Writers Academy 7

Giving up the Day Job

This week I've asked Rob Williams (Writers Academy Graduate 2008) to write the blog for me. He finished the course just before Christmas and is in the throes of his first Holby City script...

"When people ask me what I did before the Writers Academy, I used to reply 'I had a Proper Job'. I don't say that any more. The thirteen weeks on the Academy and the period since have dispelled any notion that you can hope to be a successful television writer without thinking of it as a Proper Job. What I had, before September last year, was a Great Job. I was Creative Director at one of London's biggest publishing houses. I had an assistant who told me where to be, staff who were paid to care what I thought, a salary that comforted my Mum and a company credit card that impressed my Dad. And I genuinely loved what I did with my days. The one thing I didn't have was time to devote to my own writing - and specifically - writing television drama.

The company I worked for treated me brilliantly for five years, and six months before I left I was allowed to go to a three-day week to enable me to write. And that was great; I think if I hadn't been offered a place on the Academy I'd still be happily working at home on Thursdays and Fridays. Before that, it was evenings and weekends. Before that, bleary-eyed early mornings. I've experimented with all the permutations of managing a more-than-full-time job with the demands we place on ourselves as writers. Most of them work - but in my case, only to a larger or lesser extent. I'd reached a point in my life, personally and professionally, where I needed to decide: was I going to have a proper tilt at this, or not?

It wasn't really a decision in the end. It was an imperative. And once you've made that mental leap, I think you have to treat each stage of the Academy as a job. Getting on is a job in its own right - and you can't start preparing too early. The day I was offered a place felt like reaching some kind of summit. And I had; but I now realise that it was only the first of many. Having climbed that mountain, the classroom part of the Academy sometimes looked like an unfeasibly treacherous climb; and on the other side of that awaits the point of it all: the shows themselves. That's the stage I'm at now - and last September already feels like aeons ago. So, looking back ...

Financially, let's be honest, it has to be about taking the long view - and I realise not everybody can do that. I'd done a bit of saving and a great deal of high-level embezzlement (not really - no, honestly, I didn't) and for those thirteen weeks at Elstree, you have no life to spend your attendance fee on anyway. Interview dates mean that notice periods can result in some nail biting negotiation (I was offering five weeks rather than my contractual three months). Interestingly though, leaving for the Writers Academy rather than a bigger car allowance, my employers generally understood what I was doing and seemed to feel it wouldn't be right to stand in the way of it.

After eight years in busy offices enjoying the constant chatter and easy stimulation, the structure and the security, there was a definite sense of being 'exposed' suddenly - and in more ways than one (the trouble with getting what you say you want is that your main escape route from a Monday morning existential crisis instantly closes). Having worked hard to attain a level of expertise in my role, it came as a shock when I realised that it counted for very little in my new day-to-day. Although in saying that, it's worth adding that everybody on the Academy is to some extent starting again. However, I certainly didn't feel 'myself' for the first part of the course and I suspect at least some of that was due to just how much of my identity had become bound up with what I did rather than who I am; but before this descends into therapy, in purely practical terms, I wouldn't recommend four days between 'lives' if it can be avoided ...

There were definitely times when I wondered if I'd made a mistake - but most of those doubts sprang from whether I could really do this rather than whether I still wanted to. Fantasies of returning to my previous life never lasted long and though I certainly still miss aspects of it, I can honestly say I haven't experienced a single moment of regret.

Nobody can tell you when the perfect time is to quit your job and follow your heart - but I suspect that the hour doesn't actually exist. I can't even sit here today and say I made the 'right decision'; for one thing, there's no definitive way to measure that. Except there is really, isn't there? The only measure. Waking up in the morning, thinking about what you're going to be doing today and knowing in your gut that you're at least on the right track, wherever it goes. That's what I now call a Proper Job."

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