Friday, July 15, 2011

Don't Be A Writer, Please.

A friend of mine and I were discussing our children and the funny things they say and do. The topic of what the kids wanted to be when they grew up surfaced.  The typical childhood ambitions of being a police officer, fire fighter, ballerina, doctor, lawyer, princess, etc.  Then he told be his 8 year old daughter wanted to be a writer. He asked me to be some sort of mentor for her.

"If you want a someone that is a mediocre writer that has struggled for years to get a major work published, and would most likely try everything to dissuade her to have writing as a occupation, then I'm your guy." I told him.

He didn't like my response, but that is how I feel about it. The reasons for this sentiment, as I said to him, will be explained below.

First, it takes a mix of particular skills and personality to be a writer.  Great writers are very smart, articulate (when they do talk to people), well read, observant, and have one a hell of a work ethic. They tend to listen more and speak less. They must have talent and it's usually noticed at young age. And, the most important quality, I feel, it's the ability to handle constant rejection, ridicule, and isolation.

That will not be enough for most. It's so insanely difficult to get published. What I mean by this is being published by a well known and respected publisher of books or magazines. Many of them won't even look at your manuscript without being represented by an agent. The process of getting an agent is just as hard because so many agents are reluctant to take on new writers that have not been published.

The main reason for their reluctance is the amount of bad writing that is out there. So many people send out their work when it is far from ready. They either lack the objectivity to understand what is good, or just lack the talent, sometimes it's both. The agent or publisher have assistants that have to read this bad writing, and in turn, makes them lose their own objectivity to others writing that may be very good. Though infrequent, it does happen a few times.

How about self-publishing?  Now we are getting somewhere.  Somewhere we don't need to go . Self - publishing is excellent for a person who knows what he/she is doing. This, unfortunately, constitutes only a very small percentage of people. The rest, once again, lack the skills or objectivity to pull it off.

Have you read some of these novels? They are just downright dreadful. It makes people not read anymore, which compounds the fact fewer are not reading anyway. We can blame this on the boom of the video game industry, in which many kids rather play their x-box or ps3 than read a book. This is the fact parents don't read to their children as much as in years past.

So, what advice do I give to a young inspiring writer?  Well, I tell them to make a career choice in something other than writing.  Writing should start as a hobby, practiced at least an hour a day, everyday.  After you establish yourself in some other occupation and it gives you a steady income, than you could expand your writing to a part-time second job of sorts. I know from experience that trying to make a living through writing alone is a tremendously stressful and impoverishing way to survive. Save yourself from the disappointment.

I am often asked about movies. As in writing for film. I recommend not being a screenwriter even more than being an author.  It is even worse for these guys.

First, it is different skill. Don't think for one moment that because you can write a book, you should be able to bang out a good script. You probably can't.

Now, say for the sake of argument you write a very good script after the several dozen rewrites it goes out. You then you win the lottery and get yourself an agent who thinks she may be able to sell it. A studio tells her they are interested, and they option it for one year.

Now before the rest of you rush out and try to write a rip roaring kick-ass movie, this is not necessarily a good thing. What the writer has here is really nothing. All the studio paid for is the exclusive right to buy the script, that is all. This means he can't shop it around to other studios. And most likely, this studio will ask you to do some more rewriting on a script they probably will not buy.

Okay, let's say you hit the lottery again and they actually buy it for a nice chunk of cash.  Unfortunately, unlike a novel which you retain the copyright, you sold yours to them.

That's right, they own the rights to the script you wrote to do what they please. (except the separated rights that the Writers Guild of America  got from their MBA.) That means they can decide not to make the movie. What's worse, they can, and almost always do, hire other writers to do rewrites. If the movie gets made, you may not even get any writing credit for it.

The very worst part, it may be a movie that bombs at the box office that has your name on it even if it not the movie you originally envisioned it.  This has happened several times to even the great ones.

So do you still want to be a screenwriter?  You do!  Well, then be a novelist first and control your work. Most of the scripts today are adapted from other written media like novels, short stories, biographies, and comic books.  I think that's the better way to go.

If it a person is still committed to be a writer, despite me explaining these pitfalls , I will still do my best to support and encourage them.  I will be fair but tough, conditioning them for the rigorousness and routine of being a writer. Call it boot camp for the scribe.

My final advice: Mama don't let your babies grow up to be writers. Goes for you Dads too.  If they do so despite your efforts to the contrary, then you encourage them to be the best than can be.

I only wish I had that guidance.

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