For the last couple of weeks I’ve been urging you to be like the characters in your sitcoms, and to take a more proactive approach to your desire to be a comedy writer.
I can’t guarantee that you won’t also end up like them. You might get into scrapes because you tried something that not only didn’t work, it had the opposite effect. In which case I suggest imagine yourself briefly as a drama writer, whereby you may learn and grow for just long enough to progress.
Sometimes it’s difficult to learn. We spend so much time working in isolation, it’s hard to see obvious things that are staring others in the face (There we go, describing the greatest comedy characters again). I remember struggling at the end of my stand-up career, completely baffled by what was happening – storming it one night, walking off after two minutes the next. Until one stand-up friend said to me when I came off “you’ve stopped believing in yourself.”
It took him 20 minutes to pinpoint what six months of personal angst had failed to show me, trapped in my own failing narrative. My first piece of advice then is:
1 Find a writing partner
We’ve talked about this a lot on Sitcom Geeks. It’s like a marriage, and as we all know a third of them end in divorce. It’s easier to be distracted, fooled into thinking your chatty conversations are part of the work process. You earn half as much as a solo writer.
But you do get someone to try your jokes on. Perspective on what works. In a world that’s mostly built on individual success, an ally.
These sound like small things but people who work in offices take this kind of thing for granted, and generally that’s good for your mental health.
Above all, having a partner will force you to take a more professional approach. Too many of us are caught up with the emotional baggage that comes with wanting to be a writer. You need to save that stuff for the page.
Because you’re mostly working on your own you need to build a team around you. Many of the team only live inside your brain but you need to consult them regularly and report back to them about what’s going on.
2 Visit your VBM (Virtual Bank Manager) often
You can fool yourself all of the time, but the bank manager has read the paperwork, you don’t fool them.
“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” is the well worn cliché that we all know is comedy shorthand for “idiot” but VBM is the custodian of your finances and is expecting a return on their expertise.
It’s a great question because it allows you to dream but also forces you to act. You can afford to be a bit hazy because who knows, you might not be here in five years or worse, retrained as a bank manager. But now ask yourself, on the way to five years, where might you be in four, three and two?
Two years isn’t so far away, that’s eight quarters. It brings us to a question that you can start to think of with a specific answer – where will you be a year from now? The answer is – I don’t know, but I’ll be spending the first quarter trying to work that out.
You’ll find things that might be a priority now, but other time or money-related or less pressing issues will be moved to the second quarter. As that starts to fill up you’ll notice some of your hopes and ambitions falling away. Not gone forever but moved out of your headspace.
That will help you to concentrate on the things that matter. What are those things?
Ways of getting your name out there, of earning, of getting your scripts into the hands of different people. A social media profile (if you can manage that without fannying around for hours chatting to your virtual mates, all suggestions welcome please).
3 Find a real person to hold you to account
This doesn’t have to be a comedy person. Probably helps if they’re not. Just someone who gets how the world works. Tell them what you’re planning to do for the next six months. Where you hope to be in a year or so. Two years.
Just don’t tell them where you see yourself in five years’ time because they’ll think you’re an idiot.