Why A Goat?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What is the difference between writing for a living and working for a living while writing?

There's the time factor, for one. If you write for a living, you don't worry about finding the time to write, because if you don't write, you don't get paid. If you support your writing with a "regular" job, then you have to decide how to prioritize your writing. It can be anything from an enjoyable hobby to the equivalent of trying to get your own business off the ground.

Writers who have made the jump to supporting themselves through their writing face challenges, but I'm not one of them…YET, so I'll confine myself to what it's like to work for a living while writing.

There's no time to do anything. I even resent the time it takes me to go to the bathroom, so I end up dehydrated all the time. Being a writer requires you to be aware of life and people and situations and trends. Being an unpaid writer means you don't have time to watch the news, or go shopping, or any of the normal things that most people consider part of life. So you have to find a way to balance being stuck on the computer during all your non-working hours and keeping up with being a regular person.

Writers aren't really regular people anyway. We're always analyzing things, especially other people. Psychiatrists analyze other people, but they only have to do it during their office hours. Writers go out to eat and spend the entire meal ignoring their date to listen to the couple at the next table. "That's some good dialogue." "This would make a good scene." "I wonder how this got started." Before the end of the meal, act one is already forming in our heads.

It kind of makes you wonder where the inspiration for that famous scene in "When Harry Met Sally" came from.

In addition to the usual schizophrenia, unpaid writers have to go to work and deal with reality for eight hours every day. My job involves a lot of math and attention to detail. Fortunately, as a writer, I've developed obsessive attention to detail. I got two raises in my first six months at this job (I've been there 9 months now) just because of this trait. But because there is so much to pay attention to and because the work is non-stop, I don't have any time in which to work on my scripts.

I can't even do that pre-planning at work: you know, those periods of down time where your mind can turn to your latest project and work out a few kinks. I can't do that at work because my work demands such close and constant attention.

I know people who review scripts at work. I know people who write scripts at work. How lucky are they? I sit at one desk out of four in a small room and everybody can see what I'm doing every minute of the day. When I'm at work, I don't have a choice. I have to work.

Last year I got into a situation where I was on disability for 9 months. I'm not really disabled, but I can't do a lot of walking at my job any more. I got a doctor's note and told them I could do a desk job, but the company was going under and there was a layoff coming up anyway, so they terminated me and the state was kind enough to pay me for most of a year. I got a taste of what it's like to not have to balance writing with a job for a paycheck.

It was nice.

It was really nice.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I was getting ready to make my first real post on my blog when I decided to check out what Billy Mernit has been doing lately. I had planned a commentary on how many screenplay reviews I have written at Triggerstreet and some common problems that I keep seeing. Lo and behold, Billy's latest post is about grammar and punctuation, specifically the use of "it's" and "its."

Yes, it IS important to use correct grammar and punctuation in a screenplay. There is a difference between an ellipsis, a colon, and a hyphen, and using a comma in the wrong place can change the meaning of a sentence.

My favorite books on the subject are "The Deluxe Transitive Vampire" and "The Well-Tempered Sentence" by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. "The Deluxe Transitive Vampire" is a book on grammar, and "The Well-Tempered Sentence" is a book on punctuation. And YES, there is a difference between grammar and punctuation.

Whew. Now that I've got that out of the way, I can talk about my screenplay reviews. I've done almost 300 in the last year and a half. I am a mere beginner by Hollywood standards, but I have managed to figure out the basics.

Lately I've been doing reviews for a small circle of friends who are all part of World Tree Productions. I find that I tend to be less formal with them because we are comfortable with each other. I will use terms like "cliché" and "flat" to describe a character, which I would never do in my reviews on Triggerstreet. Most of my reviews on TS are for newer members: people who are not used to receiving criticism. For many of them, my review is their first exposure to anything resembling professional notes, and it can be quite a shock. So I try to soften the blow by making my comments as clinical and professional as possible.

With the work I've been doing for Matt and Russell at World Tree, I've gotten out of practice at being a low-key as possible when I point out an error. I'm going to start doing reviews again at Triggerstreet this week. I wonder if I'll get any complaints.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Saving the world one dog at a time.