Advice From A Snapper
This post was inspired by a very good BBC article about David Hurn, a dyslexic Welsh schoolboy who through luck and good judgement became one of the world’s few elite Magnum photographers, taking some of the 20th century’s most iconic photographs.
In the article Hurn, now 83, asks himself how he managed to reach this exulted position. By following his instincts and turning down what appeared to be brilliant opportunities (he was offered a job as a Time magazine photographer but said no) he risked everything and upset his family, but stuck to his guns. This could only have worked if he was visibly talented and sure enough of his ability to take chances.
A photograph has an immediate effect. It’s so personal that it leaves a signature within it; you can look at a certain photo and know at once who was behind the camera. It’s the same with writing.
Hurn jumping from the status of an unemployed student to a world class snapper had several surprising stages, but his story has a common element I find a lot among writers. It’s the element of narrow-focus to the point of obsession. Of course, not all obsessives are talented. I know someone who is incredibly determined to be a writer, but his work is terrible and simply not improving, because he lacks the basic curiosity about people.
So what steps can someone take to kickstart a career as a writer? Study English literature; you don’t need to go to a university to do it. Keep your reading very wide-ranging. After the classics, add in comics and genre authors and you’ll see where their ideas come from. You’ll soon discover what you don’t like.
The best piece of advice ever given to me was from my English teacher, who said; ‘Dump all of the subjects you hate. Study the ones you love. It will get you into trouble with everyone but ignore that. We don’t care if you take our advice or not. In a couple of months you’ll be replaced by another set of new faces. Do what you want, not what others want you to do.’
Hurn says; ‘It’s much easier to start at the top than the bottom’. Ie. ask advice from the successful and work down. Take as many jobs as you need to fund your writing, but never stop writing for more than three days in a row. Never break the habit. Don’t worry about networking – that’s what agents are for. Concentrate on the thing you’re best at. It stood Hurn in good stead.