Ideas are the easy bit of writing

I was on BBC Radio WM this week, answering listeners' questions about writing. The Adrian Goldberg Show was featuring my book about productivity for creative writers, The Blank Screen. Lots of the callers were writing novels, many had finished non-fiction books, I got to speak about how you go on to get published. But there was one fella who was particularly interested in scriptwriting, as I am, and just as he was hanging up at the end, he said something I only barely managed to get any response to.

He said this: “of course I wouldn't give [TV companies] all my ideas and the scriptwriter would have to write them up then.”

And what I managed to say before he was gone and the next caller was on, was this: “Ideas are ten a penny, it's what you do with them that counts and so you have to write it all.”

I worry that he will have taken away from this that I meant you have to write all your ideas.

I did.

Whether it's a script or a novel, don't ever think you'll hold this or that idea back to the next episode or the next book. Do it now. Maybe it won't fit, maybe it'll turn out to be a rubbish idea and you'll chuck it away, but use everything you've got because scriptwriting takes everything you've got. And anyway, if it's then tougher to find ideas for the next piece, you'll just have to work harder on the search and you'll get better material for doing so.

But actually, that wasn't what was on my mind when I garbled that. It also took me an hour to twig that he thinks scriptwriters just write up people's great ideas, that this part is the trivial bit after you've had this great creative thought. So like a typical writer, having said something he may have misunderstood and having taken an hour to notice what he really meant, I've been thinking what I could've told him, what smart line I could've thrown back. And here I am, writing down the smart line.

It doesn't seem that smart now I come to tell you. It seems a bit fatuously obvious, really. If you want to write, why wouldn't you want to write? Because we think writing is easy right up until the point when we try to do it and then we start thinking how nice it would be if someone else would do the writing bit.

Look, I'm a writer, of course I'm going to say that writing is hard. But look at the panic in my face when I say it: I'm not trying to sound great, I'm asking you why I do this stupid thing and why did I ever think I could? Like any other writer in the world, I'm also asking you whether I can – as in, am I really allowed to do this, don't I have to get a proper job? – and I'm asking you whether I can – as in, am I capable of writing? I don't know, I never know, I don't think I can know. (I also said this on BBC WM: “Look at me, I'm rubbish but I keep going.” Nobody seemed to disagree. Bastards.)

If you start writing because you think it's easy, fine. You'll find out. If you go into writing because it will make you millions, fine. Also, good luck with that.

I'm all for the end result. I think you have to get published, you have to be produced, I think that is as much a part of writing as anything else. But the reason I'm a writer is for the writing. The shovel work of doing this.

There are harder jobs.

But there are also easier ones.

I just don't think there are better ones.

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