I am often asked to advise hopeful journalists and writers
After years and years spent working in the media, it’s hardly surprising that I am regularly asked for advice about careers in journalism.
People say: “I love writing and can think of nothing better than being paid to write – but how do I go about chasing that dream?”
Of course, a lot of youngsters have a crazy idea about life in the media – they think it will all be glamour and celebrity – and they plunge media-wards armed with some weird concept of it being a matter of cruising about having an awfully good time.
And I do, indeed, have an awfully good time. But I also work very, very hard. It’s not unusual for me to spend 60 hours a week writing. It’s not uncommon for me to knock out 4000 or even 5000 words in a day.
To get anywhere in the world of writing or media you must, first and foremost, work as if there’s no tomorrow. Because all too often in the media world, there isn’t.
It’s equally important that this enthusiasm to hack away at the coalface manifests itself in a get-up-and-go attitude – which may seem like an obvious thing to say – but it’s a fact that seems to elude many who want to work in the media.
A talented person I know said to me just the other day: “Since I was made redundant and went freelance, the phone has stopped ringing. I’m as enthusiastic and hard working as ever, but I’m just not being given the opportunity.”
I worked as a freelance for over 20 years and quickly learned one vital lesson: you make your own luck. You never wait for the phone to ring. If you do, you might well be sitting there for a long time.
The “media” – whatever that weakish but all-embracing word really means – is all about stories. And the world is full of stories. You just have to go out and find them. Believe me, there are great tales to be told everywhere. In my opinion developing a nose for these stories is more important than anything – absolutely anything – that a tutor at a university media course can teach you. Because, in a way, you cannot be instructed how to develop this sixth sense for detecting things that will fascinate tens of thousands of people. Tales of interest are, 90 per cent of the time, tales of the unexpected.
Or, of course, you can make them up. And in a way novel writing is similar to all the other currents in the big river media – everyone is swimming frantically in search of opportunity. We’re all after that lucky break.
Here too, a strange and for the most part untrue concept pervades all. It is the idea that kind hearted people with some great sway will somehow, magically, come out of the woodwork to help you. They almost invariably will not.
I have spent countless hours as a newspaper feature writer interviewing writers, artists, whoever… Listening to their stories then writing features which will promote their latest work. Often these people contact me again, and again – whenever they have some new project close to fruition. Gushing with unctuous friendliness, to a man and a woman.
“Martin old boy – it’s been a while since we last spoke. Hope you are well. But anyway, I’m just about to publish/hang in a gallery my new work which, I know, you will find tremendously exciting…”
And then one day you, the journalist, produces something like a novel that you think one or two of the artistic folk you’ve helped might like. Or perhaps, if the work is not going to be quite to their taste, you imagine they might like to repay the leg-up you gave them by mentioning your humble effort to someone else. Whatever. You kind of expect some reaction from the folk who crawl to you in droves seeking publicity.
Dream on. It rarely happens. People are busy. They’re wrapped up in their own work. Many are very much up-their own whatevers… Some are just plain selfish. The bitter truth dawns – you realise that you were but a fleeting memory, who called one day and wrote a nice little piece in some regional rag.
Don’t worry, I’m not being all cross and harrumphing here. This a lesson I learned years ago. Many creative-types are self-obsessed. They live deep within the fertile valleys of their own glorious making. You are but a flea on the elephant’s back.
The sad fact is – like life in general, I suppose – we writers/artists are all captaining our own little ships when it comes to sailing in the big media river. You can keep struggling, tacking hither and thither looking for that lucky break – or you can heave-ho and let the anchor sink.
I guess I’m one of those who keeps the optimistic mainsail taught and ready – and will do so until they take me out of the stream in a box. And that doesn’t bother me in the least because the big secret of being a creator – a writer – is that the act itself is the real joy and reward.