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Top 7 Writing “Debates” To Avoid

I love the internet. Writers can plug in and get access to all the people, information and opportunities they could ever need. They can even create a whole career out of it via blogging and social media – that’s what I did. I didn’t even live in London. As I always say: anything is possible.

But even an Internet Die Hard like me can get sick of the web, due to the SAME writing “debates” rolling around and around, two, three or even *more* times a year – and some of them NEVER seem to go away, despite the fact there’s so much writing info at our fingertips – or perhaps because of it?!

So let’s do them all here and fast forward to the GOOD stuff in 2013:

7. UK Versus US TV. I hear all the time from writers how *this* or *that* US TV series is amazing; they’ll wax lyrical about the writing, telling me how it makes them want to write for TV themselves. And good for them: writing for TV is a great challenge and one that involves a lot of skill. I often follow this up by asking what UK TV they like. “Oh I don’t watch UK TV,” the writer might say; “It’s crap. It’s nowhere near as good as [the US series].” Yet this writer just told me s/he wants to write for TV – and we’re in the UK. Eeep! Similar happens on forums, Twitter and Facebook: Brit writers are seemingly eager to “debate” US vs UK TV – when really, they just want to line up and stick the boot in to UK TV. It’s like going to a job interview in a building you’ve just graffitied a huge insult across. Madness. So if you want to write for TV? You need to watch *all* TV. You don’t have to like it; but you do have to be prepared to be constructive if you’re going to say why you don’t like it in public – because who knows who might see/hear you? You’d be surprised.

6. Can Talent be taught? This clanger is usually dropped in some kind of discussion over whether it’s “worth” doing an MA in screenwriting and before you know it, everyone is weighing in with their own personal experience of doing a degree (or not doing one) and guess what: that’s never gonna win any argument on this ‘cos guess what, it’s PERSONAL. Bleugh. So can Talent be taught? Yes. No. WHO CARES. Talent only gets a writer so far. Some of us are uber-talented; some of of us are talent-less; most of us are somewhere in the middle. Besides anything, anyone can learn the craft of writing. Absolutely anyone. That’s the fantastic thing about it: it’s democratic. So talent does not define your success as a writer – not giving up does.  Boom. Done.

5. The Cottage Industry. This usually goes something like this. There will be a posting for an event or course which writers will look at and go, “Wow! Amazing!” Then they look at the price tag. It’s a lot of money. The writers who are peeved about this don’t know *exactly* what goes into running said event/course, but figures it can’t be *that* much to put on and that the organisers of that event or course are Taking The Mick, so those writers make all kinds of accusations about how there’s this “Cottage Industry” *just waiting* to part writers from their cash like evil parasites. And OF COURSE there are scam merchants. But are there many? Not that I’ve met. People have to make money somehow and for every person making squillions? There’s a hundred just scraping by. And if an event or course is a lot of money, maybe you should speculate to accumulate … You can’t/won’t? Then fine: don’t. You don’t have to. Writers need never pay a penny for the writing information & opportunities that are out there. Not one single penny.

4. Script Readers are Scam Merchants. I always find this one amusing, since I’ve never knowingly met a script reader who’s not seriously low on cash. But hey, if you feel no one should ever have to pay for feedback, then don’t, see 5). But just because you think it’s a useless service doesn’t mean it’s useless to all. I know I’ve helped lots of people over the years, because they’ve told me. And even those writers who think my reports suck – and there will always be some – I provided what they paid me for: it’s honest work. So instead of throwing insults at those just trying to do their job (often for a low wage), why not write something instead – and get your feedback elsewhere.

3. The “Rules” Are Not The Rules. There’s only one Rule of Writing and that’s there are no rules. Yes, there’s plenty of things we can do to avoid various pitfalls, especially when it comes to Format in screenwriting or grammar and punctuation in novel writing; or there are various recommendations people can make about what’s a “good” or “bad” thing to do based on their industry experience. But end of the day this is a creative pursuit: you can do anything. That’s the point. Your audience wants a good story, well told. It’s as simple – and as difficult – as that. So rather than obsess over what the “rules” are and what’s “good” or “bad”, think instead about that story and whether it’s the best it can be – and whether it’s differentiated enough. ‘Cos that’s what will take you through.

2. Do You Copy? This one always has me gnashing my teeth: the notion of copyright theft. OF COURSE someone in the history of the universe has had their script stolen; rumours rarely come out of nothing (though I still maintain it’s nearly always “Someone who knows someone”; certainly for all the rumours I’ve heard in the last ten years, no one has ever once come to me and said, “You know that script of mine you read? Someone stole it. Will you help me sort it out by being my witness?”. NOT ONCE). So does it happen as often as new writers think? No. A million times, no. The notion your work is in danger every time you send it out is a MYTH. Producers do not steal screenplays as standard. They just don’t! ‘Cos if it really is *that* good? Someone would buy it. That’s all there is to it. So don’t worry about your work getting stolen; worry instead about making it SO GREAT people are literally fighting over it to buy it. What a problem to have!

1. Militant Writers. We’ve all seen it happen … Someone posts somewhere looking for a writer. There’s no mention of pay or perhaps it has a lacklustre list of supposed perks. Cue responses of: “I’m a professional! I shouldn’t have to work for free! Who do you think you are?” etc and before you know it, the person who posted in the first place is torn viciously apart by countless “professional” writers who prove that actually, they’re very far from professional once the playground dogpile kicks in. OF COURSE producers should not expect writers to write on spec as standard; in an ideal world, everyone would be paid what they deserve. But let’s not pretend there aren’t producers, directors and crew out there working on spec too … Are they taking the mick, if they don’t get paid either? And let’s not pretend that getting an unpaid gig might not *be* a writer’s best chance of getting a credit or contacts or experience, like what works on screen and what doesn’t. That’s not to say we should give (especially wealthy) producers carte blanche to treat writers like shit. Of course not. But sometimes it’s worth working on spec to get to that next stage in your career, because that (also unpaid) producer has every chance of getting that film made – if you help them. As long as you’re on the same level, what the hell is wrong with that?

Of course, sometimes a ruck is good for the soul – I caught some heat over a recent posting on Shooting People where I told everyone it’s time to get real on copyright for the reasons I state again in 2) in this post – and let’s face it, one of the primary objectives of this site is being provocative. Getting angry about something can be key in examining our motives or beliefs over *something* — but if you find yourself getting angry more than writing, researching, outlining or networking, it’s time to step away from the computer! And yes, I’m officially retiring from the above! 😛

Happy Christmas!

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  1. Pingback: 10 Lies Writers Tell Themselves, Pt 1: The Writing | Bang2Write

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