Today we have an attribute that I didn’t recognise for a long time.

When great artists of all kinds are discussed we usually get a load of blah about originality and spontaneity as if great creative work appears by magic. Or alternatively from individual slog, the writer alone in his or her garret.

It took me many years of mistakes and failed scripts to realise that true originality and spontaneity comes paradoxically from a deep knowledge of everything that went before.

What I see in all the best writers of film, stage and literature (and also directors as it happens) is a love of Life-Long Learning.

Listen to just about any writer or director talk. Say Paul Schrader or Martin Scorsese. They have a profound understanding of their trade, of the people who went before (famous and also obscure), of the most esoteric corners of their art, and are still learning.

As a good novelist or screenwriter, what do you need to keep on learning about?

Technique, of course; structure; treatment writing; sales and marketing; mentors – the study of successful writers; the history of literature, film and TV; language, style and vocabulary (too many writers have only one style and no ability to adapt their words to the situation); psychology (what makes characters tick); social settings; the background to your story (Kubrick became a world expert in the subjects of each of his movies); ideas.

I’ve personally also had great spin-off rewards from the information I’ve picked up while learning, including magazine articles, TV documentary gigs, film script commissions, paid trips to work in exotic locations around the world, a book on screenwriting, one on pitching and one on police slang.

How to learn?

Any way you enjoy. Speaking personally these ways work best for me (in ascending order of effectiveness): websites, podcasts, documentaries, newspapers and magazines, books, personal meetings, workshops (because they compress an enormous amount into a short time).

At the same time, the most important part is that you enjoy the learning. Then that enjoyment will shine through everything you create.

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Ways to be a great writer #1

Ways to be a great writer #2