5 Things I Learned About
Writing at Uni

By Frankie Nehra

Writing can be a frustrating thing, it can also be the most rewarding task in the world, if you manage to get things right. Sometimes it feels like everything you are writing is gold, whilst other times it can be so frustrating that your laptop narrowly misses a meeting with the wall. For the past few years I have been studying screenwriting as a subject at university. Many students will tell you that trying to do writing in this environment is ridiculously difficult because of other commitments and deadlines. I however, think that it is one of the most perfect times you could ever hope for to shape your skills and decide on your method. These are a few other things that I have learned from this experience.  

Finding the “Right Time”

And we begin with a complaint of many, something which at my time at university I have heard, and said, a million and one times. “I can’t find the right time to write”. This, to me, was one of the most important things to think about when I started writing properly. When at university, there is the drawback that you have to work to definite deadlines, however there is also the major plus that a reasonable time to go to bed does not exist. There is pretty much no concept of night and day, therefore, whenever you find your perfect time to write is, in most cases, it is plausible in Student Land, though this isn’t for everyone. The truth is, I have found, that the right time is whenever you feel in the most invested in your idea. If you are excited by the idea that you have and the piece of writing that you are working on, then, in my experience, you will want to work on it all the time, whenever you can. Realistically, you can’t always get yourself ecstatic about what you are working on, this is where finding the right time becomes important. Everyone has one, in my experience it is just a matter of trying out lots of different times and deciding which one is best for you.

Find Your Support Network

Admittedly this one sounds a bit ridiculous. I don’t mean that from being at university I have learned that you need to have emotional support to do a bit of writing. I just mean that it helps to have a group of people who are like- minded that you can discuss your writing with. (Read: Shout at when you are frustrated.) The beauty of studying writing is that you are surrounded by people who care about their work just as much as you do about yours. I have found that, because of this caring, you can trick them into caring about your work as well. Whilst studying, I truly found out the importance of having people around you who are hoping to work in the same field. These people will be able to give you advice and criticisms from the point of view of someone who understands your plight because it is always going to be similar to one they have been in. You understand each others frustrations, this way they can shout at you about their work, you can shout at them about yours and everyone can go home happy and ready to write their next scene.  It helps if the people you are sharing your ideas with are good friends, in my experience this usually means that they will be honest. I have found myself more likely to take the opinions of someone I trust over someone I barely know who just happens to do the same course. (Also the shouting thing can backfire if it is someone you barely know- Friends will generally put up with you.)  

Listen to your criticisms…

Everyone pretends to like to hear criticisms of their own work. Everyone, at some stage, has gritted their teeth and claimed that they do really want to be criticized because it helps with the writing process. The sad thing is, is that it’s true. Criticisms, whilst being absolutely no fun for the person who has slaved over a script, torn it up because it isn’t good enough, started again and then repeated this process many times, are helpful. In my experience, you can get so lost in your work, particularly if it is around a feature length size, that judgement on what is good and what isn’t becomes somewhat clouded. I have learned that this happens even to the most negative people in the world, even those who think that their idea is not good enough become lost in it. Whilst studying screenwriting I have learned that the criticisms of others are what drag you back out of your self-made screenplay abyss and back into looking at things clearly.

...But learn they are not everything

It is true that criticisms are important, but so is deciding which ones are relevant to your work. Everyone has a different opinion, so next it comes to deciding whether applying it will have a positive effect on your work. In my opinion, as easy as it is be dismissive of criticisms, it is just as easy to take all of them as absolute gospel. Whilst writing my first ever assessed piece for university, I had an experience of taking too many criticism on board. I wrote a piece and then gave it in as a discussion point to a class of more than fifteen people. Naturally all of these people had very different ideas on as to how I could improve my piece, as someone who was still nervous about showing my writing, I noted them all down and vowed to change everything. I tried to apply everything and by the end, the piece was a mess, it didn’t work. I find that it is important to take on board al types of criticism, but decide which ones are completely relevant to the sort of thing you want to create, don’t change your whole piece because someone else thinks it will be better that way. I guess what I am trying to say is ‘artistic’ ego isn’t good, but sometimes a little bit of it helps.

Learn the importance of those around you

One of the great things about studying film at university was that I was in the great position of having a choice of many people that I could potentially work with. In the course I took we were divided into three groups; Writers, Directors and Producers. With this experience I was able to learn the importance of these people, all of whom were taking a role that I knew would be essential to me if I got to where I wanted with my writing. From this experience I learned that Producers are generally running around harassed, whilst Directors will be slightly frightening and are pretty much going to have a much bigger ego than you, despite all of the talk about intense and difficult writers. Beyond this, I learned the sheer importance of the people who take this role. No matter how difficult they can be, these are the people who are going to realize your vision, these people are a resource.

Believe in your work/ yourself

It is all very Disney moment, but belief in yourself and your ability is what I have learned is of upmost importance in a world where there is always someone more confident that you, always someone better and absolutely always someone more pushy. Having a degree of self- belief is certainly a skill that I picked up at university. I have always seen it as something that has to be learned, it certainly took me a while to realize that if you don’t believe in your work, it will be extremely difficult to make anyone else. Also, I find that this confidence helps with making you feel invested in your work, all the while I had little confidence in what I was writing, I often found myself not being bothered to do it, through fear that I would be awful. I have certainly learned that everyone writes things that are less than brilliant from time to time, but when I learned to have confidence in myself, I found myself writing more and more. Sure, a lot of this will be awful, but self- belief will be essential to writing something someday that is (hopefully) alright.

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About The Author

Frankie NehraMy name is Frankie Nehra. I spent a week interning at Raindance where I learned a great deal about the day- to- day workings of the company.

I have just finished studying a Media Arts degree at Royal Holloway, University of London. I hope to stay on at Royal Holloway to study for a Masters in either Screenwriting or Producing Television and Film.

When I have finished studying I aspire to write for screen and television. I also hope to write articles for music and film.


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