Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Doing it for money

Another question and answer today, regarding filthy lucre. Obviously the dream for most of us is to sell that spec, but what happens then?

Anonymous writes: I recently made my first script sale (for a feature), but now I'm faced with the prospect of writing a draft, I'm a bit frozen. Because they're paying money for this script, suddenly I feel like a fraud, and am not sure if I can do it. Is this normal?

No, it's not normal, it's completely unheard of and you are a monstrous freak.

Of *course* it's normal, absolutely. Happens to everyone. It's hard enough second guessing your work when you're just doing it on spec. But as soon as money enters the equation, it's a whole different kettle of fish: OMG, they're paying me, that means I have to deliver the best thing I've ever written, until now people have just been polite about my writing because it didn't make a difference to them, but now they're paying me there's no way anything I write will pass muster, they're going to hate me, it's all shit, I can't write, I'm a complete fraud, they'll find me out, what the hell am I thinking, nothing I write is worth *anything*, surely they won't pay me cash just for writing silly stories down on paper... And as soon as I hand in the script they'll say "Oh. Oh dear. And we *paid* for this? I thought we'd hired a proper writer? Jesus. Can we get the money back? You know what, forget it - we'll just cut our losses, that's the price we pay for being idiots. We'll just never work with this joker again. Get me that list of Proper Writers."

ALL these thoughts and many more went through my head when I sold Severance and had to sit down to write a draft that they were paying me for. And then again when I handed it in, as you can read in this post from 2004. And then again for every other draft. And again for every other draft of everything else. Once they're paying for it, you immediately assign a cash value to every line, it can't be helped. The only thing you can do is breathe, and remember that stuff you wrote yesterday for free is JUST as valuable as stuff you write today for money. If you're writing honestly and doing the best work you can - which you bloody well should be, for everything - then it'll be fine. Don't second guess yourself, just write it exactly how you normally would.

There is literally nothing else I can say that will help with this feeling, other than: yes, it's normal, happens to everyone. If it's any consolation, it happens every single time you hand in something that's paid for. Never goes away. Just one of the many writer insecurities to add to the list. On the bright side, it means you're now a proper writer - you have the two main qualities, which are (a) getting paid for words, and (b) massive insecurity.

They're paying you because they can't write. If they could write, do you think they'd fork over large sums of cash? No way. Most producers and execs are tight-fisted bastards, so you're obviously worth the money. If you weren't a proper writer, you wouldn't be getting paid. Therefore, you are a proper writer. Congratulations! Now, savour the feeling, and look forward to that heady moment when the money goes into your account. And then blow it all on hookers and crack.

Update: Just to prove it happens to all of us, here's an early interview with JK Rowling, who mentions the panic she faced when she sold the US rights to her book (that part starts around 5:29, but it's worth watching the whole thing to see how happy she was to have sold 30,000 copies, and her hopes about the upcoming movie deal - wonder how that turned out...)


Dozeymagz said...

I've always thought that everyone selling their talents in the media business were always super-confident, calm and were pretty much on top of things. Reading your post has really been a big confidence booster! (I don't write or anything, and the most I've just plucked up the courage to do is sell a few hand crafted greetings cards - hardly the same league!) but just that basic feeling of being scared that you're not going to be up to expectations seems to be the same - granted on a much lesser scale. It's just very comforting to know (in an odd sort of way!)
Thanks for these insights into the creative workings of a writers mind!

Dom Carver said...

We can get paid for writing?

Why the fuck did nobody tell me?

All my work is going on eBay first thing tomorrow morning.

Amanda said...

I love that you've tagged this entry with 'q&a'... and you know why, too!

Lucy said...

Even better, you can get paid for writing a load of shit that never gets made because they fall out. I've done it several times, it's like being given money for nowt. Sort of. If you didn't have to write and give in said shit script. And no one believes you that you ever wrote anything cos they've never seen it. Apart from that, it's brill.

Anonymous said...

Hi J.,I was re-reading some stuff ...(unpaid of course)..that you wrote some years back.Which lead me to google you to say 'hi'.
Was totally...I MEAN see you wrote severance.I watched it a few weeks ago and loved it makes sence .Just want to say well done.
This week my thinking is ..dont give up..follow a dream.
Debbie Doo (eth..eth !!!)

Peter Pan said...

Hookers and crack? Or Hookers on crack? Or Hookers on crack anc crack?
Oh its a world of choices.....

Typical Q&A attendee said...

So, I have a question, if I may?

It seems to me that Severance is advocating the killing of innocent office workers and I'm concerned that the average person on the street will be tempted to vent any frustration they feel in their day to day lives in a similar fashion. That kind of thing does happen. Mentally unstable people are influenced by these films.

And as for Gill, as an arachnophobe, I feel she would have been perfectly justified to kill that spider. Sometimes killing is justified. Especially if a character is very scared. Of course, I'm torn by the thought that had she killed the spider other people would be encouraged to do so indiscriminately and then move onto small mammals such as rats and mice, eventually moving up to cats, dogs, perhaps a sheep or cow. Eventually they'll be a serial killers.

The character of Steve is also glamorising drug use despite the obvious side effects of paranoia being shown.

And my question is... oh, I seem to have forgotton. I'll come back if it ever comes to me.

Matt said...

Off-topic, but have you seen this?

Annie Rhiannon said...

"I recently made my first script sale (for a feature), but now I'm faced with the prospect of writing a draft, I'm a bit frozen. Because they're paying money for this script, suddenly I feel like a fraud, and am not sure if I can do it. Is this normal?"

Ooh, I can't wait to have this problem!

wcdixon said...

Great post.

It's a pretty universal feeling, inadequacy or incapability, one has after a first sale...and can continue to rear up with subsequent sales as well, unfortunately.

James Moran said...

Matt: Hadn't seen that, that's really cool, cheers!

Peter: Hookers on crack, and crack, would be my choice. Although they do try to murder you, so maybe not.

Q+A Person: I am coming round your house to murder you. With hookers on crack.