I live to write. I love to write as well. I’m writing a story right now. Descriptive narrative has always been something I’ve excelled at, and if they had done a full module in creative English when I was at school there might have been a chance I’d have gotten at least one A in my final exams. But with great power, comes great responsibility, and I always felt that I needed to play to my strengths. I’ve spoken before about the first story I ever wrote – it was a news piece about the Stena Sealink, which had crashed into a wall docking in a Dublin port – and I had to edit the piece as reported by RTE online to a nice little script for my newsreader.
When I worked with Wave 102 in Dundee back in 2009, I got plenty of experience with writing news stories and creating articles for broadcast, and then I’d be the person reading them out during the broadcast. I always remember how weird it was to go for a walk around Dundee Town Centre and hear my voice reading the news on a loudspeaker in the local shopping centre. We pre-recorded the last four bulletins of the day on a weekend, so I’d recorded the first 8/10 live and then do the final 4 before I left for the evening.
December 2018 commemorates my tenth anniversary of getting a job at Talk107. As a Producer for a major Edinburgh radio station it remains one of my firm career highlights and allowed me to look after things like the Drive Time show and create content and features like I’d dreamed of since I was 15. Of course, I was closer to 15 at the time than I am now, and I’m still dreaming. Still writing articles and creating words and being as descriptive as I can with this narrative – perhaps to pull on your heartstrings this festive season?
My first Journalism lecturer was named Tom Clarke. He gave me some interesting advice, on my very first day as a Professional Journalist, when he told me that if I didn’t consider myself a Journalist from this moment on I would never be one. And he was right, because this was before the age of YouTube and Video Journalism, where every person with a camera can claim to be a reporter. Oddly enough, that used to annoy me, but then I realised that just because you give somebody a football doesn’t mean they know how to play soccer. And even when they learn to kick a ball and score a goal, does it mean they can make the first team?
What I mean by this is that Journalism, from my perspective, is a skill. There’s an ability to be able to create something and a talent or a flair that is inhalable. I don’t necessarily agree that you have to pay to go to University to obtain something like this, but I do agree that you’ll soon discover whether you have it or not, and your voice and your presence will carry you. I think another talent for Journalism is investigation – the ability to hunt and find what you need – to ask questions others would naturally shy away from or just to be the person who has the self-belief, self-determination, courage, respect or whatever to put their hand up and challenge.
The same lecturer also told me that you shouldn’t accept gifts from bands, that you need to avoid writing in the first person and that you should diversify as much as possible. And I don’t think I’ve been able to keep a single one of those rules. The difference between my skills in Journalism and those of, say, a solicitor; the lawyer doesn’t give legal advice for free. Rarely have I met a comedian who doesn’t inform me that when somebody learns what they do, there’s an expectation they’ll tell them a joke. Imagine meeting someone at a dinner party who informs you they’re a cleaner – would you immediately ask them to empty your bins?
At one point in my career I stopped being creative. I stopped presenting my radio show, stopped writing articles like these, stopped taking photographs and posting them online. I even hesitated to make Facebook posts longer than four syllables. I did this because a friend, who is also a Journalist, told me he wouldn’t take a commission for work unless it was paid. He’s still waiting. I became incensed at the idea that everybody wants this work for free, that I couldn’t earn a living doing what I loved because I was selling myself short. From what I know, most of the people I studied Journalism with in University went on to study other subjects – a majority of them retrained and entered medicine. They look back at their Journalism time as the naïve folly of youth, as if I’m approaching being that guy you notice in your record store. The dude with the ponytail whose greatest moment was aged 23.
But that’s not where my story ends.
Because I realised that if I enjoy doing something, monetary value (although important), should not be the deciding factor. I know filmmakers who are hesitant to create new projects because they simply can’t afford it. Ideas and scripts sitting in a drawer which would make millions – perhaps – but the world is saturated with Netflix originals and re-original content.
A friend once complemented me. We were standing next to a plane that had flown in World War 2 and I said “Imagine, at aged 19, getting in this plane and flying across the skies. Dropping bombs on other countries, shooting down enemies…” and he just looked at me, told me never to lose that, because all he saw “was a fucking plane”. But that gentlemen once told me that filmmaking, true filmmaking, is an art. Directors like James Cameron and writers like John Hughes used to create visual and aural poetry – whereas nowadays, there are less obvious concerns for craft.
So I’ll continue writing. But not because I believe I’m better than anyone else. But because I believe that if you’re good at something, you should never stop doing it – and you should be able to choose the direction it takes. Last night I spent two hours sitting by a computer and listening to music. I heard an album from start to finish without interruption. I can’t remember the last time I did that. We live in a world of such fleeting glances, GIF’s and disposable media, that taking time out to do something which meant that other things couldn’t get done seemed alien.