Media Types: Scribbler in search of a script: The freelance writer

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE FREELANCE writer rarely enjoys a structured career-development plan. He was good at English at school - English and pottery, probably, perhaps five-a-side football as well - stayed on to do A-levels (English, sociology, pottery), but didn't quite get around to sitting the exams, writes Mat Coward.

Nevertheless he managed to secure a position as an office junior in an import-export company based in west London, and spent the next 10 years filling in forms, filling in time, and vaguely wondering if there might not be a short satirical novel to be had from the amusing frustrations of the import-export business.

The process by which this bored clerk metamorphoses into a freelance writer has never been properly researched. All that can be said for certain is that writing is not so much a career as something that happens to you. Perhaps the comic novel turns into a radio sitcom pilot which, although it doesn't get made, brings a vague invitation to submit jokey headlines to the satirical radio show Weekending. On spec, of course.

And suddenly he is a freelance writer. One particularly dull day at the office he does a few optimistic sums, and reckons he could just about live without the day job. He wouldn't have to worry about fares any more and would save on the superannuation. Yeah, provided he doesn't eat too much and gives up smoking, he could get by.

He writes some television scripts, but nothing you would have heard of. He is well known to the commissionaires at Broadcasting House, but not to the commissioning producers. His byline sometimes appears in a newspaper but never with his photograph.

All freelances depend on connections, of course, but no connections are as tenuous as the steps in a freelance writer's career ladder. Every small job leads to another small job - or else it doesn't, and he ends up back at his import-export desk, older, wiser, and still dreaming about the Booker Prize he'll never win for I Was a Teenage Shipping Clerk.

When freelance writers bridle at being called freelance journalists, they are sometimes assumed to be complaining out of misplaced professional elitism. Not at all: the freelance writer is merely a hybrid scribbler, sans qualifications, sans pension, and sans very much of an idea where next week's rent is coming from.