seeing through the film

Someone emailed me recently with the observation that many of my blogs posts not only have a cynical edge but also tend to focus on agent / publishing rejections and sundry writing disasters. Always lead with your strengths - that's what I say.

In the white heat of rejection, it's sometimes hard to hear the kind words of fellow writers over the screaming in your head. That doesn't mean that your community of scribes are wrong, however. Ambition can blind us to our own foolishness and to treacherous pathways.

Last year I pitched to a small film company in London which had advertised for script writers. It was to be a collaborative project, for a small team of writers, led by a modern and experimental artist. The emails flew thick and fast, followed by an invitation to attend an interview in London. I declined, on the basis of their inadequate brief, given that I like to know exactly what I'm signing up for before I reach the dotted line.

The following week I received an irate phone call, asking where the hell was I. It transpired that the person who received and acknowledged my email had neglected to tell the interviewer. I provided the email confirmation and asked for a more detailed brief, which was promised to me within a week.

All went quiet for a month or two. The next email included a gaggle of other writers who were likewise waiting to hear about the promised project. Even those who had been interviewed, I discovered, were as much in the dark as me. More emails ensued - mainly among the writers - and a month later it was clear that nothing at all was clear.

Last week, guided by my trusty project spreadsheet, I added the film project to my follow-up list and dropped a line to the company's Executive Producer. I am now reliably informed that all film projects are now on the back burner. I am sorry for them but I'm pleased for me. I invested the right amount of time, effort and personal expense.

Being able to judge the viability of a business proposition and being confident enough to draw your own line in the sand are as important as the ability to write. Some may find a traditional route into publication and having their material performed; increasingly though (and aided no doubt by the volatility of the economy), writers need to take their opportunities where they can find them. But while your work may be grounded in fiction, your business has to be grounded in reality.

one August night

I was sat at home yesterday, staring into space as Anne waited for me to tune back into the present. She knows me well enough now that these internal jaunts no longer merit comment. I'd like to say that I was working on a short story or one of the two novels I'm developing; but the truth is that I was snagged on a memory.

I'm 23 and it's a hot, sticky August evening. It's my last day on Staten Island and the end of about a year spent living the American Dream. Well, surviving it anyway. My flatmate Lillian and I are downstairs, gazing out on the street and there's no one around. Out the corner of my eye I spot this pinpoint of light, roaming in the evening air towards me. It's a firefly. And as soon as I see it, this wave of sadness, of unrequited longing for the year-that-never-was, chokes my thoughts. I'm transfixed by this tiny glow and all at once a host of them appear and circle around us.

Lillian is non-plussed; they're just fireflies after all. But I swallow hard and realise that I'd never seen them before, not until this night - my last night. And at that moment, it becomes a metaphor and a distillation of the whole experience. In my quest for the wrong woman and a life that was never mine, I'd missed out on so many other things. Small things perhaps, but things of beauty and potency. Then we go back inside and watch some TV while I finish packing. The next morning I flew back to Britain, wiser but incomplete.

So yesterday, there I was and this 23 year-old self drifted over to me. He was a writer too, of course, and many of his primitive ideas have since made it to print. It wasn't a social visit though. I think he was trying to tell me that there's more to the writer's life than fixating on the next round of submissions and worrying about my income. For one thing, there's fireflies, if you know where to look.

a cautionary tale

I consider myself reasonably intelligent but that doesn't mean I can't make an arse of myself from time to time. As recently stated, I've been looking at Craigslist where there is a constant ebb and flow of work opportunities, protests and scammers. It's quite addictive actually, seeing how many people are paying a reasonable wage and how many are paying an unreasonable one.

Now, as both the novels and at least one of the humour books are doing the circuit with agents and publishers, I felt the need to keep my hand in with new writing. I prefer a goal rather than writing purely for artistic expression and I'd never tried rewriting articles to a format and timescale. I swapped emails with one 'Freelance writer' and agreed to look at a trial rewrite for $5. I have to say it was enjoyable to do - to take someone else's brief and source material and just produce what they wanted to see.

Having been told my style of writing was good, I was offered another couple of articles to rewrite. Brian once said that he'd looked at a short story so often that he instinctively began to see the structure behind it. By the time I'd dealt with Finding a Private Investigator, How to Have a Cool Pool Party and How to Fix a Toilet, I have an inkling of what he meant. It's not unlike the process of writing a certain type of comedy sketch.

So, there am I with three pieces under my belt and I realise I could do this from time to time, when the day work dries up. But we're missing something, aren't we? That's right - I haven't been paid yet! The smooth stroking of my ego has sent me into a stupor.

Another email comes in telling me that there is lots of extra work if I want it. Sure, I reply, just as soon as the first $15 has dropped into my paypal account. The weekend comes and goes; the Freelancer is nowhere to be seen and nor is my $15. So, I'm a professional, right? Albeit a stupid one. I drop him a line indicating that I expect to be paid for the work I've done and if I don't hear back within a specified time I'll take appropriate action. (Naturally, I've tracked down where some of my work has been reposted and taken note of the original Craigslist ads.)

Coincidentally, this morning I got an unsolicited email asking me to: Please confirm your request to join HotDirtyWebcams4u. Maybe this is the internet version of severance pay.

Do you have a story to tell?

Morning all (well, it's morning here). And here's something interesting I found on the web that might appeal to the writers and coffee-fiends among you...

A Word with you Press would like to have, well, a word from you!

Do you have a story to tell?

Announcing our first writing competition!

You could get caffeinated and $100 bucks richer!

We’re putting together an anthology of one hundred best stories, that all start or end with a cup of coffee. It can be humorous and jittery, or about a life changing event that is somehow linked to that magic brew. Did you propose over a cup of coffee? Meet the love of your life or discover nuclear fission? Prime your boss for an over-due promotion and then seal the deal with a latte’? Decide having one more kid was do-able? Plot the overthrow of the Chilean government? Finish the last chapter to that obstinate novel?

Tell us about it in a paragraph or a page!

Whatever your story, we’d like to hear from you. All published entries will receive a $25 gift certificate courtesy of A Word with You Press and your favorite drug-dealer, and a chance for $100 cash prize. Contest closes May the first.

Go to our website for complete details and to view a sample submission. On our TITLES page, click on “The Coffee Shop Chronicles”

Let’s see what you’ve got brewing!

Compensation: nil - writers' revolt

Some time ago I posted about the lamentable state of affairs, whereby writers are encouraged to work for nothing on the basis that this will give them experience and raise their profile. That profile presumably being of someone who doesn't think they have sufficient experience and who will therefore work for nothing.

Since then, I've noticed a bit of a fight back or perhaps 'bite back' is more appropriate. On Craigslist, for example, there has been a flurry of reply postings to requests for scripts or for those oh so affordable article writers, focusing not only on price but also on common sense (even if the spelling needs a little work).

"Why would you send your scripts to someone you don't know without first signing a release?
Wanne be a pro? Act like one... and expect the same."

RE: Writer Needed -- Not even up to slave labor!
"This guy is offering to pay a whopping $3.50 per 300 word article. That's 1.1¢ per word! That's not even at the level of slave labor, which at least feeds you! Minimum wage -- uh uh, not even trying."

re: Writer Needed
"pay scale is identical" to whom, exactly? perhaps companies based out of a third-world country? because i write for several and NONE are that low. Compensation: 350 pennies in a jar. you must supply jar."

I have emailed some of these protestors and it's a familiar tale of frustration and disappointment. But I suspect that the root cause of their malcontent lies in the recognition that not every one who wants to write is cut out to be a writer. And that even those who persist have no guarantee of success or even subsistence from their craft.

As I stated before, there will always be a tide of newcomers willing to try their hand, certain they can rise above the pile to become a 'proper writer'. In a sense, every beginner starts off from a similar position. While there will always be success stories to inspire and motivate us, the cold truth is that we are, in part, at the mercy of mathematics every bit as unforgiving as those that operate in the world of nature. You can tip the scales in your favour by writing well, by being professional and by working diligently and tenaciously. But ultimately, it will always be a numbers game to some extent. If all of that still doesn't put you off, congratulations- you're probably a writer. And I can recommend a few freelance websites for you to avoid!