Paul Barrow is a freelance writer and actor who has also worked as a script reader for professional theatres. He is currently working on a comedic fantasy novel about Death (the character, not the concept) and his second full length stage play. He lives in Leeds in the UK and drinks a ridiculous amount of tea.
You can find Paul on twitter at @VelvetTortoise.
Inspirational Interview with Author & Actor, Paul Barrow
Like every writer the worries about lack of money and job security are a big part of it. But being totally honest, a major hurdle to overcome was that I simply wasn’t working hard or smartly enough. I fell into the ‘one-itis’ trap many writers do, of spending years writing one project then years trying to get that made / published.
In reality, it should be about being continually working, writing new things and making some things myself where possible. It took me ten years to realise this. I have made more progress in the last 2 years than the previous ten combined. To the point where I now do get paid to write and also to read scripts for theatres.
I still work full time in a ‘real job’ but it’s a significant step forwards. There’s a huge amount of freedom in realising that what has been holding you back is yourself, because you have the power to change that.
What motivates you to want to make your dreams come true?
Getting up on cold, dark Monday mornings to go to work (and I like my job, but not as much as writing!) certainly keeps me motivated to move on to something with a better lifestyle.
For me it’s never been about fame and fortune and I would go as far as to say that it shouldn’t be for anyone who seriously wants to be a writer because it happens to so few and is outside of your control. I stay motivated because I have stories that I want to tell, I enjoy writing and the tremendous sense of achievement when I finish something. That thing that now exists in the world because you created it can never be taken away.
I’m a firm believer in working hard but I hope that one day writing will allow me to work hard on my own terms and leave more time for the truly important things, like time with family and friends.
How are you dealing with fear, doubt and worry?
I like the fact that this question assumes that there will be fear, doubt and worry. That’s very important. Because the first step towards dealing with it is realising that literally every other writer also feels it. That takes some of the pressure off.
Personally, I try to focus only on the road slightly ahead. I set myself short term goals of things that are achievable. Finish an article or a chapter, contact a set number of agents or magazines or whatever it is. I find trying to set goals like ‘write a novel’ is counter productive because it’s just too big and too far away and too hard. Take things step by step and it will come.
The worst time for doubt for me is upon receiving the inevitable rejection letters. When you are being told the thing you spent a year of your life writing is not wanted. My best advice would be to already be getting on with something else before you receive the letter. That way you have something else to focus on.
Also, talk to other writers. Most of them, in my experience, are really nice people. Twitter has been a brilliant tool for this. I have become friends with many nice, talented people on there. Writing is generally a solitary pursuit. It’s good to get out of your own head from time to time. Also, don’t forget to make time for your ‘real life’. Go out with friends, see a movie or whatever.
What steps are you taking towards reaching your goals?
Writing more. This is the number one. This also means spending less time on a first draft. Get it written then worry about getting it right.
Finally, it’s really important to keep experience up to date. It’s no good doing a really good job five years ago and relying on that experience forever. I am much more proactive now in searching out opportunities. A lot of it is about having the confidence to ask. As the saying goes, whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.
Who or what inspires you to stay motivated?
In the very early stages of my career, back in high school, I had an excellent drama teacher called Mr Harrison. He was a huge help and influence on me because he was the first person to give me the freedom to write comedy how I wanted to and put it on as part of the school Christmas comedy reviews. I doubt many people would have given that sort of chance to a fifteen year old with no prior writing experience but it really boosted my confidence.
I have to include my parents I this also. No matter what weird thing I wanted to try, from writing to standup comedy or professional acting, they never said ‘you can’t’. They instilled a hard working mentality in me but also a sense that anything can be achieved through that hard work. That support is vital for the dark times staring at a blank screen wondering where the next joke is coming from.
In a professional context, my heroes in the business come mainly from the classic BBC comedy stable. The late greats of British TV comedy, John Sullivan, Eric Morcambe and Ronnie Barker being the ones who come to mind immediately.
In writing I still return to American novelist, John Irving, whose book ‘The World According To Garp’ changed my life as a teenager as it was unlike anything I had ever read before. It was the first book that made me think that there might be a place for my voice on people’s bookshelves.
Dramatist, Alan Bennett, continues to be a huge influence on me. I met him at a Q&A event several years ago and asked for advice.
Just because you’re young, never think that you have nothing to say. If you feel like you need to say something, there will be other people out there like you who need to hear it said.
It’s the best advice I’ve ever been given. Possibly apart from ‘always check the zip on your trousers is done up before going on stage…’