Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008 End of Year Thingy

Well, it's not the festive season without my annual ponce-fest, in which I look back over the year, and think about the highs and lows of my writing career. So buckle up, and prepare yourselves for the regular dose of self-indulgence, which begins... now!

Things I Achieved in 2008:

--Had my first ever TV episode broadcast, with my Torchwood episode "Sleeper", then followed it up with Dr Who, Spooks Code 9, Crusoe, and Spooks

--Had my first actual American TV credit, with Crusoe

--Wrote TV episodes for Torchwood series 3, Primeval series 3, Spooks series 7, Crusoe, Spooks Code 9, and Law & Order UK

--Wrote a draft of a new spec film script

--Got hired to work on a couple of new TV series in development, and wrote outlines for them

--Got something of my own picked up for TV (at outline stage, early days, might never happen, but still)

--Did my first convention, at Gallifrey (report to follow)

--Had a short story published for the first time, three in total

--Met Harlan Ellison

Yowza. I can't really argue with that. Career-wise, it's been the best year ever - my first ever TV credit, 5 episodes on TV, with 3 more to come next year. And now I'm getting TV work developed, I get a chance to help shape the direction of some brand new shows. And yes, if all goes well, one of those will be mine - a TV pitch I've been flogging around town has been picked up by a production company. Obviously that means *nothing* at this early stage - I'll have to do outlines, then if all goes well, a first script, then if all goes well, probably another one, then there are several people at the TV channel to convince, then *maybe* they'll commission more drafts, then *maybe* it'll get made... But still. It's an important first step.

Also managed to find time to write a new spec film script, which I'm very pleased with. I'm working on the new draft at the moment, so it's not in any state to read. But it's coming along nicely, and right now it's all mine. My 2 years of TV boot camp have served me well, I've learned a hell of a lot. And I'm incredibly happy to have had short stories published. They're much, much harder than writing scripts, and I'm very rusty in the format, but when they work, they're so satisfying.

And my first ever convention - what a blast that was, I had a fantastic time. I'll finish the full report soon (he said, hoping to get it done before the 2009 convention). Also had a great time at The Rift, the Torchwood convention. I love going to them, because you're surrounded by like-minded people for a couple of days, everyone's happy and excited, and you can have really geeky conversations in complete safety. While I'm on the subject, many people regularly ask if I'm going to this or that convention, and if not, why not: well, I can only go if I'm invited. If you want me at your local event, tell the organisers. They're not psychic, they don't know what you want unless you tell them. I'm easy to contact, just give them the blog link or the email over on the right.

I've already talked about meeting Harlan in detail on the blog, so you know the story. But it bears repeating how much of a big deal this was for me. Meeting one of your writing heroes, who then turns out to be wonderfully kind, funny and encouraging, is a fantastic experience. It also came at just the right time. I was overworked, tired, completely worn down (see next section), and he gave me the boost of energy and enthusiasm I needed. I had also just had a really bad haircut, and he was kind enough not to mention it. That, folks, is the true measure of a man.

Things I Messed Up:

--Took on way, way, WAY too much work

--Became stressed, overloaded, and didn't tell anyone with the power to help what was going on

--Lost sight of why I love doing this

As you've probably guessed from the first section, I had way too much work this year. Part of it was me being unable to say no - hey, want to work on a fun action show called Crusoe, with cool people, resulting in a US TV credit? Hey, want to work on Spooks, one of the top BBC drama shows, also with cool people? Can you imagine saying no to those? Impossible. Although I did actually say no to something, then changed my mind when they asked again... But that was purely my own fault, it's not like they forced me into it. I just couldn't resist. I thought if I said no twice, then they'd never offer me anything again.

When you get into the business, you are always convinced that it could all end tomorrow. Sure, there are some people looking at me now with contempt, wondering how the hell someone who has had my kind of year could *dare* to suggest that they might need the work. But you honestly never know when it could all go wrong. Most of us feel like frauds, that we're going to be found out, that we have no talent at all. It's a risky business, and writers are insecure too, which doesn't help. The more things I have lined up, the safer I feel. I just need to realise that saying no doesn't mean they'll never come back and ask again.

But I should have said something to someone - "I can't take on any more work, and I need more time for the work I have". I just didn't want to cause trouble, get kicked off, let anyone down. That was a mistake, and it hurt me, physically and emotionally. I was exhausted. For a month or two, it started feeling like a job, which it *never* has before, no matter how tired I was. I'd wake up dreading the arrival of notes, not wanting to start another draft. And that's not me. I love doing new drafts, I love getting good notes (and I've always been lucky to get great notes, due to working with great people), I love writing, usually. But for a while there, I wasn't enjoying it.

And I lost sight of why I got into this lark in the first place. I love writing, telling stories, entertaining people, it's what I've always wanted to do. But recently, I found myself muttering and complaining to myself (or to Jo) when I got a new job, because it would mean doing more work. That was even after things calmed down. Thankfully, Jo pulled me up on that - if I had been offered that same piece of work 2 years ago, I'd have *killed* to get it. It was paid writing work that will end up on TV, for a project I really liked and could do a good job with, and there I was sighing as if something bad had happened. Time to snap out of that shit. I am incredibly fortunate to be doing the thing I absolutely love, getting paid for it, getting it made and broadcast, and getting really good feedback on it all. This is my lifelong dream. And I need to never, ever take that for granted.

So I've had as much of a quiet period as I can, due to various things moving and finishing, and I've turned lots of work away, even though I had spare time. I have enough work to keep me going well into next year, at a pace which means I can have fun with it. It's only the past month or so that I've been enjoying the work again. Taking time out to work on a brand new spec helped, too. And I'm setting myself some limits, times when I'm on the clock, and when I'm not. Writing is what I'm best at, I love doing it, and I need to protect it.

Things I Have Learned:

--Saying no doesn't mean they'll never come back and ask again (see above)

--You can have too much of a good thing

--You have to look after yourself, because only you know how much you can handle

Most of this is covered in the previous section, so I won't go on at length (again). The year has gone by in a bit of a blur, I almost burned myself out, took on too much, lost my mojo for a bit, and had to go and find it again. It's strange how it can knock your confidence back too, when you feel like it's all getting too much - but you can't complain, because it's all fun and brilliant and exciting. Like I've said before, when it doesn't feel like a job, you don't realise you're working yourself to the bone. Which results in you getting frazzled, it starts feeling like a job, and you realise just how insane your workload really is. That's when you *really* start to panic.

Again, I feel weird saying all of this, because it feels like I'm moaning about having my best year ever - and I suppose I am, really - but I don't mean to. I'm certainly not fishing for sympathy or anything, just trying to reflect on how the year has gone, that's what this post is for. It was brilliant, but exhausting, and that's purely my own fault for not understanding exactly how busy I was getting. So be careful out there, kids.

Things I Want To Do In 2009:

--Become a better writer

--Finish the new film spec, and write another one

--Write more TV, get my own series commissioned

--Finish the bloody blog posts I keep promising (Gallifrey, Writing FAQ, Torchwood writing process, etc etc)

--Have a proper holiday, set (and keep) limits so I don't get overworked again, and stop saying yes to absolutely everything

Okay, I have to put up those blog posts soon, it's getting ridiculous - I just keep fiddling with them and trying to make sure they're all right. I should just stick them up, and correct them later if there are typos. So expect those soon. And the holiday is all booked for February, we're both having a couple of weeks off around the Gallifrey convention, seeing as we'll be there anyway. So that's all good.

Thank you again to all of you lovely commenters and readers and bloggers and viewers and conventioneers and colleagues and friends and family and other nutters. You're all brilliant and inspiring, and I can't tell you how great it is to hear nice things from you - it makes all the difference when I'm stuck halfway through something, worrying that I can't fix a plothole, or feeling like a fraud. Thank you also to those of you who don't like my stuff and criticise it in public - at least you're not ignoring me, and I can pretend it makes me controversial or something. Everyone's a winner. And thank you to Jo, for looking after me, telling me I'm cool, and giving me that verbal bitchslap that I needed.

Hey, I never thought of a "Two-Bond"-style name for 2008, I'll have to start working on one for 2009. 2009! Bloody hell. Madness. Someone should put a stop to this forward motion of time, it's extremely worrying. I might write to my MP about it.

And with that, cheers to you all for another year. Let's all get shitfaced for 2 weeks, and to hell with the consequences. Who's with me??


Kevin said...

I'm stunned. I cannot believe you produced so much work in 12 months. That must have been day and night effort. Congrats on a fantastic year.

You're definitely an inspiration and without sounding crazy, this post was actually kinda touching. Yeah, I guess that is crazy.

Anyway, well done again. Here's to a fantastic 2009.

Andrew said...

James, you've done brilliantly this year and I, along with many, MANY people, have thoroughly enjoyed your writing, both in television and short stories!

You've done really well this year, so I'd like to say well done to you, and thank you, for giving us such brilliant entertainment to watch and read.

Being an aspiring writer myself, you're definitely an inspiration to me, and I wish you the very best of luck for 2009 and the future!

Danny Stack said...

I'm exhausted and inspired in equal measure. Setting the tone for us to follow...

Michelle Goode said...

Ditto what they said!

Blimey... What a lot of work! I know what you mean about not being able to refuse project offers. Especially at my amateur stage, any opportunity must be seized for the experience it will undoubtedly give me. And I love it :) But I must say, you are incredibly lucky to be able to CHOOSE whether you say yes or no to a paying project. As your other half pointed out, when you're at the stage in your career pre-paid projects, you'd kill for an opportunity like the many you've enjoyed.

Bask in the lovely, accomplished and satisfied feeling this blog post gives you and have a very relaxing and enjoyable Xmas :)

Dim said...

Your blog is such an eye-opener: When it was pointed out to me I assumed like many others, tha having "Severance" made you were already in the big leagues. Then you show that this year the world has gone supersonic for you *because you've been working like a bastard from then til now* and there's no such thing as the writer's gravy train. Much more inspiring than the "Tell us about your working day" articles you get in the writing mags. Many thanks for the inspiration and laughs. I've been off the beer for two weeks to try and lose weight. Now I'll join you in drinking away the next two, so I dont care how fat I am....

Mike Mulligan said...

You should add to the list of things achieved, getting new fans and giving them some of the best episodes on TV in 2008.

Keep up the great work in 2009 (though don't kill yourself doing it).


Neal Romanek said...

Great work! And a great post ABOUT the work! Some can do, some can teach, and some do both!

Dozeymagz said...

What a busy chap you've been! Many fluffy thanks for all the entertainment you've given us over this last year. You've given us a unique view of just how much work and effort goes into 45 mins of tellyfun goodnss...

Now that's quite enough of all this sugary cuddlefest - it's time to get on with the important stuff!

Let the Christmassy New Yeary Frolics begin!

Have a great one and all the best for next year!

Anonymous said...

Wow, James, you're such an inspiration!!
Take a break now, and just chill for a few months! You deserve it.
Have a great Christmas and New Year, and don't get too drunk!

Laurie said...

Congrats on your very productive year! I hope 2009 finds you just as busy.

I'll be attending Gallifrey in Feb 2009 and am looking forward to meeting you (and maybe having my copy of the DW Christmas book signed!).

Anonymous said...

James, thanks for another brilliant year-end-bloggy-thing. They are always one of my favorite posts and the one per year that I MAKE my aspiring writer husband read for sure.

We have all been at that burn-out stage at various times in our ives with our work. I only hope that everyone is lucky enough to have a Jo (or a Harlan)in their lives like you do.

I have to meet Jo someday. She always sounds like such an incredible person!

Have a great 2009!!!!!

Martin K. Smith said...

Congratuwelldone, sir. Here's hoping 2009 will be as good, if not better.

BaaBaaDoodle said...

James - What a fantastic year! I know 2009 will be even bigger for you. And don't forget among your accomplishments, inspiring countless would-be writers who read your blog regularly for all the practical advice on being a working writer. That's very important!

Erhm...and didn't you learn a thing or two about guns you forgot to mention? :) All the best for the holidays to you, your family, your readers.

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring! I've had a very similar year apart from all that tv stuff, and not having enough holiday stuff, and getting stressed... oh bollocks it.
Well done!

Chuck said...

Wow, a most righteous 2008. It appears that 2009 is primed to be even better.

Lucy said...

So this is why I got no TV commissions this year, you git! Try not to hog it all next year... ; )

Merry chrimbo sir x

Julian Meteor said...

I found this post to be in INCREDIBLY bad taste.
SOME of us (me and probably over 50% of your other regular readers) have struggled to even GET work during this credit crunch and YOU harp on about having TOO much work.


Antonia said...

I found this post to be very, very honest!

I could feel the excitement, the pride, and yet...the fear shone through, too.

Thanks for a touching, honest and downright frank post about what it's REALLY like when the work rolls in.

Nicole said...

I can't believe you did that much writing for one year.

That's fantastic. I'm also glad you figured out when you were burning yourself out.

I think there's a bit of good advice in there for fellow writers.

Cheers to a wonderful 2009!

Le Mc said...

Your thoughtful and insightful blog entries on the practicalities of writing-as-a-job are among the best I've ever read.

Steve Barber said...

<< Things I Want To Do In 2009:

--Become a better writer

--Finish the new film spec, and write another one

--Write more TV, get my own series commissioned

--Finish the bloody blog posts I keep promising (Gallifrey, Writing FAQ, Torchwood writing process, etc etc)

--Have a proper holiday, set (and keep) limits so I don't get overworked again, and stop saying yes to absolutely everything >>

James, can you let us know your progress on these? It's the 5th of January already...

(Separately, I'm amused that my "code word" for this post is "feigh" -- which about sums it up, yes?)

Steve B

Dim said...

OMG! I just saw the news that 33 celebs have had their twitter accounts hacked and rude messages have been sent to their fans. Since you're the only celeb I know of with Twitter, I guess you've been hit. Deepest sympathies.

Oh, and my code word was "LA Feast" which sounds like your trip out there....

Julian Meteor said...

I was one of them.
ALL my fans in the UK got sent
"I hope Mr Owl visits you EVERY night in 2009"

I was NOT amused.

James Moran said...

Thank you everyone, you're all fabulous and good looking and I hope lots of lovely things happen to you all in 2009. Here's to a 2009 lovefest.

Laurie: Of course! There are three signing sessions during the thing itself, and I'll happily sign it.

BaaBaa: Ah yes, forgot about that - never take enormous guns from strangers...

Julian: I'm sure you're being facetious, but just in case: I've had plenty of periods with no work at all. Go back and look at some earlier entries. What's the point of a year end summary if I have to leave out stuff? I got overworked, and this blog is a record of my writing career. These things happened. I am reporting them. If that upsets you, don't read the blog of a working writer, because there's bound to be more along those lines.

Steve Barber: Pah, finished them all on Jan 1st. Now I have no more worlds to conquer, which is making me weep...

Dim: Ha! No, firstly, I'm not a celeb, and secondly, I would never enter my login details to a random link which suddenly took me to an incorrect URL. So I'm afraid that any rude messages on my Twitter were all by me.