Wednesday 3rd March 2021
I know I said that I have a backlog of tasks I’m trying to clear off. But hear me out.
One of my major aims of the last year or so is to diversify my writing. I think whatever happens, I’ll always primarily be a novelist at heart. There’s something about the freedom a book gives you as a writer that I love. There’s no-one to consult or please with a first draft, and whilst editors and agents might then give feedback, that’s in service of the story you want to tell.
Of course, readers might then not like the story, but that’s only after the book’s written. When you are writing that first draft, no-one can tell you what to do. I can be at my most despotic, and frankly, I love that I have somewhere I don’t have to compromise for anyone but myself.
In other mediums (including if you want to take that first draft and turn it into something more commercial), there’s either not the room to tell the sort of stories I want to tell, or you have to work with others. It may surprise you given the previous paragraph, but I really enjoy that. I’ve had my fix during the first draft and now I have it out my system I can really enjoy being collaborative. In fact, I’ve already discussed a future cowritten novel, some time in the distant future, with a writer friend of mine. I think it would be fun.
I have a general rule: the story comes first. I’ve had my fill of ego in my first draft. After that, it’s working with others to make that story as good as it can be. I love it when people who are passionate about a project can be free and open with me, working towards that common goal.
You may be mistaken and think once you are a writer in one medium, you can just walk into other mediums. That’s not entirely true. There’s certainly a lot of skills that are transferable. These are mostly basics of storytelling – putting together plots, developing characters, building worlds.
But each medium has their quirks and constraints. Short stories, for example, have to be short. Certain stories do not suit that format. Comics have to be dynamic and visual and as a result can’t have huge descriptive sections or long conversations (there are exceptions, of course, but only those who have truly mastered the craft). Television episodes have a fixed length and like film use script format.
And to learn those quirks you have to practise. You can be a great novelist but suck at scriptwriting. So one of the things I want to do is learn. And how I plan to do that is by doing, sucking, and then doing again.
There’s such a thing as a writer CV. It’s basically like the CV you have when you apply for a job, except this one is all about your writing experience. That can include publications, or awards, or commercial experience.
I’m in essence trying to build up my writer CV. But just as when you first start working, you’re going to only have a junior role. Maybe it’s a publication in a school newspaper, or a win in a local writing competition. But you build on that: maybe writing for an online fanzine, to writing for a magazine on a newsstand. Maybe you got a short story published, to then write a novel for one of the big 5 traditional publishers.
Because writing professionally is a precarious business, it really pays to have several career strands. In a normal 9 to 5 the fact that you went from working in hospitality to IT and then back to hospitality might concern a recruiter looking for someone with solid IT experience. But in writing, it’s generally more acceptable to have a diverse career. In many ways, writing a comic to writing a novel to working on a videogame can be a plus. It also means that if one income stream temporarily dries up (a novel doesn’t sell), you can focus on another.
But each of those strands needs work. Just as publishing a novel with a traditional publisher takes a journey in the majority of cases, so do other mediums. Yes, there’s always that person whose first ever attempt to write a novel gets picked up, but most have a bunch of trunk novels hidden away.
So these last couple of years have in part been about building up my non-novel writing. I’ve spent time learning about different mediums. I’ve been building both experience and a portfolio. Will I ever write a movie? I can’t say, but I’d like to be in a position that, if the opportunity ever presented itself then, I’d have put the legwork to turn out something pretty decent.
So that script I sent back in January may go nowhere, but it gave me valuable experience of scriptwriting after spending a lot of last year studying the subject. Who knows, maybe it’ll get picked up? Maybe, it’ll be a sample I can add to a writing portfolio in the future.
At the time a lot of these activities are merely fun. They’re a break from what you normally write. And sometimes they can seem a bit pointless… until they’re not.
A few people sent me an opportunities yesterday. They’re for things I’m very much trying to build a rounded portfolio for. Now those responsible for the projects will feel I’m not suited for it, and that’s fine but when they listed what they needed, they were things I had to hand. I’m sure I can go back to the editions of The Climb I wrote last July to understand why I wrote a Writing CV, but present-me thanks past-me. Likewise, a bit of experience I gained back in 2012 now seems really relevant. At the time, it was a fun exercise and I was a bit disappointed when the project died out. But it’s now relevant experience.
So all these little projects I have on the go are really setting groundwork or filling gaps in a number of writing mediums. They’re building a portfolio of writing samples and experience that can help me in the future. It often seems like a lot of work, especially when the aim isn’t so much to produce something directly commercial but rather create something that gives you the experience and skills to write something more commercial in the future.
Today was good because I had the experience and samples I needed for these opportunities. I’ve seen plenty recently where I don’t, which is why I’ll continue with all those little projects and broaden both my experience and knowledge.
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