Why did you do it?
It would be an insult to both our intelligences to suggest there's any kind of question here. Why – when people I know and respect, with a track record for getting things produced, ask me to do some work for them – do I say yes? You could write this section yourself, I'm sure.
Until I started putting this site together, I didn't realise just how much of my career is down to people asking me to write for them. I used to joke that nobody had ever asked me to write for them twice, because – oddly – I actually believed it for a long time. But looking at the work that falls into this section, I can see that nearly two thirds of the things I've written have come about because someone I wrote something for once came back and asked me if I'd do it again.
Some people see that as a problem. That writing is a closed shop, impossible for new voices to break into. And to a certain extent, that's true. It isn't just how writing works; it's how people are. If you have anything that needs doing – from a TV series that needs to be written, to a drain that needs to be unblocked – you're going to feel more confident if you know that the person you're hiring to do it has done it before, and has actually done it reasonably well. In some cases, a brilliant pitch from someone you don't know is less desirable than an average one from someone you think is a hack. The hack has shown they can get something finished to a deadline; the brilliant pitch could end up never getting finished, and derail your whole project.
But – and this is the important thing – when it comes to writing, everybody in a position to produce something feels the obligation to give someone new a chance. Most of them have been first-timers themselves, and know how important that first break can be. That's something to remember when you get knocked back by one of them. If they say they're not taking first time writers on this project, there is most definitely a reason why and that reason is mostly definitely not to protect their friends' careers from your brilliance. If they say they'e open to unsolicited submissions and they don't accept your idea, it's because it wasn't good enough. There is no conspiracy to keep you out of the industry. There are just people wanting to make the best thing they can.
In most cases here, though, I was asked again because people knew me, knew my work, and knew how much effort they would need to put in to get it to the state they wanted it in. They asked me because I was a known quantity, that meant they could free up some time to let them take a punt on someone they couldn't quantify as easily. In most cases, I took the work on the same basis: I knew the producer, and I knew the impact they would have on me and what I'd written. I knew they would make my work better – or in some cases, I just knew that they would leave me alone to try something out I wanted to. It is, without doubt, the nicest bit of being a writer, and the place where the majority of us want to get to.
How did you do it?
There isn't a great secret to how to convince people that you are good to work with. The best way to do it is to be good to work with.
Be as good a writer as you possibly can be. Don't be tempted to cut corners – you have no idea which bit of your writing will be seen by someone in a position to offer you work: the story that's gotten me the most repeat work in my entire career was a three thousand word Doctor Who fan-fiction written for a Canadian fanzine with a circulation in the 100s. If you think something is beneath you, there's nothing wrong with saying no: there is, however, a lot wrong with saying yes, and doing a half-arsed job that even you aren't really a fan off.
And, above all, be the kind of person you'd want to spend time with. There is an image of the grumpy, misanthropic writer who gets away with being unbearable because of their incredible talent. It's a myth. No matter how good you think you are, you aren't good enough to survive if the people who employ you hate working with you. Treat every new piece of work as an opportunity to learn from the people you're working with, and don't fall into the trap of thinking you are doing anyone a favour by working for them. Basically, don't act like an arsehole.
That isn't to say that you can't disagree with people. Everybody has their own idea of what makes the best story, but at the end of the day it's your name that goes against it, and if you feel strongly about it you should absolutely express that. But be polite, and be understanding. You'll have a much nicer time, because people tend to react to you the way you act to them. And if nothing else, you might want to work with the people you're shouting at again in the future. And even if you're certain that you'll never want to see them again, you never know just who they might mention you to as not worth the time or effort to work with.
What did you get out of doing it?
It's definitely worth being professional when ever you do any writing for somebody. As I said, most of the work I'd have over the last twenty years has come from somebody asking me directly if I want it. But more than that, I've made some good friends from working with people time and again. And I've had experiences with them that go wider than the just plain professional, from long nights out in the pub to reading first drafts of books I would have happily bought.
On top of that, of course, there is a significant ego boost. As good as it feels to send something in unsolicited and get told “That's so good we want to buy it!”, there's a selfish thrill to being asked to do something the others aren't because you are a proper writer. I think it's been a pattern of my career that I sit back and wait for work to come to me, and part of the reason for that is that so far I've been able to. That's something I know I need to break out of, but equally it's always going to be a significant part of a healthy career.
And did I mention the ego boost?