Being a writer is pretty much a life of constant disappointment with (if you’re lucky) just enough success to spur you on to continue on the journey to nowhere through the sea of failure. You’ve probably been reading this blog long enough to see writing project after writing project getting a certain distance in their gestation before being cruelly strangled at (or before) birth by the insane midwives that are TV commissioners. Or occasionally by me, their own parent, neglecting or rejecting them myself.
Some of the babies survive the process to be placed in an incubator for possible resuscitation later (still hoping that what I consider my best script “Everything Happens (For No Reason)” might see the light of day), but not since 2007 have I had a TV script made. I was credited as writer on one episode of Man Down since then, but little or nothing of the draft I wrote actually made it to air. The quiet and largely secret success of Relativity is the only time I’ve had something produced and without that I might have decided to finally give up on script writing and coast along on the more lucrative and much easier parts of my job. It would be a shame. I think I am a good writer, even if seemingly all the people who commission TV largely disagree. It’s sometimes hard not to be swallowed up by the weight of evidence and opinion that seems to suggest I am not actually any good. Luckily there is some evidence that I am OK at it. Or once was. But self doubt plagues any sane creative person.
The tragedy for any aspirant writers out there is this terrible degree of failure still puts me in maybe the top 5% of writers in the UK. I generally get paid for my work even when it’s not made and I have been fairly constantly commissioned to write stuff over the years. As director and actor award winners speeches generally show, being a writer is literally a thankless job. Even if you get stuff made and t’s good enough to win awards, people think that pretty much anyone but you is responsible for the success. Though out of all the jobs involved in making a TV show, writing, especially if you created the whole idea, is arguably the most crucial. And maybe the hardest to fake your way through.
Not that it’s a competition. A successful project will come about due to the synergy of everyone or nearly everyone being good at what they’re doing. My point is that the public faces of a project aren’t as important as those that you don’t see and (if they are doing their job well) you don’t even notice.
Anyway, the long and the short of it, is the producer got back to me about the script that I have been working on for four months (as one of several writers working on a show that is definitely getting made) to tell me that it wasn’t what they were looking for and someone else is going to have to rewrite it. I had felt I’d done a good job, but was also aware that it could go one way or the other and they’d think it was great or not great. If I’d had to chose I would have guessed that I’d more or less got it this time, though they would certainly ask for rewrites (I’d given them an earlyish draft as I wanted to make sure I didn’t spend ages on something that turned out to be wrong as I had with the first script). But I was surprised that they were actually taking the thing away from me.
Of course that hurts, not least because of the length of time and working over some of the Christmas holidays, but also because it’s a fairly embarrassing rejection of my work. The producer tried to sugar the pill and in some ways was more upset than me about it, but it’s hard not to feel like I’ve wasted everyone else’s time as well as my own. I always thought I was pretty good at shifting between various comedy styles, but maybe all these years of solo work have made my style stand out too much and overwhelm a script that has to fit in with someone else’s tone. Maybe I am too long in the tooth to work on someone else’s thing. But it would have been nice to have been writing on a thing that got made.
I assume my name will still appear on the credits somewhere - the writers’ meetings did mean that our ideas should appear across the series, but it’s unlikely to give me a big enough credit to be useful in getting my own projects green lit.
It was sad.
And then in the typical rollercoaster of show business, I went to a meeting about something else, which seemed to go incredibly well and get as close to someone saying “Let’s do this” in the first meeting as I’ve probably ever had. Not to say that means that that is what will transpire. But how are you meant to feel after being rejected by someone you’ve been with for months, only to be picked up by someone you’ve only just met. The sadness of the loss largely overwhelmed the positivity of the possibly successful coupling, even though the latter is probably more of the direction I should be going in.
It reminded me, in reverse, of that day I had the brilliant meeting about the Emergency Questions book followed by the awful meeting about Everything Happens. It’s probably good to get bad news and good news on the same day. And probably good to get the good news second.
It’s a gut punch, but I am reminded of how fortunate I am and luckily having been punched in the gut so often I can absorb the blow a bit better than others might. But like Houdini one day I might be caught off guard and finally destroyed.
It’s too late to give up on any of this. I will keep getting punched in the gut til they get tired and fed up and decide to reward my resolve.
On we go.
At least I don’t have to do any rewrites. And I still get paid. There are worse things that could have happened.