Monday, May 17, 2010

How To Write (For Cash)

Being a professional writer means endlessly wrestling with the suspicion that you are getting away with something. 'Writer' is one of those stereotypical vague hipster dream jobs. Right now, hundreds of fedora-sporting yahoos are setting up their laptops in coffee shops across the land. Each of them waits with bated breath for someone to ask about their novel.

Writers have a Hollywood-planted reputation for being suave, debonair charmers with just the right amount of 'torment' to justify some TV-friendly alcoholism. Californication is the worst perpetrator here.

The one thing TV/movie “writers” don't seem to do very much of is write. Sure, every now and then on Castle we'll see Nathan Fillion pecking at a laptop or David Duchoveny sitting at a typewriter. Those scenes are few and far between, though, and inevitably short. There is a very good reason for this.

Writing is boring as hell.

I say this as someone who regularly writes 5-6,000 words a day. Even creative writing is only interesting in spurts. Inspiration on its own is useless. It only achieves some sort of value when backed up by hours and hours of tedium. This is as true for journalists as it is for playwrights, novelists, and whatever the fuck James Patterson is.

Writing has a reputation as a terrifyingly difficult field to succeed in. The vast majority of aspiring wordsmiths drop out of the running before they ever make a dime. There's a reason “angry failed writer” is such a stereotypical character (Brian from Family Guy, Roman from Party Down). Is it actually that hard to make a living with your words?

Yes and no.

If your whole career plan consists of “publish novel and become wildly famous and sleep with the black chick from Firefly” you'll probably end up running into some road blocks. But if what you want, at least right now, is just to make a living as a writer, you can probably swing it.

If you are willing to do the work.

Working writers don't get to lounge around all day, slam out half a page, and retire to a swimming pool filled with jello and nubile 18-year-olds. But, if you play your cards right, you can spend every day high as a kite, huddled around your computer and writing in the dark.

It ain't exactly glamorous, but it beats the balls out of retail. Any job you don't have to wear pants to is a good one.

The Point Of All This Bullshit:
Writing for a living is easier than you think. To get started though, you will need one difficult-to-acquire item; a resume.

Your normal one probably won't do. Potential writing employers won't be as concerned with your 3 years working as a fluffer as they will be with the essay you wrote to win that scholarship contest. Your writing experience here is what matters most.

If you don't have any published material, don't worry. The Internet is full of small comedy sites and newsletters and news blogs that are looking for any quality material they can get their hands on. It doesn't matter if they don't pay, they can give you something far more valuable than the pittance that sort of writing pays; a history.

At this stage in your career, “bending” is the name of the game. A lot of writers balk at bending to a publication's “voice”, but in doing so they sell themselves short. Some of the challenge of writing in a collective voice comes from finding ways to make your own style shine through.

I'm coming to the end of this entry-we'll delve into the particulars of life as a working writer next, but I'll leave you with two great links; Here is Cracked's thread for aspiring writers. Not much looks better on a resume than an article read by millions. This is the single most useful resource for a working writer I have ever found. It's gotten me two temporary gigs, and one full-time job that I've worked for the last year-and-change. I can't recommend it enough.