Passion & The Business of Writing

heartI’m often asked by writers how much passion they should have about what they are writing.  Are they selling out by writing something they think will sell, rather than something they they feel more strongly about but is possibly less commercial?

The bottom line is that one always needs a certain amount of passion when sitting down to write.  Sometimes the passion is to launch a career.  Sometimes it’s to sustain a career.  Sometimes it’s just for the joy of writing something different and out of one’s comfort zone.

However, if one is an aspiring writer and creating a career where one doesn’t currently exist is the goal, then here’s my feeling about what to be passionate about: the business of writing.

There!  I said it!  Writing is a business. If you have any desire to make writing your sole source of income, then I suggest in the strongest terms possible that you treat your writing with the same forethought and intelligence with which you would treat any business venture.

Let’s say you had the passionate desire to open a retail store. Pick one…hardware? Pizza? Bike shop? Whatever you’re passionate about.  Would you pour your time and money into opening a store before you checked out the location? Would you open your little hardware store right next to the brand new Home Depot? Would you open your pizza shop on the same block that already had three others? How about a bike shop in the middle of a retirement community? Would you have kind words for the business sense of the people who did any of these?

If I told you that I had a business venture that I wanted you to invest a thousand dollars in, would you fork over the money just because I was passionate about it? I hope not. You would check out my business idea first. What other businesses are out there like it? Why do I think my business will succeed when others like it have failed? What’s the market like for my business? You’d ask to see some hard data from me before investing.    Isn’t that time that it takes you to write a spec screenplay worth at least the same thousand dollars you wouldn’t give me for my business idea until you checked it out first? Time is the most valuable commodity that we own. Once we squander it, it’s gone forever.

What are you going to tell your wife/husband/children/significant other about the 3/4/6/12 months you spent away from them as you wrote a screenplay that had a reduced chance of selling from the first FADE IN: because you didn’t think to check if there were other films JUST LIKE IT in development?  Or that you rushed to market without first being satisfied that it wasn’t just as good as you could make it, but as good as it needed to be to be taken seriously by agents and producers?  Would you expect your loved one to have any kind of sympathy for you after you deliberately turned a blind eye to the demands of the marketplace and then came to them upset because your new horror-musical-western screenplay got rejected again?

So, what’s the solution? How do you develop your writer’s business plan?

The fact that you’re reading this means that you’ve discovered one of the most powerful secret weapons on the planet…the Net. No joke, there are communities of aspiring writers in the THOUSANDS (www.scriptsales.com, www. screenwritinggoldmine.com) that represents a huge brain trust. Post a message. “Anyone know of any horror-musical-westerns in development?” You’ll get an answer very quickly.

How about tapping into the working professionals on the boards? Drop them a short email asking if they know of any horror-musical-westerns in development. I’d bet that (without naming names) they’d be happy to let you know.

Check out the script sales posts at least once a week over at Done Deal pro. Make it your BUSINESS (there’s that word again) to be familiar with what’s sold and to whom.

Subscribe to at least one trade paper…Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Variety Weekly, Playback (up here in Canada) even the Variety online edition…and read it cover to cover every day. This is what your professional peers and hopefully future-colleagues are reading. Shouldn’t you have the same information as they do?  Remember…you’re trying to launch a business.

What I’ve presented here is a very limited discussion of a very serious topic. It doesn’t take into account building a library of material of various genres, or writing something you feel strongly about that doesn’t sell right away but may sell in the future as the market comes back around. The business of writing is a marathon, not a sprint.

Obviously, even if you take all I’ve written to heart you still might not sell your work. Happens to me all the time. It’s impossible to totally read the market…any market. But in a game where so much is stacked against you from the outset, it behoves you to take control of whatever elements you can and master them.

Yes, by all means be passionate about all aspects of writing…particularly the business aspects of it.

4 Responses to “Passion & The Business of Writing”

  1. David Goulet August 10, 2009 at 9:44 am #

    Here’s my experience on choosing a story to write: it’s already been done. Somewhere, someone has already written a book/comic book/script/high school essay using the same premise you just went ‘eureka’ with.

    So don’t worry so much about how original your idea is (obviously it helps) but focus on your execution. True, writing a screenplay about a guy who dresses up like a bat and beats up bad guys while speaking with a raspy voice is a bit counter intuitive. That script ain’t going to sell. BUT if you really knocked off the reader’s socks with solid story structure and killer dialogue — you might just have proven you can write and be offered work on the new Cheetah Man project.

    To that end, writing a story that you feel passion for improves your chances of sticking with a script through all the inevitable rewrites and polishes. You could be left with a unsellable script, but a legit writing sample.

    This is, frankly, a mistake I feel I’ve made as an aspiring writer. I haven’t focused on one story that I really, really want to tell. Thus I don’t have one amazing script that I can show agents as proof that ‘see, I can write a movie’ – -even if there’s a dozen similar projects like it out there.

    But we learn from our mistakes and my latest script I’m starting on is going to pop those eyeballs.

  2. Nick August 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm #

    Excellent! Thanks!

    This reminds me – I was really surprised when I watched the movie, Being Mick Jagger. In one scene, Mick shows up at Elton John’s lawn party. What was the conversation about? THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC. Sure, the cameras were running, but I got the feeling from watching the scene of the two of them that people who are successful – artists who are successful – are successful because they are thinking just as much about the business of their art as the art, itself. Same thing with the Beatles. When asked about their success, Paul said nothing about their talent or passion – it was all business related. Paraphrasing here – Paul: We just wanted to do a little better than the last thing. We started out wanting to write a song. They we wanted to make a record. Then we wanted to play outside Liverpool. Finally, we wouldn’t come to America until we got a number one, because…etc.

  3. David Goulet August 11, 2009 at 8:09 am #

    Nick,

    I just heard a good quote of Gene Simmons’ along that line. “It’s not called ‘show’ — it’s called ‘show business’. If you don’t learn the business part of it, you won’t be in it very long.”

  4. Nick August 11, 2009 at 11:04 am #

    Nice one, David!

    Oh yeah, and I’m extremely jealous of “medium rare” stakes comment, above. Nothing else even comes close.

    “Well done!” 🙂

    M.

    Okay, that was pretty bad.

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