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Friday, December 09, 2005

Letter to a budding playwright.

If I could just offer a little advice 'man to man' and I could just council the tiniest bit of 'caution' and offer a personal opinion.

In Writers Groups, and I’ve been to quite a few over the years, a little situation that crops up now and again is the very welcome ‘new’ person appearing from nowhere and announcing to the ‘older’ members – many of whom have been at it one way or another for quite a few years - that they, the ‘new’ person, have decided they are going to be a writer. The ‘new’ person often say’s it in such a way that makes the older members feel a bit uncomfortable, and a strange simultaneous mixture of superiority and nervousness, as they remember their own ideals and optimism when they started out on the same road all those years before, and the things they then thought and said, and they squirm in they’re seats, and they want to say something, which they frequently don’t. To often this ‘new’ person disappears again – weeks or months later - nobody knows where to – and another unique voice is lost – and the writers squirm and don’t say anything about that either.

Now I’d say that Writing is arguably one of the most competitive fields in Public Life that there is. It is estimated that the entire UK Publishing Industry together publishes much less than a 100 first time Authors each year - and that is one of the more optimistic estimates - and remember most of those are TV Presenters, Journalists and 'connected' people. Theatre is even more competitive with maybe a dozen, if that, making the initial breakthrough each year. In the Theatre World there is a really quite vicious rat fight over the very limited resources that there are, and you need to remember the quality of the people you are up against - people with Degrees, and decades experience as writers, Actors and theatre practitioners - and a host of other qualities and capabilities. Its very easy as a 'newcomer' to any field be a bit of an 'innocent abroad' and gush 'naive enthusiasm'. I think it is important that you remember that this is not a road you are the first person to travel, and though the prestige and rewards of succeeding are immense and well documented you need to not underestimate how difficult and competitive the field you are entering is. Yes, in any field there are people who break through, against the odds, with a mixture of brilliance, persistence, hard work and luck, but for every one of those there are countless deserving others who don’t. Even in my very limited circles I know a dozen budding playwrights - and frankly most of them are pretty good - admittedly one has made a breakthrough in the last year and smashed the glass ceiling - but even that is after two very long decades of hard work. I guess you need to be aware that you’re trying to barge a very, very long queue, and there are some very good people already ahead of you in it.

To make a few fatuous examples; if you look at the raw numbers it is arguably easier to make a record that gets in the pop charts, get elected to a high political office, become a TV personality, or play for a premiership football club than become what many people would regard as a ‘successful’ writer.

I’d hate to do anything to dissuade or discourage you - but Id hate to mislead or deceive you either. I think if your going to throw yourself into this, you need to be doing it for the right reasons - and not waste time perusing something that may just be a pipe dream.

Now there absolutely is no reason why you, any less than anyone else, shouldn’t be the one in a million, and I’d really encourage you to write, but I’d hate to leave you thinking this was a smaller task than it is. And there are a thousand absolutely fantastic reasons to write other than being the next big whatever.

Anyway end opinion. I didn’t mean it to turn into such a lecture.


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