win an armful of Emmys for her amazing writing so I was already on a bit of a ‘I’ll never be as good as her’ downward spiral and then I saw Rhiannon win the BBC writer in residence opportunity and I really hope she doesn’t hear this but I felt envious which honestly is not my go to kind of position on these things. I was genuinely so made up for her to win it, she’s someone I’ve briefly chatted with on Instagram so I had that ‘I kind of know her’ moment and felt extra pleased for her as we had spoken about entering and then later in the day I just had a mad crash of confidence. I drove to McDonalds to self medicate with food and I remember in the car just feeling like foolish to be dedicating time to something as wishy washy as ‘writing’.
It’s a part of my historical behaviour patterns to get these feelings of worthlessness and I think we’ve probably all suffered with that particular strain of negative thinking at some point but I felt really blindsided by it with regard to writing and I was wondering if it was a bit of an epiphany. A bit of a realisation like this is not the way forward you bloody idiot. I went back to torture myself a little more in the evening when me and Rich were sat on opposite couches watching TV and on our phones together and I saw an interview Rhiannon had given to the BBC about winning and she had said something along the lines of having been writing for a long time and wondering if it was all a bit crap but then winning this and feeling amazing about it. That knocked me straight out of my funky envy cloud and I thought that will be me. Just clearly like that really could be me in a few years. And I’m probably going to be one of those annoying people who get asked for a top tip and say ‘just keep at it’.
So that’s what I’m going to do, just keep writing the crap until I learn how to write the gold. Every night before bed my daughter asks me what my dream is and I always say to write for T.V. so now I’ve kind of got to get better so she can see that dreams are worth pursuing.
And I would urge you to keep at it too, even though no-one asked me for my advice. If you love it, just keep writing. Don’t forget, we never know what will get picked up post-humously! So there’s always hope.
I’d love to know what would be your top tip about writing when you’re sitting on a writer’s panel in the future. Come and find me on Twitter I’m @a_screenwriter or if you look for Becoming a Screenwriter you can find me that way as well. A transcript of this podcast will be up on my blog website www.katelili.com. Have a great week and congratulations to everyone who ran in Cardiff today.