Rob Gilroy

Geeking out over sitcoms

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This week, as I fail to find the time to get all that needs writing, written; I spare a thought for St Paul. The days and weeks he put in, writing letters to everyone from the Romans to the Corinthians, must have been staggering.

Not to mention the odd bits of correspondence to family members. I wouldn’t have put it past his Auntie Pam to drop him a note which said “I see you’ve found the time to reply to the Ephesians; any chance you’re going to RSVP to my birthday do.”

And we all know letter writing takes time. It’s the same with email; you start off wanting to write one or two lines and by half ten you’re copy-and-pasting from Word to double check spelling and punctuation. That doesn’t even take into account the fact S.P wouldn’t have the use of a word processor, never mind laptop. Any cutting and pasting he did would have involved some scissors crudely fashioned from sheep shears and whatever passed for Pritt Stick in his day.

Yet find the time to write he did. Meanwhile, here I am juggling not only several writing tasks at once, but life in general. I won’t lie; it’s tough. The only real lesson we can take from this is that life in 50 AD was a lot easier than now.

Like anyone who puts ‘writer’ on his CV without any real evidence to back it up, I tend to coddle my inability to schedule writing time. Instead of just admitting I’m a lazy schlub who can’t organise my time properly, I attempt to convince myself that any time not writing (which is most of it) is actually time spent thinking about writing. It’s really quite clever.

Podcasts, interviews, Twitter writing bots – anything that looks vaguely like a source of creative influence fills my every waking moment. It’s getting to the point that if I listen, read, surf any more; there won’t be any time left for me to write.

That said, someone who has, for a long time, been an incredibly insightful source of inspiration as well as a fountain of writing knowledge, is the writer James Cary.

Mr Cary co-created the BBC 3 sitcom Bluestone 42, as well as creating the Radio 4 shows Hut 33 and Think the Unthinkable. Not only that, but he had a hand in a great many popular TV sitcoms; from Miranda and My Family to My Hero. Basically, all the ‘M’ ones.

He also does a passable St Paul impression by finding the time to write an incredibly insightful sitcom writing blog – Sitcom Geek. I urge you to check it out, if you haven’t already. It’s full of useful tips and tricks, narrowing in on characters, plots, scripts, pitches; basically all the things I’m no where near starting.

For anyone remotely interested in the mechanics of sitcom and how they work across British and American comedy, both single camera and studio-based, James is a man in the know.

He’s also written a sitcom writing book, based on his excellent blog. You can buy it here. Unlike most writing books, this is written by someone who’s written more than just writing books. Which makes a change. I can’t claim to have read it yet, it’s on my list after ‘getting this sitcom started’ but I promise you, it will be worth every penny.

And not only that, Mr ‘I Can Find The Time To Do Everything’ has just started his own podcast. Alongside Dave Cohen, someone else who’s no stranger to competing scripts and dabbling in other things as well; they have created the Sitcom Geeks podcast. An every-other-weekly show looking at the dynamics involved in bringing your script from half-arsed idea (that’s me) to fully finished project. The first two episodes are up on – mentions the rival’s name quietly – The British Comedy Guide’s website, and are well worth a listen.

I honestly can’t recommend James (and David’s) advice more. Whether it helps you crack some of those thornier issues surrounding scripts, or simply unlocks your writer’s block; it’s clear, concise advice given with good humour by somebody who knows how hard writing can be.

And trust me, I’m no St. Paul. It’s hard.