The Tongues of Men

A novel in redraft by Gabriel Smy

How not to kill your writing career after 8 years

I met a guy at the Content Strategy Forum 2011 who is a content strategist like me. He works for a website agency in London, and has young children. And like me, he also writes his own material outside of work: screenplays and stories.

There was, however, one key difference between us. Unlike me, this guy has already had his work published, or rather, his story has been made into an animated film.

By a little company called Disney.

After his idea was picked up by an agent who turned out to be rather good and his story became an international kids' film, he had a run of eight years of being a screenwriter. Eight years of doing what he had only dreamt of – what lots of other aspiring writers would kill to be able to do.

And there we were, talking at a conference.

He was happy with his job, happy having kids even though it wears you out and you fall asleep in the evenings instead of accomplishing all the great things you imagine you will do with the time when they're finally in bed. His attitude towards writing was tempered by the realism of having been there already, but he still wanted to create more filmable stories in the future.

We only talked a little over lunch but I realised there was so much to learn from someone like him. And although I should probably have asked more questions about how he got to work with Disney in the first place (luck and a good agent played significant parts it seems), I admit I was more intrigued by the other end of his brief career.

Why did it fizzle out?

He told me, in a roundabout way. I was talking about when new ideas compete with existing work. The closer I get to finishing my first novel, the more ideas I have for the next one. And the one after that. And the kids' book I've already started writing with my boys. I've got a rough structure mapped out for novel number two, with character sketches and a couple of experimental chapters written to see how it feels. I've got a solid conceit for a third novel, and the other day between Cambridge and Kings Cross I wrote a synopsis for a fourth, out of the blue, inspired by a throwaway remark in a book, about a man who doesn't realise that he is in…

This is the problem. I'm not going to tell you what it's about. Because the more life I give to these ideas the harder it becomes to finish the lumbering old first book. The one that's not sexy any more. The one that needs redrafting and editing. 95,000 words that need squaring up to one by one.

I have come close to jacking it in and starting the next book. I know it would be stupid but there is so much promise in the new idea. In the blank page. What if this first one is just a limbering up exercise, and the next idea is the one that will actually have the legs to succeed?

The screenwriter nodded his head. He knew exactly what I was talking about. 'If I could sum up the reason that my writing career ended when it did,' he said, 'it was because I gave too much attention to the new ideas instead of focusing on the job in hand.'


So I'll be looking for a good agent in a while. And buying enough tickets at the tombola to give luck a fair chance of coming my way. But in the meantime, the only thing to do is to stop thinking about the new ideas and crack on with shipping the first. Focus!


Post a Comment 1 comments:

  • Becky said...
    20 September 2011 at 16:31
    This is a great story - thanks for sharing. I get a similar thing with being torn between two mediums (drawing and writing) and therefore getting less done on either than I'd like. Helpful reminder to focus!

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