I’ve spoken about it previously but for a few years, I had a massive creative drought. All the work had dried up and in my late twenties, I was starting to think my best days were already behind me.
Boxing Day 2013.
I was standing in the living room of our one bed flat holding my four-month-old daughter. The flat was tiny, had a severe damp problem and was next to a bridge where kids would meet to get drunk and fight. My wife had gone to see Keith Chegwin in a panto with her brother and niece. Like most Dad’s hanging out alone with their baby at Christmastime, I was listening to The National’s 2007 album Boxer. The track ‘Start a War’ came on…
“I’ll get money, I’ll get funny again”
The track finished and I hit repeat. A couple years back I was enjoying some reasonable success with my writing partner, James Bishop. We were filming with John Mulaney in the basement of a restaurant in New York. Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Writing for a BBC1 comedy series. Being told we could be the white, British ‘Harold and Kumar’ and asked to write a movie script. We were trending on the BBC News website after sending the pop group Hanson videos for 461 days to get them to play Bish’s wedding –
My thinking was interrupted by a drunk teenager chucking another lad against our front door. I closed the blind and looked down at my daughter with the song still repeating and decided that I needed to make a change. Just like Matt Berninger, I too would get money and get funny again.
Jump forward to the end of the decade and I kinda feel like I succeeded.
No, you know what? I have! I’ve got money and I did get (a tiny amount of) it by getting funny again!
Which brings me to my point – let’s start celebrating the wins and to do that, let’s start recognising the wins.
Of course there are those MASSIVE wins. The commissions, the agents, the production companies, the book deals and the competition prizes. These change and grow with time and you’ll get a one liner on Newsjack and straight away you’ll think, “yeah, but I want a sketch!” You’ll get a sketch and want a sitcom. It’s human nature. Perception changes and we’re always pushing forward.
Sometimes we can get too caught up chasing these big wins and sulking when they don’t come, we miss out on our real success stories.
Submitted to every episode of Newsjack and not even made a recording? That’s a win! That’s 12 new sketches 36 jokes that didn’t exist before. Not only that but you delivered to a brief and on time. That’s a double-win! You also will have improved your craft. Keep going. You’re triple-winning!
Entered a bunch of competitions and didn’t place? Feels rubbish, I know. But you wrote a thing all the way to the end and created something that you truly believed in. Guess what? Also a win!
Did an open mic night and somebody hated your act so much they threatened to murder you and your entire family? I’m sure they’re just bluffing but hey, you got up there and did something. That’s a win (but seriously, go and double-check your doors are locked).
I think we deserve to give ourselves a bit of a break and a little bit more credit. Take a step back and look at how much success you’re having. It may not quite be the level you’re aiming for, but the truth is, you’ll never reach the bar as it’s always rising.
(If this resonates, I recommend you taking a listen to Josh Radnor’s episode of Off Camera with Sam Jones. Josh talks about broadening the definition of what a victory is and how our brains are rigged for dissatisfaction. Listening back to it now, I realise how much I’ve stolen this concept for this post. I guess it stuck with me.)
I have been trying to make an effort to recognise and broadcast my wins. I hate myself sometimes when my twitter feed becomes nothing more than a bot posting notifications that I have a credit. I think it’s important to do this. We can be polite and modest, but actually as struggling writers we’ve worked really hard and should shout about our success. Who knows, maybe a Hollywood producer (not one of the gross ones) will see your feed and think, “That guy on Twitter with three credits on a single series of Newsjack Unplugged! He’s the perfect person to trust with this one billion dollar movie franchise!”
So with that in mind (and honestly, I’m totally cool with you bailing at this point)…
2019 has 100% been the most successful year as a writer that I’ve ever had. For perspective I started kind of trying in 2004, before really making a go of it in 2007. Either way – it’s been a longtime coming.
When the year started, I was going back to my day job where my department was halfway through a restructure. The new structure didn’t have an obvious role for me and I spent the Christmas break unsure what my future employment looked like. I remember texting Bish and telling him that I’d decided I was going to go for it big time in 2019. We had a decent 2018 where we were on the writing team for CBeebies favourite Gigglebiz and had been shortlisted for the BBC Writersroom Comedy competition. Things had started to build over the last couple of years, combined with my problems at work and my ‘I’ll get money…’ mantra – I was ready to step up a level.
Bish and I have had commissions for two programmes which will both be airing soon. Crackerjack (CBBC) and My Petsaurus (CBeebies)
We signed with an agent.
I’ve had 1 sketch and 5 jokes on Newsjack/Newsjack Unplugged (tell Hollywood).
I’ve started writing for BBC Scotland’s Breaking the News and had a reasonable success rate over three series.
Thanks to BTN I’ve now had my first solo TV writing credits.
Our script was shortlisted for the David Nobbs Trust and BAFTA Rocliffe YA & Children’s competitions.
I signed on as a pool writer for Jack FM and have had loads of fun writing across their various stations.
I’ve got an idea for a book that I’ve sat on for the best part of the year and I haven’t been able to talk myself out of it yet. I might even write it in 2020…
I’ve started submitting jokes to ComedyWire and made a cool $25 in Amazon USA vouchers.
I’ve signed up to work with a group of comedy writing avengers called White Label and look forward to working with them on some really exciting projects.
For the first time, I’ve earned enough to pay tax as a self employed writer.
I met Bruce Springsteen!
I’m not going to pretend it’s been a perfect year.
My daughter (you know, from earlier) was hospitalised with pneumonia (but don’t worry, she’s okay now). It hit our family hard and months on we’re still feeling the impact of it.
I went through a bad time with work (but don’t worry, I’ve got a new role now, which I love).
I had weeks and weeks of sending material to Newsjack and Breaking the News where I didn’t get anything on. For every week I was successful, there was at least a month of misses.
Our script was in the running for a few prizes but didn’t win any.
We had a couple of jobs that looked like they would happen, we went to shiny offices, we got excited about the projects – then we never heard from the producers ever again.
Although I met Bruce Springsteen, I regretted not getting a better photo. Honestly, this bugged me for at least a week.
But anyway…keeping this on a positive. One of my favourite things about this year has been building my network of fellow writers. Through this blog and Twitter, I’ve engaged with some really inspirational people. Writers like you, working their asses off, often with no guarantees of pay or credits. A community of people who don’t feel like competitors but more like supporters and friends. This is a win! I hope to meet many more and look forward to sharing successes with you.
So here’s to 2020. I genuinely wish you a good one and hope it’s your most successful yet. Once again I’ll be pushing to top the previous year and I want you to do the same. Remember to look for the wins. Sometimes they’re more subtle than you think. If you meet Bruce Springsteen, don’t wear your new glasses without first checking they sit right on your face, try to remember to set your camera to ‘live mode’ that way you’ll have more chances of capturing a good shot, and make sure nobody passes a vinyl behind you just as you snap, as it’ll look like the picture is split in half and everybody will think you’ve photoshopped the whole thing even though you haven’t and you definitely did meet Bruce Springsteen.
Above all else – I hope you get money and get funny again.