So often I read about things to advance yourself as a writer, be you a playwright, novelist, screenwriter or whatever. And it is interesting to read how others have made it happen for themselves. And I get it. Knowing how to get out there, connect, shine brighter than your competition, and champion your work is hard and you need all the advice you can get. I still read those lists and I love them. But I’m also aware of all the mistakes I’ve made along the way and how I have at times sabotaged my work and my career….
So here’s my sorry list of things to avoid if you want to make a living out of writing.
1. Getting a real job.
Having just emerged from six years of self-inflicted “real-job-tyranny”, may I highly recommend not doing it. Yeah, yeah, the virtues of writers working outside the field of writing, you’ve no doubt heard many times. And to a good extent, this is sound advice. By all means, leave your writing desk and walk the world, taking copious notes as you go. But what I’m talking about here is my own confounded stupidity in often getting involved in jobs that took me away from writing. It is so frighteningly easy to let your non-writing job swallow you up. Nothing will throw a spanner in the cogs of your writing career more than not being able to write. What should have been a way to get some money, pay some bills, and absorb some valuable perspectives about how the world works, becomes this time-sucking monster that exhaust you, infuriates you and kidnaps your brain. Be on guard. Never lose the main point of taking that ‘real’ job, regularly announce to yourself that it is in fact not your real vocation, and avoid the evil vortex of being sensible.
2. Believing the Hype.
Refuse to buy into what the industry and the writer’s market seem to want you to believe about yourself and your writing career. Trends come and go. People come and go. In the end, it is about what you think, what you do. You are in it for the long ride. For example, a lot of emphases is placed on youth in the theatre world—the next bright young voice—and so much so that sometimes I have been tempted to think I am too old for this. There now, I’ve bought into a bit of hype. If Carol Churchill can be doing this playwright gig in her what? her late 70’s, hey, I’m a spring chick. Oh, there’s hype about style, hype about gender, hype about content, geographic location, nationality, this hot list, this not list. Stop it. Check your self-talk. Make sure your opinions of yourself and your writing are not the results of some pretty useless labelling and pigeon-holing.
3. Protecting your Babies.
Writers can think of their writing as progeny, a precious “baby”, that has been conceived, nurtured, grown and birthed with great struggle. We know our work’s logic and pain and meaning—or we think we do. And it can really hurt when we take it to a dramaturg or a rehearsal room or an editor or publisher and they dismiss some aspect of it or ‘refuse to see’ the logic of something in the story or somehow else fail to interpret the story the way we see it. Theatre and film are especially full of collaborators, each of whom is kinda just doing their job when they are exerting their influence on your work. I have definitely been guilty once or twice of sabotaging the full potential of my work by not keeping an open mind and not letting the collaboration of others move the work forward when it needed it. Love your babies, but get ready to let them grow up.
4. Listening to Critics.
I’ve had some great reviews, which I’m madly grateful for. And I’ve had some bad ones, which I’d be lying if I said I just shook off. But there are phrases from bad reviews for my plays that have stuck in my head for years. They have soaked into my skin, invisible nasty tattoos. Logic says this is pointless and counter-productive. Meh. Logic. Yeah. Nothing will bring down your self-worth more than a public roasting, I guess. Here’s my advice: best not read reviews directly; get a trusted friend or dramaturg to read them and interpret them. Get them to pick out anything relevant and useful, and work on that level.
5. Holding Grudges.
Sure, it sucks someone else got the prize, someone who you know didn’t really deserve it, whose work sucks in your formidable opinion. And don’t I know it, it just makes your lip curl whenever you think of what that person said that about your work just before they noisily walked out of your opening night. And by crickey, it was unforgivable how that artist let you down at the last minute when you needed them. Oh, the drama! I refer to the endless round of complex relationships and histories that arise in a writer’s professional world. Theatre is particularly true of this, and my guess is it’s true for other writing industries. Holding grudges doesn’t work in an industry that runs in remarkably small circles and that thrives on good relationships and trust, not to mention creative collaboration, not to mention plain old gossip. Times I’ve taken umbrage at some artist, only to have my chagrin come bite me in the butt later! Be kind. Be forgiving. At the very least, be strategic. Flush the grudges now.
Oh, there are many more ways to do yourself and your writing career a disservice. I should write a book.