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Added: Wednesday 17th January, 2018

How Not to Be a Writer by Rob Young

Rob Young highlights the common mistakes writers make and explains how to proactively promote your work.

Is a writer still a writer if she hasn’t written anything in months? If she’s ‘thinking about writing a novel?’ And when does an emerging writer, officially, emerge?

Then there’s the bog-standard questions like, “How do I get an agent?” “Where should I send my script? and “How am I doing?” As writers, we love questions. Our entire career is spent making sense of the world.

“Where do we go for advice?” I’ve always found Ted talks pompous. Some sleazy guy doling out wisdom in that smug Apple style. I hate that guy! I want to throw coconuts at him! He’s preaching from on high and that makes me feel small and stupid. So, let’s not do that. Let’s try something new.

I’m going to look at how NOT to be a writer. The idea is, by observing the common mistakes that most writers make, you’ll learn how to avoid them. That’s my cunning plan.

Imagine a car factory. It makes one car a year and its wonky. The owner wonders what to do with it then sends off 2 letters - to Jeremy Clarkson and Lewis Hamilton. Neither replies, so he goes back inside and starts all over again.

Daft, isn’t? Yet that’s what we do, as writers. We spend a whole year writing a play then… wonder what to do with it. We write to the Court and the National then start all over again. As business plan’s go, it sucks. Let’s not be that guy.

The lesson here, is not to dream of Prince Charming. Stop hoping that some handsome stranger, who you’ve never met, will fall in love with your script. He may be an agent, scout or producer but the myth is the same, he’ll put all of his money and weeks of his time into making you a star. But if he’s the Prince then we’re the Damsel-in-Distress and that stinks. Who wants to be the passive, gum-chewing trophy when you can be the pro-active hero? So, let’s jump on a horse and fly. Writers often say to me, “No one wants to put on my stuff”. To which I reply, then do something about it.

Ask a bookshop to put on a reading. If it’s a spooky play, ask a crypt. Buy 6 bottles of wine for £4 each and sell it at £2 a glass. Make an advert on Renderforest (if you can use Word you’re overqualified) then use that on social media. You’ll need a good image so blow £7 on a world-class photo from Adobe Stock. Don’t know how to do graphic design? Use PowerPoint or Keynote then take a ‘partial screenshot’ (look it up) to snatch the bit you like. Now ask yourself this, which sounds better, “please read my 9th draft” or “Come to my reading, it’s in a that private club next door to your office, click here to see the cool trailer?” Don’t know any actors? Find out who just graduated. Don’t know anyone at the BBC? That’s what TV credits are for. And it gets better…

A big mistake that most writers make is thinking the world is binary. You’ve got a play, they’ve got a theatre, if only they’d ask you to dance! So, you sit there, like a wallflower, waving your script like a coy little fan. That is not the way to succeed.

Success has three legs, not two. So if you remember ONE word from this blog it’s this… TRIPOD. If I threw my script to the corporate wall of the BBC, it’d bounce off. But if I made friends with a plucky little film company and we pitched that script together… it’s much more credible. So find yourself a friend.

Remember that reading in the bookshop? Let’s say the play is about… abuse in Finland. Why not suggest all proceeds from your reading go to a national abuse charity? Then you can market it on their mailing list? Perhaps the charity’s Patron is a high-profile actor? Or knows someone at the Finnish Embassy? See what’s happening here? Something! Despite the fact that you have less than £50 and no agent (yet) the cogs have started to turn. All you need now is some craft:

Let’s not be the writer who busks it on the dialogue, because they couldn’t be bothered to learn all the other skills in the writer’s arsenal like plot, tension, jeopardy and thrill.

Let’s not be the writer who…. never (pause)… finishes, their (beat, looks away then begins to speak and yet, no)….

Let’s not be the writer who doubts their own talent. There is no ‘Best Writer’. Sure, some people earn more money but that doesn’t make them better than you. The only person better than you, is you in 10 years time (when you’ve learned a bit more craft).

Let’s not be the writer who moans. The Stage once gave me a review that said, “The show is as flabby and dishevelled as Young himself”, even though I had ironed my shirt! And you know what? It’s funny. Move on.

Let’s not be the writer who does no research. Who doesn’t apply for a Peggy Ramsay grant or look up jobs on NAWE Writers Compass, Artsjobs, Hiive, London Playwrights Blog and all the other places out there. It’d be daft not to.

And there’s one last thing a writer should never be, a grouch, because even though you get rejected, it’s still the best job in the world.

Go get ‘em, tiger. I’m rooting for you.


Rob Young


Rob Young is an award-winning writer and reads for New Writing South.

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