So you want to be a writer? Top tips from those who know

Advice from some prominent writers in TV, theatre and film on how to break into the industry

May 8 2017
Person writing letter with metal quill

Many students dream of being a writer but it can be one of the hardest professions to get into, as jobs are not usually advertised.

A new partnership between Oberon Books and the MA in dramatic writing at the Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins is set to address that. The partnership will launch two books offering advice and tips for students from those who have succeeded in theatre, television, film, radio and digital media industries.

In the lead-up to the launch, here are some of their top tips, adapted from one of the books.  


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John Yorke, founder of the BBC Writers Academy and the former head of drama at Channel 4 and controller of BBC Drama Production

“When I first started, Matthew Graham, a British television writer, was 23 years old and was writing on EastEnders. I commented on how young he was and he said, ‘I’ve been doing this forever. I’ve been writing in my room since I was 13 years old’. That’s the secret. You just have to write all the time. You have to learn from your mistakes.

“Practice makes perfect. If you work consistently and steadily over a huge period of time, you will learn. There are certain principles that govern drama and you cannot write properly until you understand what they are and why they are there. It is not about obeying or disobeying rules. It’s about mastering craft skills.”


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Steve Winter, director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation 

“There’s a huge amount of people who will write to a particular theatre and have no clue about their last season, when they programme, what sort of actors they work with or what scale they can work at. I think sometimes you’ve got to ask yourself what you do well and put your energy in that, rather than trying to achieve too much too quickly.”

Philip Shelley, founder of the Channel 4 screenwriting course

“You’ve just got to stick at it really because you only need one person to like your work. If you write a script and it is rejected by 15 people and one person takes it on, that’s all you need. You will get a lot of knock-backs. 

“When you’re working with a script editor for the first time and you’re not used to it, it’s hard. We ask a lot of questions that writers don’t want to be asked about their work. Some people thrive in that environment and some people find it difficult.

“I think the most important thing is you’ve got to please yourself. If you don’t feel a huge sense of pride and excitement in your script, then you can be pretty sure that no one else is going to feel that either. Don’t send your script out to people until you feel that you can get behind it and it fulfils you as a writer. Find potential employers who are going to be excited by your work. 

“It’s all about finding your identity as a writer. The more work you do, the more you will know your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.”

Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s young writers programme

“What I’m interested in is passion, and that relates to the whole idea of being engaged and walking away when you’re not engaged. Partly the reason you’re not engaged is because there’s not enough passion or care involved.”

Find out more about the two books here

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