“How They Made It: Inspirational stories of how others succeeded in their dream job – and how you can too” is a diverse and inspirational collection of career profiles, compiled by graduates and aimed at graduates. But this isn’t your usual career guide. This book won’t give you standard job profiles or a list of how tos and contact information.
This book is far more than that; it’s life stories telling of struggles and triumphs, unique approaches and what the jobs are really like after you’ve finally got them.
If you’re anything like me, and love a good interview or biography to inspire you, then this book is ideal. Furthermore, there’s a lot of relevant material for writers and creatives. Included are profiles of children’s poet and author Michael Rossen, critic Mark Kermode, fashion magazine editor-in-chief Trish Halpin, screenwriters Barbara Machin and Paul Abbot, and TV producer Tim Hinks.
Not only do we get a biographical profile of the interviewees, we also get an insight into their career paths and a whole range of inspirational ideas and tips for us as writers as the beginning of our own careers. As a Children’s Laureate, Michael Rossen has found the process of reigniting the trend of performing poetry invigorating, and he’s embracing social media too, having found it thrilling to “work and practice styles in”.
Perseverance seems key throughout the inspiring tales, with creative director Paul Brazier stating “perseverance furthers” as his motto.
“If you Keep plugging away, if you don’t lose enthusiasm, you can get somewhere”. “If you don’t put yourself out there you will slip off the dial within six months.”
Not only is perserverance key for many of the success stories in this book, but open-mindedness and diversity, too. Waking The Dead creator and writer Barbara Machin never once let her passion go for better-paid jobs, instead taking on writing-related jobs such as a literature fieldworker for the Arts Council.
The interviews with screenwriters were particularly fascinating for me as a writer, because they’re not only educational regarding career progression routes but there are some fab tips in there as well. Contrary to popular belief, writing for other shows such as Casualtly can in fact help you develop your own voice, says Barbara, and the key ingredient to screenwriting is imagination.
“You can research all you like, but it won’t create great stories or characters”.
“If you learn to make the ordinary extraordinary, then you can write tales,” says writer and producer Paul Abbott. Paul is inspirational not only as a writer, but as a mental health sufferer, having not let his bipolar disorder affect his career aspirations. Having written prose during University, he later turned to scriptwriting after having been inspired by reading the manuscript for Kes. Confidence, says Abbott, is key in starting out:
“You put your best foot forward first [when sending work to industry professionals], and don’t send in half-hearted work”.
The only criticism I have of this book is that the profiles are often focussed on those whose careers were built during the 1960s through 1990s. Therefore, some of the routes may no longer be as relevant to today’s youth who are looking for ways of breaking in. However, that said, the information given is still hugely informative and valuable to any aspiring professional.
The variety of careers covered could also be perceived as a downside when you already have a specific career in mind, but as an aspiring writer you will definitely find a lot of inspiration and advice within its pages. Personally, I found the non-relevant career profiles just as inspiring.
Endemol producer Tim Hincks wisely advises us to “research the people and be sure it’s the industry you want to get into,” and I’d say reading a book like this is a great start at getting a taste of what different creative careers are really like.