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How Do I Become A Professional Scriptwriter?

Bang2writer David Bird has this question:

How do I become a professional scriptwriter?

This is a good question and one that could take all day, so I’ll try and keep it simple:

Keep writing, keep connecting, keep building.

It really is as simple – and as complicated – as that. It’s important to note however:

Professional writers are NOT automatically those that are the most successful purely in terms of monetary gain. My Dad was an art student in his youth for a short time and he always tells the story that apparently Van Gogh sold just one painting while he was alive, yet we all know who he is now… Does Van Gogh’s lack of success and recognition in his actual lifetime denigrate his legacy? Of course not. In addition, whilst the likes of Charles Dickens, The Brontes and Jane Austen may have had a following while they were alive, I doubt very much any of them were rolling in it solely from writing, either. I am of the firm belief that if you are holding out for *that* big pay packet or even just a living wage before calling yourself a “professional”, you will be disappointed because this is likely to never happen. I know professional writers who make less money than they would working at McDonald’s.

But these people are professionals because they take the lack of money on the chin and keep on keeping on. What this means of course depends on the individual, what their goals are and also sometimes the levels of responsibility they have. I’ve known several Bang2writers to take redundancy, so they might live with less and write full time. But this isn’t possible for everyone, especially if you have a family. So other professional writers supplement their income with a day job: teaching seems to be a firm fave, though journalism, script reading/editing and other production skills allow that writer to have two feet in the same world.

Other writers like to have unrelated jobs, which bring different skills and insights to the world of writing: in the Bang2writers pool I have bank clerks, police, secretaries, salespeople, librarians, museum curators, psychologists, nurses and even a lady who makes sock monkeys, to name just a few. Other writers prefer manual jobs, with plenty of space for thinking time. And why not? Whatever works. These writers only need to work out EXACTLY how to write AND earn money, ‘cos the two are not always the same.

My definition then of a professional writer, then? I believe it is someone who:

– is organised and sets goals (and can reassess them when necessary)
– is positive, even in the face of adversity
– is realistic
– is learning all the time
– knows feedback improves their work & can take constructive criticism
– is able to recognise poor feedback or feedback with an agenda
– is generous to their peers, followers & fans
– constantly hones and defines their craft
– applies for everything
– knows their limits
– follows up on submissions and opportunities politely
– builds their own brand
– can use social media tools to promote their brand
– is not afraid or embarrassed of or by self promotion
– attends networking events whenever they can
– builds relationships with producers, filmmakers, other writers, agents, etc whenever they can, online & face-to-face
– does DIY stuff if they can
– can diversify and is always looking into new and/or different avenues for their work
– spends a certain amount of time on as much of the above as they can, day in day out

Note I do NOT mention a professional writer **automatically needs** an agent in the above list! Of course, having an agent can be a fabulous validation for oneself (and indeed incredibly handy, I love mine). But as I often explain to Bang2writers who ask me: WE ARE ALL OUR OWN AGENTS. Many writers express disbelief when I tell them they don’t need an agent right away and to go off, build their brand, their relationships etc and an agent will slot into place further down the line. But they really do. So don’t spend all your time agent-chasing, go after those producers and collaborators!

But most of all:

A professional writer WRITES. Sounds simple, but a surprising amount of people want to be professional writers, yet write only one project or perhaps write very little at all. In comparison then, a professional writer has a PORTFOLIO and an IDENTITY. Oh and of course – a professional writer is the guy or gal who NEVER GIVES UP, no matter what is thrown at them. Someone in real life said to me only the other day:

“The people you see succeeding at ANYTHING aren’t the most talented or the luckiest; they’re simply the ones who refused to quit.”

With all this in mind then, Adrian Mead wrote the excellent MAKING IT AS A SCREENWRITER – it’s an e-book that’s well worth a read AND all the profits go to Childline.

Good luck!

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3 thoughts on “How Do I Become A Professional Scriptwriter?”

  1. Good post, says much of how I've been feeling for a while now. Be sensible, be realistic and accept that it might never come to anything at all but then again hang onto your dream because you never know who or what may be just around the corner.

  2. I made just under £5k last year writing, because most of my work was for free so I can build relationships for the future. Even though I am now a fully fledged self-employed writer I still do stuff for free now and again when I think it will pay off somewhere down the line. I also still have to work 20 hours a week in the Co-op to help keep the money coming in.

    But I love writing and couldn't give it up even if I wanted to. It's an addiction for which there is no cure.

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