The BBC has a scheme called the BBC writersroom, which aims to nurture new and emerging writing talent in film, TV, radio and theatre. They run a Writers Academy, graduates from which are offered opportunities to write for current BBC television and radio shows. It is not currently something I’d put myself forward for, mainly because I’m not confident about the technical requirements for scriptwriting, and at the moment want to concentrate on prose.
I do follow the writersroom blog however, and was struck by an entry on Wednesday. The author was giving a talk on writer training, and mentioned why they believed that sometimes new writers failed when writing for the shows the author worked on. Essentially, they lacked passion for the show, and sometimes they didn’t even watch them.
Another writer interrupted to make the following statement:
Well we all know that writers on ‘those shows’ only write them to pay their mortgages.
There are two interesting attitudes tied up in that statement. Firstly, what is wrong with doing paid work in order to pay your mortgage? I have a day job. It isn’t my career, it is my job. I do it to pay my rent, pay my bills, buy food. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about my job, that I don’t feel frustrated when things go wrong, or don’t feel proud when I’ve done a good job.
But the second attitude is more disturbing – the snobbery towards certain types of writing. “Those shows” in the quote above are what the BBC term “Continuing Dramas”. These can be onrunning, albeit periodic drama series, to soap operas. In the UK, Eastenders, Casualty and Larkrise to Candleford would all qualify as Continuing Dramas. For the US audience, this catch all term would include everything from Heroes and ER, to The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless.
Yes, we all know that the quality of such dramas can vary. A high concept drama will always be more intellectually challenging than a soap opera. But that doesn’t make the writing “worse” or “unworthy”. The disparaging attitude to those who write such shows, that they only do so purely for the money, implies that such writing is easy, which belittles the work being done.
Yes, they aren’t writing the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But there is still skill involved, still the same problems that all writers encounter. And if you don’t show enough enthusiasm to find out about the show, to understand why the audience loves it, then you’re not going do as good a job as you can. That is disrespectful to yourself as a writer, and to the company which is paying you to write.
And isn’t that the dream? To be paid to do what we’re all doing for nothing at the moment?
Or is it only writing if you suffer in obscure poverty for it? I don’t believe that. Many fine writers of critical acclaim, who got their breaks on Continuing Dramas, don’t believe that. It seems the only ones who believe that are the “undiscovered genii” who would doubtless jump at the chance to be paid to work on “those shows”.