Thursday, June 05, 2008

The dialogue person

To mark five years of his own blog, the noble and gallant Duke, Lord James Moran has posted a whole bundle of things he's learnt as a writer. And what a wondrous collection it is, too. I'm delighted his 1-in-10 hit rate is roughly the same as mine (if, ahem, mine's on a much smaller scale).

A moran is, of course, a Maasai warrior, after he's passed the initiation of being circumcised. Morans share their wives, go in for jumping competitions, and wear coloured sheets called shuka.

Anyway, here's a handful of other pointers:

Nobody owes you a job
Really, they don't. Even if you know them, even if you bought them drinks, even if they employed you before. Even if your idea or finished story is the most fantabulous thing in the universe. When they say "no", they mean it. Don't hang on like a stalker ex. You just walk away.

Likewise, if they say, "That sounds interesting - email me," or "Can you write that up," that's code for "Go away just now." Don't continue to harrass them about your brilliant idea; you're just making them less likely to love it. Especially if they're in a pub or anywhere else not on duty. They don't owe you this. And it's really very creepy if you're still following on their heels, explaining your brilliant idea, as they go to the toilet.

(This happened to me once. Well-meaning bloke still pitching to me while I was having a pee.)

Make it easy
James quotes the great Wil Wheaton's "Don't be a dick". And that's true. Be as not like a dick as you can be. (I see various people at least raising their eyebrows at me of all people saying this.) But also make things easy for the people you are working with, and also those people you're not. It's a small world and you never know when you'll bump into these people again, or what position they'll be in. You don't want to be the difficult genius who makes everyone's lives just impossible. Be the perfectly competent workman who can just get on with the job.

That doesn't mean just doing whatever they say. If you think something's wrong, you say it; you get to argue your case. But if whoever's in charge then makes a decision, you kind of have to abide by it. No use storming off or shouting at them. They're the ones in charge. As it will tell you in the contract you signed.

You don't want to have to surrender your genius? Well, you'll have to produce it yourself. Good luck! You want someone to stump up the cash and make your writing into a real thing? Then they get a say.

Don't get comfortable
Once you've been doing this a while, once you've found your style and "voice", make sure you're still stretching. Try different styles, try different voices. The broader portfolio of things you can do, the more likely you'll stay employed. But also (and perhaps more importantly) the more you stretch and hone your writing. As one editor told me recently, when it feels easy you are doing it wrong.

Pay the rent
There's this idea of writers in smocks in garrets, all booze and syphilis and frustration. I know people who've lived off food parcels, or been late on a deadline 'cos their word processing kit got impounded by bailiffs. Get a day job if you need to. Get one that involves writing if you can. (Again, writing adverts and labels and speeches and jokes all strecthes what you can do.)

And don't carp on at your editors, like it's all their fault. Especially when they pay you on time. You don't want to give them the impression they employ you out of pity rather than 'cos you're good.

Call for back-up
I've got an accountant, know a few lawyers and have used their sage advice quite a lot. It's much easier to chase madly late payment. One time I was several thousand pounds out of pocket at Christmas, and had to get a lawyer involved. Having big guns on your side is good because they have to start taking you seriously.

(I don't, though, have an agent. I don't need one for what I do at the moment; it's all take-it-or-leave-it fixed rates and conditions. It's haggling over that stuff which - I think without having one - that an agent is for. They have the awkward conversations so that you don't have to. They're not there to edit your stuff or tell you you're brilliant (though the good ones do that as well).

That said, one of the projects I'm working on might mean I need an agent...)

Enjoy it
You don't have to be a writer. Or rather, you can write just for yourself. So if you're going to make a go of writing for a living, just remember that it's your choice. 'Cos if it's just like any other daggy old job, you might as well get one with more regular payment and hours.

And that's it.

This blog, incidentally, was three years' old on Monday.


Lucy V said...

Is the name of this blog a quote from the epic that is Labyrinth??? Please say yes!

Happy blogday btw.

0tralala said...

It is indeed Bowie-as-crone. And thank you.

James Moran said...

Dude, this is righteous, I must link you up immediately and pretend I tagged you, thereby taking a share of the credit. That will be 9 pence, please.

Le Mc said...

Thank you. Mr Moran's post was one of the best non-BS things I've ever read about writing, and this comes as a welcome addendum.