There was a flurry of posts on Shooting People this week, sparked by a guy who was wondering if he should give up if he hasn’t achieved success by a certain age.
Naturally, the flood of responses told him not to be silly, keep pushing for the dream, never give in, never give up … etc, etc, etc.
Personally I had to fight the urge to tell him to quit now – part of my ongoing project to eliminate all the competition.
All well and good.
Although a couple of people posted replies along the lines of:
“Scriptwriting is my life. My wife has left me, my kids have been taken away, I’m being kicked out of my flat, I’ve been on the dole for years and I feed myself on one tin of beans a week. I’m starving, I’m impoverished and I’m bitterly depressed, but it’s worth it because I’m pursuing my dream and I’ll never give up.”
This struck me as … fucking stupid.
Scriptwriting is your life?
My life is my friends and my family. It’s experiencing new things, meeting new people, going to new places. It’s hard work, it’s laughter, it’s learning to cope with the knock backs. It’s loving and being loved in return.
Screenwriting is sitting in a room on your own hunched over a keyboard.
I’m not saying I don’t enjoy it and spend a large proportion of my life doing it; but it’s not a life. And given those two descriptions – who sounds most likely to have something to write about?
Um … obviously, I’m talking about the definition of a life versus the definition of screenwriting. Anyone who’s had all the wife leaving, being made homeless, starving issues probably has quite a lot to write about. You’d probably slit your own throat whilst doing it, but there’s a lot of meat there. What I’m talking about here is people who deliberately let their obsession put them in that situation, not people who are unfortunate through no fault of their own.
Writing is a job, just like any other. Yes it can be fun, and yes I enjoy it more than any other job I’ve ever had – but it’s frustrating, depressing and chock full of stupid office politics. Imagine the worst office you’ve worked in – or better yet, take the worst people from every office you’ve ever worked in, imagine them all suddenly becoming famous, highly strung, deeply unsure of themselves and sporting an ego the size of Africa.
Now multiply it by a thousand and you’ve still nowhere near the egg-shell treading nature of the job.
The point is that whereas people dream of becoming a writer – once you’re getting paid and having to do it on demand it quickly becomes work-a-day and tiresome. Why do you think writers procrastinate so much? Not because it’s such a wonderful experience that you can’t wait to immerse yourself in it time and time again – but because there’s frequently more interesting things going on around you.
Like washing the dishes, or cutting the grass, or even reorganising your sock drawer.
It’s the same as any job – bits of it are more fun than others, there are days when you can’t wait to throw yourself into your work and days where you can’t wait to give up and go and watch TV.
I decided a long time ago that I would never, ever be a struggling artist. I don’t see the advantage of staying at home all day every day trying to write when no one wants to read it, starving yourself in pursuit of a fantasy job which you may never achieve.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try – but for god’s sake: be sensible.
No job is worth losing your lover over. No job is worth becoming homeless or losing access to your kids or starving yourself. These are not the actions of a well balanced individual.
And I can guarantee no one who refuses to work and stays at home all day does any more writing than anyone else. Honestly, I can guarantee that. People who have all day to write do exactly the same as people who only write in the evenings or weekends: spend most of their time browsing the net for porn.
Writing is one of those careers which may never happen – you have to be realistic. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, you should. I also don’t advocate setting yourself a deadline – there’s no reason why you can’t keep writing until the day you die. If you enjoy it, keep doing it – but for fuck’s sake don’t starve yourself to do it.
You need a plan, a strategy. Find a day job which allows you the time to write and pays you enough to live on. Comfortably.
With this in mind, here’s my quick guide to finding an ideal, writing friendly, day job.
- You need a job which pays you enough to live on. This is important, you don’t have to struggle and it doesn’t make you a better writer. Yes experience is good; but if I wanted to write about being homeless I would pick someone off the streets, buy them a meal, ask them some questions and then use my fucking imagination. That’s what it’s there for. Most of the people you’re writing for don’t know what it’s like to be homeless either – they won’t know the difference.
- Make sure your job doesn’t take up too much time. 9-5 is okay, but try to find one without a massive commute. Adding two hours to the beginning and end of each day is not a good idea.
- Find a job with no homework. Don’t pick something where you have to spend four hours a night filling in paperwork – what’s the point? That’s writing time.
- Find a job which requires little or no thought. If the job isn’t mentally demanding, you can spend your working day thinking about Vampires and explosions and shit.
- Don’t work on your own. You need to meet lots of people so you can steal their life stories and their speech patterns. Characters are so much easier to create when someone else does it for you.
- If possible, avoid working with computers. You don’t want to be staring at a computer screen all day and again all night. Plus, computers are complicated and you have to think about them. See point 4. The only exception to this is if your job consists of sitting at a desk with a computer and you have no work to do. Brilliant, you’re now getting paid to write.
- Avoid responsibility. Only accept promotions if it means doing less work for more money. The goal here is not to get too involved in your day job, just go in, do it, come home. Don’t get involved. Satisfaction comes from writing, this is just to pay the bills.
- Consider shiftwork. If you don’t have a family and you don’t mind missing the odd Saturday night, try working odd hours. That way, when you do start having meetings you’ll be able to take them midday, mid-week without having to phone in sick.
- This is very important, find a job which is tolerable. You don’t have to love it, but you do have to like it. A boring, depressing job makes you … guess what? Boring and depressed. Find something which is a bit of a laugh and doesn’t make you want to kill yourself and others. Remember, you may be doing it for the rest of your life.
There, simple isn’t it?
At the end of the day, becoming a scriptwriter costs money. You need a computer, software, a printer, stamps, envelopes, paper, ink, competition entry fees, travel fare for meetings, attending festivals, courses …
YOU NEED MONEY TO MAKE MONEY.
Being a full time writer might be your dream, but it shouldn’t be your life. You may never make it … don’t waste your life in pursuit of something which may be forever out of reach. Again, I’m not advocating NOT trying. Try your hardest, be dedicated, write as often as you can without losing touch with friends or loved ones; but be realistic. You need to look after yourself, physically and emotionally. For that you need money and you need love.
Get your priorities right, it’s just another job.