This week a guest newsletter from playwright and screenwriter, EMMA PRITCHARD. Emma was on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in 2019. She has a number of commissions for both theatre and TV projects and you can enjoy her writing on the brilliant HOLY SH!T podcast series – https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/holy-sh-t/id1544416779
‘When Philip asked if I wanted to write a blog for his newsletter, my initial excitement at receiving an email that wasn’t a) a rejection or b) from the stag beetle charity I once drunkenly donated to, turned into a wave of nausea and panic in about 11 seconds.
Oh my God HELP. You can’t write a blog about writing; you don’t know anything! Maybe it’s fine though, because only your dad will read it anyway? No, you’ll just have to share a pasta recipe or something. But which pasta recipe?
You’re probably thinking, why didn’t you just say no, Emma? And I hear you. Now I’ve started to write the thing, I’m thinking the same. That and:
You over-use italics. Everyone will notice and lose respect for you. Also, it won’t just be your dad reading it, Philip actually has followers. Just share a bolognese, everyone loves a bolognese. Remember when you wanted to be a vet, hey?
Then I realised: this is the blog. The fear of rejection… the worry about not being good enough… the strange food-based procrastination… that is writing to me. I love it. I can’t imagine not doing it. But it also scares me, hurts my feelings and drives me mad. Writing, and everything that comes with it, isn’t just a creative battle; it’s a mental, emotional and sometimes (when I get so nervous before meetings I bite my nails and then all the skin around them until it hurts to open tins) a physical one.
Screenwriting didn’t make me an anxious person. It’s probably not the idealcareer for someone who’s made this way but unfortunately, some of us were lonely teenagers who poured their hearts out into Casualty fan fiction and now have lifelong dreams to fulfil. The beginning of the first lockdown, for me, coincided with a long-awaited course of NHS CBT, which means my levels of introspection have been intense over the last year, resulting in a lot of new pasta dishes, and – more importantly – some helpful realisations…
I still count myself as new to screenwriting. When I applied to 4Screenwriting in 2018 I had no experience in writing for television. I was writing and performing theatre alongside working full-time as a PA. Hungry for a deadline, I sent in a play, never imagining I’d get an interview. It’s no secret that this course is a game-changer and I count my lucky stars every day that I got to do it. The spec script I wrote opened up a lot of doors. I signed with an agent who I adore and within the first year had a number of my own original television projects in development. Also I now (v.a.g.u.e.l.y.) know how to use Final Draft (okay, like 10%). I feel very grateful to get to do this thing I love and will be eternally grateful for Philip for reading my script about hockey and giving me a chance.
However. I find many aspects of writing, and the industry, very anxiety-inducing and I struggled especially during the first six months after completing the course. Looking back at the summer 4Screenwriting ended, I was experiencing a strange combination of endorphins/adrenaline and burn-out at the same time. In the same fortnight as finishing the course, I got married and completed two theatre projects. Amongst the excitement of getting to meet some of my favourite TV companies and feeling simultaneous joy and relief at being busy, I was frazzled. Meeting agents was like a very terrifying form of dating except I couldn’t get through it with wine. Networking events stressed me out even with wine. When I signed with my agent I was convinced for the first two months she would realise I’m terrible and drop me. I had more than one panic attack on my way to a general meeting. It feels inappropriate to write an entire blog about screenwriting-induced IBS but I could do it.
I still doubt myself most days. In my darkest moments, when I can’t open my pack of spaghetti because I still chew my nails, I wonder if I can call myself a screenwriter when I don’t have a credit yet but I think I can, because laptops have screens, don’t they? I find social media overwhelming. I compare myself to other writers a lot. I’ve never done a writers’ room and feel like I’m failing when I see screenshots of people’s zoom rooms online. I ask myself why I’m not doing better or why I didn’t pick another career (answer: because I’d cry every time an animal died.) I feel guilty because I’m married to a primary school teacher who works 12 hour days. I think of my mum who works in a care home, or all those ICU nurses and surgeons and and and… I berate myself for feeling this way when the closest I’ve come to performing emergency surgery this week is trying to resurrect my dying basil plant.
But – unlike that plant, may it RIP – there is hope. Two years on from starting 4Screenwriting, I’ve learned a lot.
I left my full-time job at the start of the course; I had several freelance projects lined up, knew I could get by for six months and was ready to take a leap of faith. I don’t like not being in control and a job where it feels like my future (and income) is in other people’s hands is scary. So six months later, at the end of “the summer of flailing around like a baby bird” I started two part-time, non-writing jobs. Sometimes it feels like you aren’t a “proper writer” unless you’re earning all your money from it. I don’t earn enough money from screenwriting to get by without these jobs, but more importantly, my brain likes routine and distraction. These jobs put pressure on the time I have to write which I find energising. They get me out of my head. They give my weeks structure. And it’s nice to have work friends that aren’t a cactus.
Speaking of distractions, last year I fell for reality television. I adore television drama but it doesn’t relax me like it used to because I watch so much of it for work. Enter Little Mix: The Search, my 2020 highlight. As disappointed as 8 year-old me would be to hear it (she wanted to be a pop star and wrote a song called “Anytime, Anywhere, We Can Make Love” not knowing what ‘make love’ meant, and sang it to an audience of one: her dad), I don’t want to be in a girl band, however much I dream of being able to pull off a pair of sequined cycling shorts. Watching TV shows that I can’t over-analyse and can properly switch off to are bliss.
Alongside the sequins, I have another dream, that even when the world returns to normal more general meetings can take place over Zoom. Not only is it a very nice dollar-saver for anyone not living in zone two, since remote working became a thing, I haven’t felt half as nervous. I feel so much more at home, weirdly enough, at home. Who knew?
If one blindingly obvious statement wasn’t enough, I’ve discovered this great thing called walking. For so long I’d sit at my computer agonising, punishing myself, until I lose all feeling in my neck (my next blog will be on the direct correlation between screenwriting and health anxiety). Now, every time I get writer’s block and feel my pulse quickening, before I have time for an act of self-sabotage I like to call “googling all the writers I can think of to see how much better than me they’re doing”, I leave my laptop immediately, get outside, then come back to have another stab. It works more often than it doesn’t.
And the final thing I wanted to share (it’s a bit of a curveball): take an improv class. Check out my bae the Free Association. It’s probably the best (and most fun) thing you can do for your anxiety and your writing. Improv celebrates fear and failure, demands believability, teaches you originality in character, world and premise, and introduces you to a world of play and possibility. And you can definitely claim it back on tax.
I am a work in progress. I hope, if nothing else, this blog is a reminder, to anyone else who feels plagued by similar feelings from time to time, that you’re not alone. In spite of what social media proclaims, not everyone’s lives are as glowy as Anya Taylor Joy’s skin. To anyone reading this who didn’t get onto 4Screenwriting this year, or any other programme for that matter, don’t sweat it. I’ve never been interviewed for any of the BBC Writersroom programmes. I find donuts help.
If you’ve read this and got absolutely nothing from it, then may I point you in the direction of my favourite pastea recipe, Jack Monroe’s Spaghetti “Come to Bed Parmigiana.” You’re welcome.
Hyperlink for Spaghetti: https://cookingonabootstrap.com/2020/02/14/parmigiana-recipe/
Thank you so much Emma for this brilliant blog.
And please do listen to Emma’s podcast – you won’t regret it!
The next newsletter will be on Friday March 19th.
All the best
March 5th 2021