One of my first conventions on the working side of the table was Dallas Comic-Con. It was a huge learning weekend and one where we (the ZSC) connected with people who’d come to be huge parts of our lives–we just didn’t know it. Others we met were simply cool cats who made the trip a blast. Todd Farmer is on the latter list. Off the bat, I kinda looked up to the grown-ass man walking around with brightly painted toenails. Why? His daughter asked him to paint them. He owned it with self-assurance I sure as shit didn’t have a clue how to accomplish on my own. It was inspiring. Not half as inspiring as the article I read yesterday.
“I’ve been paid more than fair. And I’ve been paid less than fair. As I suspect is the case with most working screenwriters. We just don’t talk about it. We can’t. One, to speak out runs the risk of being branded difficult. We don’t want that. And two, Hollywood likes to hire success. Therefore it’s important we appear more successful than we are. You may not be aware of this but Hollywood promotes lying. Pretending we are more successful than we are. Younger than we are. Smarter than we are. In this department, actors really have it bad but it’s an industry wide challenge.”
Todd goes on to describe how he went from snagging just enough writing work to squeak by to living in his car, working a 7-4 job which left little time to do what writers are born to do–write. His story–and several other writers I look to for inspiration–is what I dread. The reality that one day words alone won’t be enough to get by terrifies me. Sometimes the worry keeps me up at night, screws with my head and prevents me from doing the one thing I swore would be my way to make it in the world. Then I read stories like Todd’s or Sherrilyn Kenyon’s. See how they managed to pick themselves up, dust off, and write the next thing. It’s inspiring.
It’s also a reality creative people dread to share. At what point in the crapfest are we allowed to raise a hand and say, “This isn’t a glamorous life.” Never, if the people cutting the checks had their way. Writers in particular are expected to be heard only through what’s on the page. Criticizing the process puts us on the “Diva” list. When in reality, it’d just be nice to sell a manuscript worth enough to get PG&E off your back. And if that doesn’t happen, then the writing is pushed back to “When I have time” to make room for a paying gig that’ll devour your soul, but ensures you eat more than rice and beans for dinner five nights a week. We’ve all been there. All had that moment staring into the fridge wondering how soy sauce and wilted lettuce can feed a family.
But if we mention it, if we take steps to make writing pay in a non-traditional manner, we’re whining and expecting others to give us a hand up. In reality, it’d just be nice to get paid for the work we do. Writers gamble with their future a lot. We spend all our time working on something and if it doesn’t sell, there’s six month’s (or more) work shoved in a computer file to be forgotten. There’s so few professions where this is a common occurrence. My dumb ass happened to pick the one where it happens almost as much as breathing.
It’s not all dire straights. Todd and other writers who’ve struggled eventually do bounce back. There’s a lot of humbling effort involved. The road is a little smoother knowing we aren’t alone. More people need to take the risk and come clean about the reality of this life. It’d certainly help fledgling writers who feel like they’re doing it all wrong when rejections pour in. Trust me, you’re doing it correctly. Just have to keep moving forward. If fear of failure digs its claws into your ankles, you’re doomed.