Why to be a Writer

One of the highlights of my Eastercon just past was taking part in a writers’ workshop run by an excellent group called the T Party. Hi guys! This was a busman’s holiday for me, because much of my career has been spent working with writers, script editing writers, commissioning writers, marrying a writer, being a writer – you get the idea? It happens in all professions – civil servants tend to know lots of civil servants, coppers hang out with other coppers.  But in my case – it’s extreme!

The T Party sesssion was an eye-opener for me in terms of the quality of the work, and the exemplary, detailed, utterly professional and extremely insightful level of critiquing.  This is a great Writers Group and I support it; and I hope to go along to one of their sessions at the George Pub in London sometime.

I also took part in a panel called Writing 101: How to Become a Writer, with Jaine Fenn and Stephen Deas. We all talked about our different experiences in becoming writers and tried to pass on tips and words of wisdom. Jaine’s break came after a meeting with a commissioining editor at an Eastercon; Stephen’s cunning plan was to self-publish a book which, darn it, turned out to be so good he got an agent and a publisher. My approach was many-fold, since I have ‘become’ a writer many times. First I was a TV and film writer (my strategy; become a script editor first). Then I was a radio writer – and this came about after I joined a writers’ group called Paines’ Plough. They produced a rehearsed reading of my 45 minute play GIN AND RUM – written in a day, in a writers’ group session – and it was seen by a radio producer who loved it and made it into a radio play. And the rest of my radio oeuevre (as they say) flowed from that.

And finally I became an SF novelist, and my strategy there was – John Jarrold! Best agent ever. I wrote a book, John read it, and sold it. And it strikes me that of all these different fields of writing, novel writing and SF writing is the easiest to ‘break into’ – because there are simply so many places to start, and there isn’t the hostility to newcomers that you get (I’m being utterly candid here) elsewhere. Self-publish; join a writers’ group; write a novel and send it to an agent; attend cons; keep writing. Of course you’ll only succeed if you’re good; but the doors really aren’t closed.

In fact what struck me forcibly at the Birmingham Eastercon is HOW MANY WRITERS THERE ARE.  We had a room full of them in Writing 101.  A blogger who I met last year (Adam Christopher) came up to me and told me he now has several book deals lined up – which I’m thrilled about.  Everyone I met in the bar was a writer or wanted to be a writer. And it’s clear the lines are well and truly blurred.  It’s not a case of fans going to cons to meet writers and wondering how it’s done; EVERYONE is doing it.

Occasionally I wonder – why?  I mean, why do people write? Why do I write? It’s not for the money (hollow laugh!) Although I’ve managed to make a living as a professional writer for, er, 21 years; and some writers of course make millions. (My first ever job was working for TV writer Murray Smith, the only Brit TV writer to earn a million pounds in a year – and that was a long time ago…)  But really, get a job as a dustman and if you average it out, you’ll probably do better financially, and you’ll have a lot less stress.

No, writing is a drug.  And I am a facilitator.  Later today I’m going to London Film School to work with an outstandingly talented group of international students – a Mexican, an American, a Brazilian and a Serb – on their feature film projects, now at first draft stage.  Last term I assessed four other writers on the same course – brimming with talent!  My boss at the London Film School Brian Dunnigan is also of course an accomplished writer – and I’m currently script editing his movie JOURNEY INTO SPACE (of which, more anon.)  I have many many friends who are writers who were formerly my students on other courses (at the National Film and Television School and Leeds Metropolitan University) or who were commissioned by me during my stints as a literary manager and development executive.

The wealth of talent is astonishing. But there is a problem. Yup, you’ve got it – too many writers!  All chasing the same jobs. So that’s why writing as a career really isn’t the shrewdest of choices – be a banker instead!  But it’s not a career of course, it’s a passion.  Writing is something you do because you HAVE to do it.

Why is that? Is it because we learn more about human nature through the act of writing about it? Duh! Writers spend all their time writing; it’s other folk who are out there living life, and learning about human nature!  Do we become wiser, kinder people through the act of writing? Duh! Spend an hour in the bar with a bunch of writers and you’ll soon learn what vain, avaricious, ungrateful oiks we all are.  Does writing make the world a better place? Duh!  Campaigning for world peace or inventing a cure for cancer or setting up a bank that doesn’t fleece its customers would all be ways to make the world a better place. We just write books.

I think I write for the same reason that I read; I love to get lost in different worlds.  And I love to CONNECT with readers  (or viewers, or listeners) in a way that touches their souls, with something I have created.

Books, let’s face it, are like children.  In the case of Peter F. Hamilton, big fat children who talk all the time (and none the worse for that!)   But unlike children, books can be shaped and created and moulded; you can be the god of the book you are writing.

Which is not the case with children. I have one, she’s fifteen years old, and she’s the best thing I’ve ever done.  But she’s not mine; she’s her own creature.  Children – let me be clear about this – are better than books. And living life is more important than writing about it.

And yet – must write that next chapter. I need to know how it comes out!

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