Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Santa Baby

Dear Father Christmas.
This year I’ve been a good little writer. I promise. I’ve hit all my deadlines (eventually), I’ve only sworn at producers and script editors AFTER I’ve put the phone down, I paid my BBC licence fee and my Writers’ Guild subs. I watched ALL of Dancing on the Edge (and didn’t ask for a damn rebate on said licence fee or the six wasted hours of my life back).  I’ve tweeted responsibly and I’ve supported British films at the box office. I even went to the theatre a couple of times, goddammit.

So, I think I deserve to get everything on my Christmas List.  Here goes…
Could you bring me a nice shiny coin? It’s not for me. It’s for the commissioners at a certain UK channel. It seems to me that the only way to get a decision out of them is to call heads or tails. The thing is, there is nothing more guaranteed to strip the passion (that they claim to want) out of a project than to have the powers that be umm and ahh over it for months on end.  I think someone should tell them that around the 7th draft of a treatment, you start to hope that your show/episode won’t actually get commissioned because you couldn’t stand to write the fucking thing. At draft 9 you lose the will to live. At draft 10 someone should call Amnesty International.

I’d like some sparkly new dramas that don’t rely on women being murdered, raped and menaced for plot and story. That means no more dead prostitutes (there must be a skip full of them at the back of Broadcasting House), no more terrified women who don’t call the police because that would fuck up the story and no more charismatic misogynists. It’s been done to the point of utter cliché.

I’d also like some new female characters to play with. Sparky, complicated, flawed, intelligent, powerful LEAD female characters (no  Barbie dolls). You might have to buy those from America or maybe Denmark, they seem to have loads. And could you put some of them on the telly on Saturday night? I’m a bit bored of the companions and damsels in distress that we already have.

Actually, scratch those last two items. I think I know what I really want; more women writing telly. Not just the soaps and stuff about pensioners falling in love. I want women writing stuff that has swords and time-travel and police officers and dinosaurs in it. I can’t be the only good little girl who wants to write a car chase for Christmas. I want to play with the boy’s toys but they don’t seem to know how to share.

Oh, by the way, can you not bring me any more bullshit books telling me how I should write? You know the ones written by people who have never written a damn script in their lives? I’ve got loads and I’ve never got past the third chapter in most of them. I’ve been too busy actually writing. I'd rather get socks. Or herpes.

Finally, this Christmas, I’d like some friends to play with. I’d like producers and script editors to stop keeping writers apart like we’d create a rift in the time/space continuum if we actually end up in the same room together. The thing is that when you put writers together we are combustible; brilliantly so.

Seriously Santa, this year I want to explode with creativity and ideas but it’s really hard to do alone. So, can you ask the nice people on all the shows and all the channels to get us around a table, try a story conference or even throw us a party? Can you also give nice presents to the nice telly people who did just that? But you should only put lumps of coal in the stockings of those producers who treat writers like mushrooms by keeping us in the dark and up to our necks in shit. Remember a writer is for life, not just for Christmas.

And I think that’s it. It’s all a girl could want and hope to find under the tree this year.

Although, without wishing to be ungrateful, there are still outstanding items from last year’s list. I am assuming that you’ll be delivering them this year, yes? Just to remind you, I’m still waiting for my working Iron Man suit and a snog off of the real Thor. If you don’t deliver this year, I’ll have to stop believing in you and send next year’s list to Amazon.

Yours With Jingle Bells
Aged 39 and five quarters.
PS: A very, very Merry Christmas and a happy, creative, successful 2014 to all the other boys and girls out there in Writer-land.

Monday, 2 September 2013

FInd The Lady

There’s a new game sweeping the internet. Have you played it yet? It’s not Candy Crush or Scrabble. It’s called ‘Count The Women in the BBC Drama Trailer’. Want to play? Here you go…


Now, I’ve had estimates on Twitter ranging from 3 to 20. There are bonus points to be earned. How many lines of moody dialogue were delivered in a female voice? I’ll give you a clue; it’s a number between zero and fuck all. How many of the shows featured have a female lead? How many of the male actors featured could you name? How many of the women? For the record, the programmes showcased in the trailer are Sherlock, Ripper Street, The Great Train Robbery, What Remains, The Musketeers, The Escape Artist and By Any Means. How many of those shows do you think have female protagonists?
Sidebar: I think the trailer is also distinctly lacking in racial diversity and I didn’t see any disabled characters either. But as I’m white and relatively able-bodied, I’ll talk about the lack of vaginas, not melanin and wheelchairs. Feel free to comment on any of those other issues, though.
Now, someone on Twitter pointed out that this is just a trailer. It’s an advert and is designed to sell. He rationalised that men sell action and drama. That they are men that other men want to be. Well, I don’t want to be a man. So what I supposed to aspire to? To be shagged by them? Or, if you look at British drama’s recent record, to be shagged by them and then killed in well-shot, soft focus ritual killing?
How long are we going to carry on reinforcing the idea that women are passive and men active? Apart from anything else, it’s dated bullshit. Women are in the police, fire service, the armed forces, politics and the frontline NHS. They are also criminals and prisoners (not just their wives). They win gold medals for us in the Olympics and Paralympics. I really thought this might be the year that was reflected on my TV screen.
Let’s take a look at one specific BBC TV slot in particular. The Saturday teatime drama slot. Where you’ll find/would have found Doctor Who, Merlin, Robin Hood and very soon Atlantis. That’s the coveted slot when families are supposed to sit down together to watch something exciting and inclusive. Something that will have kids running around wielding imaginary sonic screwdrivers or good old-fashioned swords pretending to be their favourite characters. But who are the little girls supposed to pretend to be? A Timelord’s companion? A chambermaid who marries into the Camelot Royal family? Where are the female role models? It won’t come as a huge shock to hear that the protagonist of Atlantis is called Jason, not Jessica.
Look, I’m not saying that women are invisible on telly. Thank the Goddess for Vera, The White Queen and Scott & Bailey. But it’s not an improving picture and this trailer made my heart sink. But I’m all about solutions, not problems. What can we do about this?
Easy-peasy. Employ more female writers and directors, because it’s not just actresses that are conspicuous by their absence from that trailer. None of the lead writers of those eight shows are women. Not one. That's just not good enough.
I was heartened to hear that Doctor Who is actively looking for female directors to work on the next series. But what about the writers?
At this year’s BBC TV Writers’ Festival, Steven Moffat was asked why the show hadn’t featured a female writer since 2008. His answer was (in my opinion) defensive and unsatisfactory. He claimed that female writers had been offered episodes and had turned them down. I have no reason to disbelieve him, but I do wonder exactly how many female writers have been approached.
He also claimed that not enough women write genre and was backed up by his interviewer Toby Whithouse in reference to his show Being Human. I assume they meant that not enough women are writing sci-fi, horror and fantasy. My follow-up question would be; if not enough women are writing genre TV, what are you doing to change it? How about looking beyond sci-fi and fantasy? How about just looking for really good writers? Because a working knowledge of the Tardis is useful for a Doctor Who writer; but isn’t a working knowledge of structure, great dialogue and character actually more important? In my opinion, Mr Moffat is robbing himself of some great writers by being so utterly limited in his search.

As I said in a previous blog, I don’t believe in positive discrimination on writing teams. I do, however, believe in the positive impact that a diverse writing team can have on a TV series. I think a diversity of experience can only be a good thing when developing original, surprising stories and characters. In fact, I believe it’s increasingly essential. I also believe it won’t happen without some actual action on the part of producers, showrunners and commissioners.
I’m throwing down the gauntlet to those people. The next time you're putting together your publicity package for the new season's drama, can we have a better ratio of women on screen. And can they not be murder victims or the protagonist's wife? Can we actually hear a woman's voice on the trailer? I don't think it's much to ask. You may disagree, feel free to comment.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Wrong (United) State Of Mind.

I had so much planned this weekend. I was going to do all sorts around the house in preparation for an intense period of writing that inevitably will result in the whole place being a festering shit tip. However, what I actually managed to achieve was a couple of loads of washing and a trip to the Co-op with my coat on over my pyjamas. And that was because I made a fatal mistake. On Friday night, I watched the first episode of Sons of Anarchy; the US TV drama about a Californian Motorcycle Club.
The show is a pretty heady mix of motorbikes, snarling powerhouse performances, sex, drugs and violence. And once I’d watched one, I needed to watch more. Unfortunately, thanks to the wonders of a Lovefilm subscription and my Wii, I had the wherewithal to do just that. By Sunday evening, I was gasping and sobbing my way through the Season 2 finale. And I could have gone on to Season 3, but Monday morning and a trip to London prevented me.
By the way, I bought the Wii so I could get fit without leaving the house. Yeah, that happened.
Still, as I watched episode after episode, one question hung in the air. It’s something I believe every TV writer asks him/herself when watching something they really love that comes from across the pond.

Why aren’t we making shows like this in the UK?
Because we’re not. Don’t get me wrong, we make good TV in Great Britain. But seriously, are we making anything that inspires the loyalty, love and devotion that shows like Dexter, Friday Night Lights, True Blood, ER, Glee, Nashville, Southland, The Good Wife, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Buffy, The West Wing etc. do?  I’m quite sure you could add to that list but those are just my personal favourites.  They are the shows that get my series links and my hard earned box set money.
The US versus UK Television is a favourite topic of conversation wherever writers gather. As we huddle together over black coffee and simmering resentment, we wax lyrical about our favourite episodes and bemoan the lack of something similar on our home grown channels. The thing is we never quite get to the bottom of why UK TV does not compete. Is it just a question of money? Or is there something more fundamental at play? I don’t pretend to know the answers, but I feel the need to outline some theories and air some frustrations.
They’re not set in stone, I don’t have the answers and I welcome anyone who disagrees or has their own theories. So…
The Financial Theory. It’s the go-to excuse when producers and commissioners are quizzed about the gap between US and UK product. And it’s a fair cop. The Yanks are seemingly drowning in money. It’s worth noting that many of the shows on my list originated from pay-to-view channels like AMC, HBO and Showtime. They have subscribers who pay to get the best telly and the channels put that money up on the screen. In recent years, all this filthy lucre has lured big names into TV production. Steven Spielberg, Frank Darabont, Ridley Scott and his late brother Tony have all produced big budget beauties. It seems a shame that Ridley is producing telly in the States and not his native South Shields.  However, it’s worth noting that both Richard Curtis and the much-missed Anthony Minghella came back to the BBC after Hollywood success.
As for actors, the road between TV and Film is no longer a one way street. There’s no shame in going from box office to the box anymore. I should imagine that decent pay scales have something to do with that. And you can’t help but notice that much of the on-screen talent in those bid US series is British. Stephen Moyer, Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, Damien Lewis, Kevin McKidd have all dusted off their American accents and taken lead roles.
Of course, that’s not just about money but also the availability and quality of parts. Especially for black actors like David Harewood, Idris Elba, David Oyelowo and Marianne Jean-Baptiste who had to go Stateside to get lead roles outside of the Holby NHS or Albert Square. For God’s sake, the last thing that the impressive Colin Salmon did on British TV was Strictly Come Dancing! Something wrong here surely? And heaven help us if our female actors cotton on what is available over the pond, because there’s precious little for them to get their teeth into over here unless they like wearing bonnets.

So, we have the talent. It’s just all on the red-eye into LAX.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, there is no doubt that money is often too tight to mention. Smaller budgets and tighter schedules mean that corners are cut and goodwill is often abused to breaking point.  For a little while there, BSkyB was the big white hope with writers assuring each other that the commissioners at Sky 1, Living and Arts were chucking money about like it was going out of fashion. However, when they paid a few billion to secure the Premiership, F1 Racing and the cricket, it became clear where their priorities lay. They’re still showing top notch TV but they’re buying it in from HBO and banging it on their own Pay To View premium channel; Sky Atlantic.
And even when they were financing projects, can we really say that they have produced anything truly unmissable? I’ve enjoyed Strike Back, Stella and Mad Dogs but they haven’t inspired the same loyalty in me that just one episode of Battlestar Galactica or The Wire did.
However, I would also argue that constrained budgets have also produced some of the best British TV. It seems to bring out the gung-ho inventiveness in our best writers and producers. Let’s think about Misfits, Being Human, Skins and the recent In The Flesh. All mind-blowingly well-written, cult TV shows made on a shoestring. They looked great, unearthed new talent and inspired loyalty in their audience. Maybe UK writers and producers work better under the financial cosh?
Still, could they have maintained that quality over 13 episodes per series? That’s the other big, enviable difference between us and the States. And I mean enviable. How wonderful would it be to develop characters and slow burning, far reaching, arcing stories over that number of episodes? The very thought of it makes me salivate. And it works. US TV has produced some of the most interesting, multi-layered characters in that luxurious longer series format. Would we have a UK version of Don Draper, Stringer Bell or Nurse Jackie if we allowed our series to run on just a little?
Of course, the reason our American cousins can keep a series going for that length of time is because they use the far more sustainable Writers’ Room system.  Series stories are discussed, developed and planned by a committee of writers in an actual room whilst individual writers go away and write scripts for the episodes. The shows tap into both collective inspiration and individual flare.
Of course, it’s not true to say that we have completely eschewed this system in the UK. That’s pretty much what happens on most of the soaps in one form or another.
However, the majority of big ticket shows in the UK rely initially on one writer beavering away and coming up with both stories and scripts with sporadic input from producers and script editors. Other writers are called upon but they tend to work in isolation too. Indeed, I would suggest that the powers-that-be are seemingly terrified of putting us writers in a room together; it happens so very rarely. And yes, I’ve heard all the arguments from the big wigs about the cost of the system and the claims that it wouldn’t work in this country. And you know what I say? Bollocks.
There is something magical that happens when writers work together. Obviously once we’ve all drunk our own weight in coffee and bitched about the last episode of Doctor Who. Still, once that is out of the way, there is something about being in that unique atmosphere that emboldens and inspires. Ideas are prefaced with phrases like “This is probably a bit mad…” or “We definitely shouldn’t do this, but what if…”. And you know what? The ideas are a bit mad and we shouldn’t do them, but the collective whirring of brains finds a way to make it work. Those multiple “What if” moments don’t happen when you’re alone and desperate to fill your page. And maybe that’s why British TV so very rarely surprises me these days.

Maybe it’s time for the death of the author?

By the way, in my opinion,  the Writers’ Room system provides a clear career structure for writers instead of keeping them on tenterhooks as they go from job to job. It gives them the actual power. Like I said, maybe someone is scared of putting us in a room together.

However, there are also some (also in my opinion) insurmountable cultural and national differences between UK and US TV drama.

First of all, if I remember my geography correctly; America is quite big. So big that it is possible for big things to happen to small communities without it turning into national news. Sunnydale can have a 7 year vampire problem and then disappear into the ground without CNN sending in a news crew. The small town of Charming can be run by biker gangs and bent coppers without the Whitehouse sending in the National Guard. There is dangerous wilderness and huge tracks of land to get lost in for a lifetime. In the UK you’d struggle to be lost for a couple of days. It’s actually hard to make stories feel big and impactful in a UK setting.
In fact, here’s an exercise. Imagine a show about a comprehensive school’s soccer team. For five seasons you follow the ups and downs of the team members and their families. At the heart of the show is the PE Teacher, a man who inspires loyalty, love and honour in the boys at every team practise. Every match against other school teams feels like a fight for a better life, for something intangibly British and human.  Each episode leaves you heart broken and uplifted at the same time.
Yeah, doesn’t work. Does it? But it did on US TV in the critically acclaimed American Football drama Friday Night Lights.  Why can’t we transplant that brilliant show from Texas to Taunton? Is it that British love of self-deprecation that kicks it into touch every time? Do we have too much perspective? We know that a high school football game actually means very little in the scheme of things and we can’t pretend otherwise.

Look at how we write teenagers and young adults. American TV is awash with erudite, emotionally intense teen dramas; Glee, Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, Revenge etc. the Americans write young people as they see themselves; the centre of the entire  fucking universe. There is no sense of adult perspective. Of course when they fall in love, it will be forever. Of course winning a high school choir competition is the single most important thing that will ever happen to you. Of course, you can solve racism, sexism and homophobia with a heartfelt speech at the Prom. Meanwhile, in the UK, we write teenagers with a sneer, safe in the knowledge that the annoying little sods will get over it by listening to a One Direction CD in their bedrooms.
There is also something else that we can’t ignore; gun culture. I recently saw an interesting exchange on the IMDB page for Midsomer Murders. An overseas fan of the show was perplexed as to why the Midsomer constabulary are not armed. She pointed out the Inspector Barnaby and his DS were often sent into high risk situations; surely a firearm was in order? Now, I have written a few police dramas in my time and I have never felt the need to have any of my characters pull anything out of their pockets more dangerous than a police-issue notebook and pen. Still, it can’t be denied that US crime dramas are often solved with a shootout or a stand-off. There is no better way to raise the stakes than to write a deadly weapon into a scene.

And yet, that is one of things I definitely don’t want to change about British Telly. I don’t want The Doctor armed with anything beyond his Sonic Screwdriver. I think guns are often an easy out for a writer. The minute a suspect pulls a gun, the case if solved. S/he is the baddie and they are to be brought to justice, possibly with terminal force. I’d rather write deadly dialogue, even if that does mean I work a bit harder.
However, I would like us to adopt the American’s less po-faced attitude to criminality. For all the crime drama that this country produces, it is very rare that we make the most interesting characters the lead; the criminals. We’ve got every style of detective; old, young, clever, former Timelord, tropical, opera-loving, violin-playing former coke addicts. We work so bloody hard to make them, interesting; perhaps we could save ourselves a lot of work by looking at the really fascinating characters, the criminals themselves. But that still seems forbidden on UK TV. Sure we’ve had loveable rogues and the odd plastic East End gangster, but no long-running crime syndicates or off-the-grid outlaws. No Sopranos, Stringers or Sons of Anarchy.
And do you know how we could solve that? By banning script editors and producers from asking a question that now makes my blood run cold – But will we LIKE this character? Seriously, the next time I am asked that question, I am going to refuse to answer; because the job of the screenwriter is not to create a perfect little world where everybody is redeemable and lovely. It is insulting to both the writer and the audience to assume that they need to see character smile at a baby or cuddle a kitten before they can engage with him or her. Drama is a safe space to explore the darker side of life. By making the fictional world anodyne and safe, we are doing a disservice to the real world.

So, that’s my analysis. It’s simplistic and born of frustration not just at what I watch, but also at what I write. However, I do wonder how many British writers have projects and ideas that they have never dared to show because they sound a bit too ambitious? How many of us limit our imagination and creativity because it’s all just a bit too… Big? How many of us have started a pitch with the words “I know it sounds a bit American but…” like that is something for which we should apologise?
As ever thoughts, comments and full-blown take downs of this blog are encouraged.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

That Joke's Not Funny Anymore

These days it seems that you can’t open a newspaper without reading about another actress or TV presenter whining on about sexism in broadcasting. And then there is all that chatter about ‘rape culture’. And have we decided what the difference is between harmless banter and misogynist hate speech yet? Apparently not, if you tune into some of the comedy being broadcast in the UK at the moment.

Now, let me state for the record, I’m not a pearl-clutching, horrified letter to the Radio Times type. I like my comedy challenging, cheeky, shocking and unfettered by Daily Mail notions of taste and decency, thank you very much. However, the other night I saw something that had me questioning my sense of humour.

I had watched the first two episode of BBC3’s new comedy Way To Go with minimal engagement. I liked the central idea; three of life’s losers solve their financial problems by offering an amateur assisted-suicide service. The three lads were familiar characters; the eternally exasperated lad, the sex-obsessed gobby lad and the dumb lad. And they exchanged predictable laddish banter and got into scrapes. Nothing ground-breaking, but diverting enough.

And maybe that was what Bob Kushell, the American writer had in mind when he wrote episode three. Maybe he wanted to make an impact. That was the episode where we encountered the porn actress who told the Exasperated Lad that she had been sexually abused by her father but the reason she made porn was because she liked “getting shafted on camera” before offering him sex about thirty seconds after meeting him. Later she would be called upon to give an old man oral sex and would be casually referred to as a “dick smoker”.

Meanwhile, the Gobby Lad met a Goth girl at the fried chicken shop where she worked. The very first thing he said to her was about how he was imagining her giving him oral sex. Later, she would be referred to as a “skank” as his friends expressed incredulity that he intended to sleep with her. And sleep with her he did, all the while calling her a “bitch”, “skank” and a “dirty little whore”. But that was okay because she liked being insulted during sex.

By the way, the first words of dialogue from Dumb Lad were “Check out her nips”.

At the end of the episode I was shocked and not in a good way. Not in the “I can’t believe they got away with that, hurray for the BBC” way. I was shocked that such casual misogyny was allowed onto the BBC. The treatment of the Goth girl was particularly horrifying. Let’s imagine that initial encounter in the real world. Imagine that someone walks into your place of work and the first thing they say to you is that they are visualizing you performing oral sex on them. That wouldn’t be funny, that would be sexual harassment.

And the thing is, a lot of women don’t have to imagine that scenario, it happens every single day. If you don’t believe me, visit the Everyday Sexism site where women talk about how being sexually propositioned by strangers makes them feel.

Spoiler Alert: They don’t feel turned on or inclined to sleep with those strangers. They feel threatened and humiliated.

The men they talk about aren’t funny; they’re verbally violent and oppressive. And I should imagine that they use phrases like whore, slut and even dick smoker in everyday conversation.

And it’s that sort of language to which I particularly took offence. It is unacceptable for racist and homophobic epithets to be used in everyday conversation these days. And when used in a script they are used to typify a certain character and that is rarely your happy-go-lucky, hapless hero type. And that’s the way it should be.

So, when will we start extending the same courtesy to women? When will it stop being funny to call someone a whore, slut, slag or a bitch? I’ll give you a clue, it already has stopped being funny. I suggested that Bob Kushell may have been going for impact in the offending episode. Well, what I’d like writers to consider is the real world impact of this kind of language. I’d like to think how real women would feel if they were called bitch, skank or whore. How would you feel if you heard that language used in the workplace, playground or in the street. Would you laugh?

I don’t want any language censored or banned; I want us to take responsibility for its use. That language does filter down and is used by people with a lot less sophistication and intelligence than I would credit Bob Kushell and his fellow (all male) writers on Way To Go with. As writers (including myself) are quick to tell anyone who will listen; without us there is no show. There is a just a blank page. Well, that cuts two ways. If the project starts with us, then so does the responsibility. If you are putting that kind of language on the page then you better damn sure you know what you’re doing and you’re prepared to stand by it.

And maybe a big help would be more women on those writing teams. I’m not suggesting any form of positive discrimination. I want writing to be a meritocracy. And considering the considerable critical and ratings successes that female writers have been having recently, we should most certainly be seeing a better ratio of men to women.

A study done by The Writers’ Guild over a six month period in 2011 discovered that only 32% of scripts broadcast on BBC1, BBC2, Radio 3 and 4 were written by women. This seems bizarre to me. After all, who wouldn’t want a Sally Wainwright, Miranda Hart or Heidi Thomas on their writing team? After all, they were the powerhouses behind those rating behemoths Last Tango In Halifax, Miranda and Call The Midwife. Who wouldn’t want multiple and diverse perspectives in their story meetings? Although, as 50% of the population is female, a woman’s POV isn’t exactly “niche”.

To go back to Way To Go, I can’t help wondering if a woman casting an eye over the early drafts of the offending script might have piped up and said something about the language and the truth of the female experience. I know I would have done.

Monday, 7 January 2013

10 New Years Resolutions That Every Writer Should Break (and 5 They Shouldn't)

It’s that time of year again. The time for self-flagellation and not even in the good, 50 Shades way. It’s the time of year when you berate yourself for not being the non-smoking, teetotal, marathon-running fully-rounded, successful human being with a BMI in single figures that you wanted to be twelve months ago.

And writers are the worst offenders when it comes to self-loathing. We don’t watch the new season of TV drama with joy and hope in our hearts. We watch it with barely concealed jealousy and bitter hatred like Gollum with a laptop. Why haven’t we got our own series yet? Why didn’t we pitch a period drama about a fucking nineteenth century shopkeeper? We should have known! We should have had that idea. We wants the precious! Commission, that is.

And so as we watch the Hootenanny over the last of the Pringles and Baileys, we vow that next year will be different. Next year we’ll be watching clips of our show edited together with an edgy cover version soundtrack. Yeah, Original British Drama? We’re having double helpings of that.

Sidebar: Although I still question how ‘original’ the plethora of adaptations, reboots and period dramas actually are, but maybe that’s just me.

And so we make the same resolutions as last year. And then we’ll break them. And on the 31st of December 2013 we’ll probably be listening to boogie woogie piano and feeling shit again. BUT NO! Not on my watch. This year I’m here to help and tell you not only why you should make those resolutions but why you SHOULD break them. Here’s the top ten…

1. I will no longer procrastinate. I will sit at my desk, fire up Final Draft and just write.

Bollocks. Procrastination is to writers, as breathing is to other more fortunate human beings (the ones that don’t feel compelled to write). Accept that it is part of your process and that whilst you’re googling cute cat videos, you are actually working. The reason you haven’t put your fingers on the keyboard and started to type is because you haven’t anything to type yet. What’s floating about the back of your brain is still making its journey to the front. You have to give it a chance. And you know what will put the pedal to the metal? A deadline. You might still be at your desk at 4am and hating yourself for pissing away days of crystal clear writing time but the next broken resolution will help with that…

2. I will treat my writing like a job and work 9 ‘til 5.

Who died and made you Dolly Parton? This is the year when you will accept that writing is not a 9 to 5. If you wanted one of those then you’d get a proper job. You have to take the rough with the smooth. Sure there’ll be days when you’re sobbing into your keyboard during the wee small hours or bashing away whilst everyone else is watching The X-Factor. But there will also be days when you’ll be able to walk around Ikea without feeling homicidal because you could legitimately go on a weekday; instead of Saturday when all the couples go there for a bag of tealights and relationship endangering argument. Why not? You worked the weekend; you earned your stress free meatballs. Write when you can, not when you think you should.

3. I’m going to totally focus on finishing my one big project.

Well, done, you’ve just committed career suicide. We all have the dream script that we want to write when the time is right. When there are no distractions and when we can do the research, write without interruptions or having to break off. Guess what? That time will never happen. Actually, the more successful you are, less likely that dream time will ever exist. The reality of being a jobbing TV writer who can still pay the rent is that you have to multitask. You have to be writing a final draft, whilst putting together a treatment and pitching for your next job after that. And the reality is that, if you’re lucky, one in ten of your projects will get anywhere. If you focus on just one project you are going to be royally screwed if it goes south. And it more than likely will.

Again, this is the year you will accept that. And maybe the reason you’re still waiting for that mythical golden time to write your dream project is because it’s not ready to be written yet. Diversify. Although, at the risk of contradicting myself…

4. I’m going to generate a new idea every day.

A good idea? Or a box-ticker that you’ll waste your time on. It’s good to diversify. It means you go into meetings with a couple of aces up your sleeve if your big idea falls on stony ground. However, if you start rattling off ill-formed, half-pitches you run the risk of sounding like a desperate Alan Partridge. Monkey Tennis? Smell my cheese!

The number of projects that you have on your slate/in your back pockets depends on you. I juggle between five and seven at various stages of development. I keep a note of when and to whom I’ve pitched them to so that I know when to chase. If a project has had a knockback from all the usual suspects then I take it out of the rotation, pop it on the back burner and come back to it later. By that time, I can usually see what was wrong with it and then I can decide whether to bin it or rework it. Sometimes I realise the reason it got the knockback is because of that old chestnut – they had something similar in development.

Which brings me on to…

5. This is my make or break year. I’m setting myself a deadline and if I don’t have a commission in 12 months I’m packing it in and getting a proper job.

Did you not see the bit about going to Ikea? Why would you want to pack in something you love? And if you don’t love writing then you shouldn’t be bothering in the first place. Setting yourself an arbitrary timescale is unrealistic and naïve. It also suggests that you think that YOU are the only obstacle between yourself and your goals. First of all, that’s physically impossible unless you have like a time machine or some shit. Or a clone! Or maybe if you were in a parallel universe and there was some like string theory stuff going on….

Anyway, the unaltered reality is that there are many reasons why you haven’t had that commission yet and not all of them are fair. You can be a victim to the CONSTANT game of Producer Musical Chairs that seems to be going at both the BBC and ITV. Guess what? It’s not going to get any better this year. Premiership football managers have better job security than development producers and commissioners. And there is always the chance that they do ‘have something similar in development’. Or they could have run out of money. Or they could just not like the trainers you wore to the meeting. Shit happens and sometimes you just have to let it. I mean, you don’t have to be happy about it. We all love a good pissy moan, but don’t spend all your time feeling sorry for yourself. Take control of those things that you can – the words on the page. But if you give up writing, you’ve even lost that.

6. I’m going to go to every screenwriting workshop and read all the screenwriting books and blogs.

I actually do have a resolution this year; death to all screenwriting gurus. They are full of shit and the only thing they are interested in is taking your money. Why would you bother reading McKee’s tedious blabbing on when you could be writing? Why would you spend two hundred quid to watch him give a fucking powerpoint presentation that he could probably do in his sleep? As for the various self-appointed writing experts on the internet chatting shit about how you should write…

Okay, I appreciate that I’m being a tad hypocritical here. But the thing about my advice is that you can take it or leave it. Use the bits that help and jettison the stuff that doesn’t. However, if someone is telling you that they are going to clue you in on the only possible way to write, the only way to structure or write dialogue, then give them the elbow. And ask yourself this question; if they are so good at writing, why aren’t they doing it? Why aren’t they winning Oscars in LA instead of teaching 3-act structure in a drafty hall in Lambeth?

7. I’m going to enter all the writing competitions.

This way madness lies. There are some brilliant competitions run by magnificent and committed people. And if you have a script that meets their criteria then bang it in. However, if you’re reading the criteria for a competition and wondering whether two weeks is long enough to produce a 90 minute script, then stop. If you’re trying to write something in a genre or format that you actually have no real interest in, then stop. If the competition costs $200 to enter, then stop.

You can waste a lot of time, energy and money on competitions that you probably won’t and don’t really want to win.

However, if you love anything with a spaceship in it and there is a Sci-Fi writing competition, then have at it. If you had the perfect idea for the Red Planet award last year but you didn’t have the time and nerve to enter, go for it. If it’s free to enter and you can hit the deadline without the needing to be sectioned, this could be your year.

8. I’m going to be a networking ninja.

This is a personal plea. Can aspiring writers stop coming up to me and giving me their business card? We’re writers not Japanese businessmen. Seriously, unless I write “annoying git with ginger hair” on the back of that card I’m not going to remember who you are when I fish it out of the bottom of my handbag two weeks later. This year, I want your networking to be focussed. Just collecting acquaintances is not useful to your career. It’s not 2003 anymore; nobody is impressed by how many Facebook friends you’ve got.

However, if there is someone who you think would really like your script/project idea, then cultivate them. Talk to them on Twitter. Introduce yourself at writing events. Be polite, brief and patient. DO NOT shove a script into their hands and demand they read it. Instead, ask politely if they would be kind enough to give your script a read. If they say yes, send it promptly by email and then be patient. Do not email two days later asking if they’ve read it yet. Don’t even do that two weeks later. They’re doing you a favour; don’t turn into a pain in the arse.

Oh, and buy ‘em a drink. Mine’s a Campari and soda.

9. I’m going to give up Facebook, Twitter and all other time-sapping social networking.

Shall we just hand out the razor blades now? Writing is a lonely, isolating occupation on occasion. There can be weeks when the only people you speak to are imaginary. The best thing that’s happened for writers in the last few years has been social networking. It gives us solidarity, a connection that sustains us through the really tough times. On both Twitter and Facebook I’ve made friends that I’ve never actually met. And yet, I know that on the days it is all going to shit they will be there to sympathise, cajole and give virtual hugs. And there is a not a day goes by that someone doesn’t make me laugh, warm my heart or raise my blood pressure. Writers need that.

Except for LinkedIn. That shit is just pointless and annoying.

10. I’m going to make sure my finger is on the pulse.

Do you mean you’re going to hop on every bandwagon. Hey, Zombies are pretty popular at the moment. What about vampires? If you could just find a new way to write those bloodsuckers… Oh yeah, and didn’t that BBC bloke say that they were looking for more crime shows? Or was it less crime? Or was it medical shows? Or perhaps a medical show with crime? And zombie-vampires!

STOP! By the time something is trendy, it’s already over. And that bloke from the BBC? If the commissioners knew what they actually wanted, they’d commission it. They’d ring up their favourite writers and ask for the medical crime drama with the zombie vampires possibly set in a nineteenth century department store. The reality is that they don’t know what they want until they actually see it. They’re like spoilt toddlers. They want whatever toy the other kid has got. Until they actually get it and then they want a completely different toy to play with. You just have to keep throwing toys in the pram until you find something that keeps the little fuckers quiet.

So, this year, why not just write what you’re passionate about? The genres you love. The characters you want to meet. The stories you want to tell. And if that story happens to be about Detective Inspector Dracula MD who has a penchant for eating brains, good luck to you.

So, there are ten New Year resolutions that you can break guilt-free. But here are five you should make and keep.

1.      Get/Stay Healthy – The better you feel, the better you will write.

2.      Get paid. – Join the Writer’s Guild and learn what you are actually worth.

3.      Write more diverse characters – Just let go of your middle-class, PC guilt and write characters rich in different experiences and culture.

4.      Take an interest in your industry – Watch more telly, see more films and plays. Know your shit.

5.      Just write.

 I wish you a happy, creative and surprising 2013. Can’t wait to see what we’re all going to get up to.