‘Writing secrets’ brings writers to this blog every day. It would seem everyone thinks there’s secrets out there that everyone else knows, but they don’t. I’m not immune to this either, I would LOVE to know!
So I thought I’d round up a bunch of top TV writers and ask THEM what their personal writing secrets are … Here’s the answers I got asking, ‘What’s your top tip for writing craft?’ Enjoy!
1) ‘Emotional courage stands out’ – Ashley Pharoah
My tip is not to bury the emotion under the craft. Emotional courage is what is needed to stand out from the crowd.
BIO: Ashley Pharaoh is a British screenwriter and television producer. He is best known as the co-creator/writer of the successful drama series Life on Mars and creator/writer of the family drama Wild At Heart, as well as The Living And The Dead.
2) ‘Bring yourself to your work’ – Sally Abbott
Work harder and raise your bar higher than anyone else (a lot higher, I’m talking stupidly ridiculously high). And whatever you’re working on, bring yourself to it.
3) ‘Write and fail’ – John Yorke
Write. Endlessly. Fail again. Fail better.
BIO: John Yorke is a producer and story expert, producer of countless British TV shows. He is also author of the acclaimed writing book, Into The Woods. Read B2w’s interview with him, HERE.
4) ‘Keep going’ – Barbara Machin
We all have days of self doubt, inertia, fear or downright exhaustion. Keep going. Go for a walk, make soup, watch The West Wing … But get back in the chair and write. Write write write. It may not be good, it may not be the best. But it IS something and you can always go back and change it/improve it.
Once something is down there is something to edit to tweak to make better. Which is why it is always such relief to get the first draft written . After that you finally have some idea of what the damn thing is truly about (despite the endless treatments). Writing the script is only true exposure of character and plot.
There is no such thing as writers’ block – there is only finding ways to keep going. Look under every stone. Flip ideas, characters. Dig deeper: dig until it hurts, but write it out, say it out. Keep going. Give your subconscious time to help you solve the problems. Give yourself time and space to think. Walk and talk to yourself. Drive and tell yourself the story .
At the end of the day, who cares about the washing the dog, the kids, the supper or watching the latest must-see show and posting thoughts on FB?? All that matters is how many words, how many pages. What have you made today that wasn’t in existence when you woke up? That’s your daily miracle. So keep going … And then wake up and do it again!
BIO: Barbara Machin is the producer and showrunner of Waking The Dead, as well as a writer on numerous other shows including the BBC’s Casualty since 1990.
5) ‘You need emotional impact in the reader’ – Debbie Moon
Tell the story on the page. Yes, a script is a blueprint, but if it doesn’t have an emotional impact on the reader, it won’t ever get to production stage. Write fluid, emotional prose, give powerful insights into the characters’ emotions, and you’ll create the movie in the minds of the reader. That’s what leads to a sale.
BIO: Debbie Moon is the creator of CBBC’s Wolfblood, and has also worked on The Sparticle Mystery and Hinterland. She has a number of TV and film projects in development in the U.S. and U.K. Find her on Twitter at @DebbieBMoon, or at her blog, HERE.
6) ‘Write badly, then fix it’ – Stephen Gallagher
If you fear you can’t write well, write badly and then fix it. No one will ever know.
7) ‘Find out what you’re weakest at’ – James Henry
Find whichever you’re weakest at out of a) dialogue, b) character or c) structure, and work really hard on getting better at that particular element. Be aware that whichever one you’re best at, you will probably rely on too much to paper over the cracks.
BIO: James Henry has written for Smack The Pony, Green Wing, The Delivery Man, Hey Duggee and the upcoming Shaun The Sheep movie sequel, Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon. He is on twitter as @james_blue_cat.
8) ‘Find something that helps you create’ – Dominic Minghella
Keith Jarrett. Seriously. His solo concerts, wild and lyrical by turns, take me to a place where ideas can flow. But also I cannot work without him. Don’t do that. Don’t become dependent. Find your own Keith Jarrett and all the other little things that help you to create… But do not, repeat DO NOT, become dependent.
BIO: Dominic Minghella is the producer and showrunner of such TV shows as Robin Hood, Doc Martin and Knightfall.
9) ‘Break the mental deadlock’ – Stephen Volk
If you’re stymied as to how to make a scene brilliant or different, and it’s holding you back, just write a BAD scene. Your skill will tell you what’s wrong with it, and it breaks the mental deadlock.
BIO: Stephen Volk is the BAFTA-winning screenwriter of Ghostwatch, Afterlife and Midwinter of the Spirit. His latest book is The Dark Masters Trilogy.
10) ‘Be personal’ – Lauren Sequeira
Put the personal in everything. If it’s not a world that is yours, or something you’ve actually experienced, then base your characters on yourself or real people who you know, or a real emotion that you felt. In my experience, when I’m open about this in pitches, a producer connects with it more.
BIO: Lauren Sequeira got her break writing an episode for C4/Netflix drama Kiss Me First. She’s also worked on other shows such as The Dumping Ground and currently Gangs of London.
11) ‘Just get it written (and edited)’ – Roland Moore
Don’t be scared of the blank page. Beat out your story and splurge out your first draft as fast as you can so you have a shape to improve and refine. Psychologically, it’s a great feeling to have a first draft in your hands. You’ll spend a lot longer editing it but each edit will make it better.
BIO: Roland Moore created the award-winning BBC1 series Land Girls and has recently adapted Humans (Channel 4/AMC) for China. His dystopian sci-fi series, The Last Cop, has been optioned by Black Box Media and Keshet International.
What Writers Can Learn Here:
I find it really interesting that although I asked all these writers separately (they had no idea who else I was asking!), their craft secrets were all so similar. Here’s the conclusions I can draw from what they say:
- Splurge out that first draft. A bad page is better than a blank page.
- Your writer’s voice counts for something. Use it.
- Making an emotional connection via your story with the reader/producer is paramount.
- Do whatever it takes, however you can – push yourself.
- Keep on keeping on. No matter what!
As I’ve always said on this blog – there’s no get rich schemes, short cuts or even, it seems, SPECIAL SECRETS to this writing lark. There is only hard work. And these guys should know! It’s great to have it confirmed by the professionals.