DMs are Open – Don’t Give Up!

DMs are Open series 1 has flown by and we’re already approaching episode 4 of 6. It’s nearly over!

Since I wrote my first two blogs (this and this) about the show before it had even started, I thought it was time to reflect on the series so far and to scream at you to NOT GIVE UP! DON’T GIVE UP! OKAY? I KNOW IT’S HARD, BUT YOU’VE GOT THIS! YOU’RE SO CLOSE, YOU DON’T EVEN REALISE IT!

I burst into the series with energy, enthusiasm, and what I thought was a strong submission. I was pretty confident about it for the whole week. Thursday rolled around… and my inbox was DEAD. Then I saw the tweet saying that emails had gone out to the successful writers. I checked my inbox again. Nothing. 5 people from my Mario Kart networking group (yes, that’s a thing and yes it’s full of superstars) got credits, so did a bunch of people on Twitter. I checked my inbox on my desktop in case my phone app was playing up. Still nothing. Huh.

Full disclosure – after that first episode disappointment, I did BRIEFLY think about not bothering again. It’s a lot of work to write three sketches, two jokes, and a voicenote over the weekend. I have a wife, three kids, a day job, and I enjoy not getting stressed out because I don’t have ideas for sketches. What’s the point in spending my time doing all this, if my efforts are going to be met with nothing but a crushing sense of defeat?

I’m sure all of us have moments like this throughout the run of a show like DMs are Open. It would be weird not to. We pour SO MUCH into our submissions, it’s hard not to have a little sulk when we don’t get any acknowledgement or reward.

So go ahead and wallow! Soak up that Thursday evening sulk. You’ve earned it. But just make sure you pick yourself up ready to start over the next day.

I listened to the show. I enjoyed it but I also saw where I’d gone wrong – I’d written for Newsjack NOT DMs are Open! This show has a different voice, a different tone, and a different target audience. I needed to get a bit edgier and be a bit more playful. The next day I started over and I haven’t stopped.

We’re ALMOST at the end. Some of us have credits (holla! I cracked it in episode 3 with a sketch and a one-liner), some of us have had a ‘nearly’ email (holla… again! I had a voicenote cut from episode 2) and MOST of us have had nothing but empty inboxes. That’s fine. There’s still time. We’re ALMOST at the end but we’re not there yet.

If you’re reading this, you’re obviously passionate about the show. Don’t forget that. That passion will take you all the way. You just have to stick with it. Even when it’s hard, and you’re tired, and you thought you sent your best ever material and got nothing, and you’re newsfeed is full of people saying they got in. Stick with it.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind as we enter the final weeks:

Just because you haven’t got a credit, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer

HUNDREDS of people submit to each episode. Maybe THOUSANDS. There isn’t enough room to include every good sketch, joke, and voicenote. The odds are against you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer.

A nice way of knowing how you’re doing is to receive a ‘nearly’ email. This way you know that your material made the script, but was unfortunately cut during the edit. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t as good as the things that did go all the way. It just didn’t quite fit. If you get a nearly email – it’s a win!

But there’s also a whole lot of submissions that nearly get a nearly. You don’t get told about it if you make this stage. So just assume you’re reaching this stage every week and stick with it.

Be a good listener

Having said that, it’s important to also LISTEN to the show and reflect on what you are sending in. Are your submissions hitting the right notes? Are you tackling the right subjects? Is your tone right or are you being a bit too critical or offensive? Do you understand the audience that you’re writing for? Are you writing for the audience or yourself?

Make sure you’re paying attention to the types of stories the producers cover, the jokes they include and really consider if your work is capturing the voice of the show. I recommend listening to each episode twice. Once as a listener and once to study it.

Also think about the style of sketches you’re sending. If there’s a Bond style sketch one week, maybe don’t send a Bond style sketch to the next episode?

Sketches often feature a lot of music cues, sound effects, and stings. Include these in your writing. Make it pop off the page and show that this is an interesting sketch to LISTEN to. Have fun and be playful. Can an FX help to amplify a joke? Can you show character with music or sounds? What pictures can you build in the listeners head?

Don’t forget to pay attention to the voices of the hosts, Athena and Ali. Try and include an intro for them to lead into your sketch and write it in their voices. The aim of this is to contextualise and establish your sketch, meaning you can get into it cleanly and quickly and bring the audience/reader with you. A structure I try and go for is:

Factual set up (ATHENA: Did you hear that blah blah blah?)
Joke (ALI: What, I always thought JOKE!)
Transition (ATHENA or ALI: But what if…)

Know that things change

I’m always going on about this, but remember, part of the creative process is that things change.

I like to think of submitting sketches as submitting ideas (it even calls it this on the DMs are Open website!).

Even if you don’t quite nail a script, you may have a really strong concept. A good intro can help you to clearly present your idea (oh this is a sketch about what the world would be like if THIS). The team will take this and run with it. It could result in a sketch that doesn’t resemble your original submission, but you will still be credited and paid.

It can feel like a bit of a cheat. It can also be disheartening to be told your work is going to be broadcast, and then it isn’t, it’s just your idea…kinda. But this is the process and it’s normal. If it happens to you, don’t feel like you’re a bad writer. Your submission stood out and it went all the way. It’s a win!

Try and submit the full amount

It’s quite tough to write three sketches in a weekend but if you can manage it, your odds improve with each one. Even if you struggle to write a good sketch, just get your idea across on the page with clarity. You never know.

Same with one-liners and voice notes, send your full amount.

3 sketches, 2 one-liners, 1 voicenote – every week.

Think of it as a gym

If you send the full amount, by the end of this series you will have written:

18 new sketches

12 new jokes

6 new voicenotes (you may even not hate the sound of your own voice by the end of it! Maybe.)

By doing that, you will have improved as a writer. That’s how it works.

So take away the element of getting broadcast and receiving credits, if you think of DMs are Open as some kind of joke-writing gym, you won’t see it as a waste of your time. You’ll see it as progress.

Remember that you’re building a career

One of the great things about the show, is that your work is being seen by various people at the BBC. People who may want to work with you on other projects. I once emailed a BBC producer to introduce myself and he replied saying, “oh yeah, I know you. I’ve read some of your Newsjack submissions.” We’ve never worked together, but you get my point.

As well as getting your name known, you’re also building a portfolio.

Within those new sketches and jokes, you may have something that you could develop or use elsewhere. You may have sketches that would be suitable for another brief (such as BCG Pro’s annual sketch writing contest or a BBC Writersroom initiative). You may have jokes that could be rewritten to suit Breaking the News on BBC Scotland. You may realise you have sketches that you could self-produce on YouTube or for a podcast.

Through doing voicenotes, you may realise that you actually enjoy performing. You may join an improv group, try and open-mic or join TikTok. You may have the foundation of a fun new comedy character that you could write a sitcom for.

My point is, none of this is wasted.

Don’t give up.

We have two more weeks of submissions. If you’ve made it this far, PLEASE stick with it. There’s no point in bailing now.

In my NEXT blog, I’m going to share some final tips to help with the last two episodes, including advice and lessons from fellow writers on Twitter.

Oh and hey, if you found this useful, I have a Ko-Fi and enjoy coffee and appreciation from strangers.

The Comedy Loser