Posts filed under 'Creative process'

What writers, illustrators, and other freelancers can learn from the latest “Sex and the City” tiff

sex.jpgMy dad was visiting Seattle this past week/end. Since he lives in New York City and thinks the sun rises and sets for the Big Apple and the Big Apple only, we got to talking about some of the articles in Sunday’s New York Times, including this story about how BFFs Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City (the book), and Darren Star, the producer who brought the book to HBO, are now estranged. Evidently Star’s coming out with a new TV show (“Cashmere Mafia”) similar to Bushnell’s new show, “Lipstick Jungle,” based on her book of the same name, which Star had tried to option but was outbid on. Star dragged his feet on telling Bushnell about “Cashmere Mafia” and now that she’s found out, she’s all betrayed and he’s all dead to her.

Blah blah blah. Frenemies, schmenemies, right? But as a self-employed creative type, this article was kinda interesting to me for a number of non-Hollywood gossip reasons:

1. Initially I wondered, Is Darren Star a parasitic opportunist or just really good at his job? Perhaps he is both. Without a decade’s worth of back issues of Variety, we may never know. Supposedly ABC brought the idea for “Cashmere Mafia” to him. I do know this: “Cashmere Mafia” having a similar premise as “Lipstick Jungle,” and Star having co-opted one of Bushnell’s classic SATC coinages (“toxic bachelor”) to promote one of his pre-SATC TV shows is nothing to get your panties in a twist about, nothing to file a plagiarism suit over. In the world of creative coincidences and fair use, this is no BFD. Happens all the time.

But the fact that the writer and producer were such bosom buds makes this sitch particularly sticky. When you have a close friend or S.O. who works in the same creative genre as you, someone you’re constantly bouncing creative ideas off of, it’s helpful to lay down a few ground rules: no one fucks anyone’s boyfriend, no one pitches anyone else’s idea to an editor/producer/studio and tried to fob it off as her own, et cetera. And if an editor/producer/studio should come and ask you to develop a story/show/painting that you know your friend has been itching to make herself or is already in the process of making, you’ll do your friendship a great service by talking it over with your friend first. I’m not saying you have to get her blessing every time, but at least tell her what’s happening. Don’t be Star, who somehow forgot to mention to Bushnell that he was negotiating “Cashmere” with ABC. While she was staying at his house.

Lesson for freelancers: We’ve all had a friend screw our sweetie (if not, you obviously didn’t grow up in New Jersey). And most of us have witnessed idea poachers in the 9-to-5 world. In the freelance world, where you’re often competing with dear friends for awards and assignments, honesty and camaraderie are the best policies. Be generous with the leads you share (with any luck, you’ll be too busy to take every project anyway), and be up front with your creative BFFs about what you’re working on, especially when it encroaches on their turf. And if you’re not sure someone’s your friend or just an opportunist who’s pumping you for ideas and contacts, wire your mouth shut.

2. One anonymous source in the story said Bushnell has made a mere $500,000 from the show’s royalties and only stands to earn another $500,000 from the movie being made. (Mere! Only!) I know a cool million is a ton of money, but it’s only a fraction of what the Hollywood powerhouses involved with this TV/syndication/silver screen enterprise have raked in. (Don’t believe me? Just look up how much the actors in the series and film version have been paid.)

According to the Times article, Bushnell’s original book contract for SATC paid her a less-than-staggering $25,000 advance. But as a first-time author that’s often to be expected. I suspect, though, that she could have negotiated a much better deal than the additional $25,000 she received when Shrewd Star optioned the book’s TV rights.

Lesson for freelancers: You may be the peon now, but you still deserve the best possible contracts. If others get rich off your work, you’d damn well better do so too. Don’t get your contracts? Get legal help.

3. Then again, you could argue that Bushnell made a killing in other ways, mainly with the clout that being the author of SATC earned her: Suddenly she was the writer who birthed the TV series that put HBO and SJP back on the map. New book deals for best-sellers followed, undoubtedly accompanied by six-figure advances — the equivalent of the literary Lotto.

Today Bushnell is rich, world famous, host of her own Sirius radio show, and proud mama of her second TV pilot. Unless she starts spewing trash on the air about whatever demographic it’s fashionable to slander this month (Hollywood producers, perhaps?), the woman isn’t going anywhere.

Lesson for freelancers: Getting paid in prestige when you’re a newbie isn’t all bad, as long as your clients show you the money and bow to kiss your ring once you’ve proved you can deliver the goods and deliver big.

4 comments October 25th, 2007

RIP, Kurt Vonnegut

VonnegutKurt Vonnegut was not a woman. I’m not even sure he was particularly nice to them. But I’m still saddened by his death. Vonnegut was one of the first writers who made me want to write stuff that was funny. And now he’s gone. So it goes.

You can read about his life here — as well as how he held down a series of bullshit jobs until he was able to make a living as a full-time writer. And therein, Virginia, lies the work tie-in.

6 comments April 12th, 2007

Tools aspiring authors can use

Jill Is BrillReady to make the leap from slush pile to paid scribe? Jill Rothenberg, my fabulous (former) Seal Press editor, just announced that she’ll be teaching an online class on writing a winning nonfiction book proposal through Media Bistro this spring. I can’t say enough about how brilliant and hiliarious and savvy about all things publishing Jill is. I pretty much cried when she left Seal, even though I was excited that she did it to become a fellow freelancer.

But don’t take my word for it. Read the course description and her impressive bio yourself. (I didn’t know this, but she worked on Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Path of the World’s Most Deadly Stones — you know, the book made into that bigass Leonardo Di movie.)

Add comment February 24th, 2007

Bread + butter = steak

meatMost of my freelance friends focus on writing articles, blog posts, and books. I have far fewer freelance allies juggling creative pursuits with corporate bread-and-butter work, like I do. So it was refreshing to see the roster for the online course I’m teaching this month through the Editorial Freelancers Association. Many of the students are commercial writers and editors, too.

When I first ventured out into the workforce back in the Ice Age, I didn’t aspire to finesse marketing copy about computer software for a living. But I did aspire to be self-sufficient and leave room in my schedule to write feature stories, essays, and whatever other lower-paying prose my idealistic little heart desired. And my bread-and-butter commercial writing/editing work allows me to do both without much financial worry. Fact of the matter is, it’s infinitely harder to write a halfway decent humor essay when all you can think about is how you’re going to pay the rent tomorrow.

If you’re curious about the world of commercial writing (the bread-and-butter work that allows you to order steak once in a while, or donate a T-bone to a less-fortunate writer), check out the Well-Fed Writer, a website and book of the same name by author Peter Bowerman. The site is loaded with articles, e-books, and other nifty resources. You can also read an interview with Bowerman here, on The Renegade Writer blog. Maybe then you, too, will never again use the words “starving” and “writer” side by side in a sentence.

3 comments November 30th, 2006

A day in the life of a published author

remember these?In case you thought writing books was all about cranking out copy all morning, then napping all afternoon, author Meg Rosoff sets you straight in this Guardian Unlimited blog post. The teaser:

Writers spend their days writing, don’t they? Don’t you believe it. When I’m not cleaning up after the dogs and my husband, I’m being a “writer” in public appearances.

And here’s an excerpt:

when people ask, “What’s your daily routine?” and imagine a quiet room, a sheaf of paper, and a brand new Pilot pen, they are so, so, wrong.

The upshot? It’s one big balancing act, baby. But at least Meg doesn’t have to add earning a living outside creative writing to the mix, like most working writers.

Add comment November 21st, 2006

The 10 Commandments of Getting Off My Ass

10 commandmentsMy little home-based workspace (i.e., spare bedroom) looks like the Office Depot delivery truck crashed through it. Manila folders, notepads, books, magazines, printouts, and sticky notes cover every possible surface area. To say I let things go while writing this book would be the understatement of the century. Not that I was much of a domestic diva to begin with. But I did like to keep my desk clean. Even if work was nuts, I could stare at the blank patch of pine and know that at least one little thing in the freelance universe was under control.

Today, buried under Mt. Everest on my desk I found a printed page containing these 10 Commandments. I imagine I wrote this list early in 2006 to try to coax myself into a regular book-writing schedule. After much nail-biting and hair-pulling, I did get on a regular writing schedule, but it was nowhere near as smooth as I envisioned when I sat down to draft this list a thousand months ago.

I know as far as fresh blog posts go this is cheating, but I thought you’d want to see anyway. Besides, if you know me even the slightest bit, some of the items will likely make you piss yourself from laughing so hard.

So herewith, I give you The 10 Commandments of Getting Off My Ass:

  1. Write first thing in the a.m. OK to eat and/or walk dog first. On weekdays, get on computer by 9:30 a.m.; weekends, as long as it’s before noon, you’re golden. Write for 1 hour without getting up, break for 10 minutes. Repeat 1 to 2 more times before moving on to lunch and afternoon tasks.
  2. Schedule interviews/research for afternoons. Do whenever possible. This mainly applies to weekdays. Crucial to get the writing time in during weekday mornings.
  3. Don’t watch TV. Just don’t. Really. I mean it. Or you’ll be sorry. Unless it’s after 5 p.m. and you’ve done your writing for the day. Even then, you should be researching or doing chores while the tube’s on. Otherwise, it had better be off or you had better be watching a movie you rented.
  4. Let household chores and errands wait their turn. Must not be done in lieu of writing time. However, it’s perfectly OK to do them on brief writing breaks (see commandment #1), at lunch, and before or after the workday. Do out-of-the-house errands at the end of the day. You’ll be dying to get out of the house anyway.
  5. Do client writing work in afternoons, evenings, or weekends. Under no circumstances should you write your newspaper/magazine articles or do your bread-and-butter corporate work during the a.m. book-writing time. Exceptions: You can only get a source on the phone for one of the aforementioned assignments during the a.m., in which case, your book-writing time had better extend into the afternoon to make up for it. (BTW, no penalty for writing book all freaking day if you so desire.)
  6. Don’t answer the phone. Let the voice mail get it. You’re paying Qwest for it, so you might as well make use of it. Return calls at the end of the day or — here’s a concept — the next day.
  7. Same with emails and IM. OK to read emails on writing breaks (see commandment #1, lunches, and before and after work). OK to send a quick response during these times if it has to do with immediate plans, important work stuff, interviews, and so on. Otherwise, wait till end of workday or evening to respond. As for IM, just don’t even log on.
  8. Same with e-newsletters and Google alerts. Just gloss over them till the day is done. Or else.
  9. Same with Jehovah’s witnesses. Don’t answer the door during the day. Even if the solicitors on your doorstep can see you through the windows. Just motion to them that your dog is vicious and likes to eat strangers who engage in religious dialogue with other strangers. By the same token, don’t make plans with people during the day. Meet them after work. The only one who gets to see you during the day is Buddy, and yes, he is entitled to a midday walk, provided you’ve finished your morning writing. (The a.m. pre-writing walk with Buddy will really help in this department.)
  10. Don’t eat instead of writing. Eat at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, yes. Snack when hungry, too. But know that this does not include scarfing a box of cookies in front of Judge Judy instead of starting the next chapter or section you’re supposed to be working on.

***Bonus commandment: If you fall off the wagon, don’t belabor it and bang your head against the wall as punishment. Just tell yourself you’ll do better the next day and make sure you bloody well do.

(Can anyone guess which commandments I followed and which I didn’t? To my credit, I did hit far more of these tenets than I missed. And before we close the, uh, book on this subject, would anyone care to share a page from their own creative routine?)

1 comment November 16th, 2006

Are you shoulding all over yourself?

not-so-golden handcuffsBesides Dems take the house, I was tickled to come across this gem today:

It’s really silly to just be a slave to work that you can do instead of want to do.

Found it in my interview notes for an article I’m writing on self-employment. The interviewee who said this is a former math professor with degrees up the wazoo. Not long after she began teaching, she found herself dreading Mondays and living for the weekends. So to make life more interesting she started her own petcare business on the side, as an evening and weekend hobby. Still, she didn’t think she could ever give up the day job she had trained so long and hard for, despite the fact that it was bleeding her soul dry. This is what I should be doing, she’d tell herself about the unfulfilling math career. And because women are so underrepresented professionally in mathematics and the sciences, she felt it was her responsibility to tough out a gig she’d grown to resent, if for no other reason than to serve as a role model for young women contemplating what career path to follow.

Somewhere along the way the weekend hobby took on a life of its own, eating up every waking second this woman wasn’t at her day job, all the while remaining a constant source of joy. It was time to choose between shoulding and wanting, and this time to choice was clear: Kick the day job to the curb, and pour her heart into her burgeoning petcare business. And so she did. And happy she remains, with a thriving new enterprise of her own.

Career coach extraordinaire Curt Rosengren first introduced me to the debilitating concept of shoulding all over oneself, though I doubt he put as ineloquently as I just did. As a roadmap of sorts for The Anti 9-to-5 Guide, I wrote an article earlier this year on ten myths of career change we women subject ourselves to. Unfortunately, when it comes to career change, shoulding is just one of the many roadblocks we set up for ourselves. You can read about nine other ways we’re our own worst enemies here. (Free subscription may be required.)

The shoulding ourselves doesn’t begin and end with career decisions though. There’s also the crippling shoulding we creative types commit when we sit down — or avoid sitting down — to work on our arty projects. While devouring all sorts of online interviews with writer Aimee Bender this week, I came across this great conversation she and Lovely Bones author Alice Sebold had with each other, on shoulding all over one’s creativity, among other things. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, I should know the work of all the literary greats before I pick up a pen myself, or I should write literary fiction as opposed to sci-fi/fantasy because everyone knows lit fiction is [insert snooty assertion here], or I should plot out every twist and turn of my novel before I actually begin writing the dang thing, read this interview.

5 comments November 8th, 2006

“The law”

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt: StoriesI took a workshop at Richard Hugo House in Seattle this weekend with the endlessly talented Aimee Bender, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures, and An Invisible Sign of My Own. Reason I mention it is not because the class was eye-opening and wonderful (it was), but because toward the end of class on Saturday the conversation invariably turned to the instructor’s own creative habits.

My friend Angela has told me on more than one occasion that she’s heard Aimee Bender say in interviews that she writes two hours a day because for her, it’s “the law” — a non-negotiable rule she’s set up for herself. This of course came up in class, and Aimee confirmed that she indeed works on her fiction two hours first thing every morning, before turning on the lights or anything, often on weekends, too, except when traveling. Before she had the law to guide her, she said, she had too much angst about whether she was writing enough. In interviews, most published novelists and short story writers will tell you they have similar hard-and-fast writing rules and schedules for themselves because really, it’s the only way to get the job done. I just like how Aimee Bender calls it “the law.” It’s so resolute.

As I come off the final page proof review of my book (turned in this a.m. — yay!) and start to think about how I’m going to juggle some of my creative writing goals with the paying work I’ve signed up for this fall, Aimee’s law serves a good reminder: When juggling artsy-fartsy endeavors with bread-and-butter work, structure and commitment is everything.

Add comment November 6th, 2006

Links you can use

Tools for people who sit at a keyboard all daySome fab resources for writers I came across recently:

The Renegade Writer. The blog by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, authors of the must-have book for freelance writers, The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. Check out such helpful blog features as You Ask: We Answer (an interactive Q&A column) and Sourcery Central (a place where you, too, can find people to interview for that article you’re writing on those with unspeakably weird phobias — Paging Tyra “Can’t Get in a Pool with Dolphins” Banks).

Written Road. An invaluable blog for working and wannabe travel writers, by Jen Leo, author of the Sand in My Bra series of spit-take-inducing (or so I hear) travel essays. I mentioned this site in my book — reason being, it’s loaded with tips, markets, resources, and as the site’s subhead says, “the inside scoop to the travel publishing world.” Plus, Jen’s published about 9,000 books and articles on her travel adventures, so if anyone knows what they’re talking about, she does.

Miss Snark. The blog of a dominatrix-inspired, anonymous lit agent who doesn’t mince words. Tips and answers to all your burning questions about the book publishing biz are served up as wryly and brutally as possible. Submit an ill-informed question or a shitty mini-mini book proposal for that blog-turned-novel and be prepared to be crushed like the pondscum nobody you are. Or as the blogstress herself puts it, “When Miss Snark mingles with authors in her stilettos, there are no survivors.” Still, you will undoubtedly learn something. Or at least spit your milk all over your keyboard. Thanks to the infamous Ariel of Electrolicious for tipping me off to this wondrous site.

2 comments November 1st, 2006

Back to the land

Yesterday I had the blissful experience of returning to Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers I attended this spring on lovely Whidbey Island.

I was punctual for what I suspect was the second time in my life. I wrote about the first time I visited Hedgebrook (and was punctual) here.

I can’t remember if it was Annie Proulx or Ang Lee that said they thought each of us has our own Brokeback Mountain, but the statement struck me. I take this to mean not necessarily that we’ve all had the good fortune to share a tent with Heath Ledger or Jake Gyllenhaal, but that we all know what it means to lose ourselves in bittersweet nostalgia and serious longing. And Hedgebrook is pretty much my own Brokeback Mountain, only without all the hot gay cowboy sex.

But. I. digress.

Reason I went to Hedgebrook yesterday was to read applications for the 2007 residency season, along with a dozen or so other alums. And I just wanted to share. Because reading dozens of applications for a writing fellowship was quite the eye-opening process.

The applicants’ personal histories were so vastly varied and fascinating, no matter what their writing background. What’s more, I learned exactly what not to write next time I go to apply for a grant or fellowship.

When asking people to give you money or room-n-board so that you can do your creative thing uninterrupted, you certainly don’t want to serve up the artist’s version of an “I love long walks on the beach and romantic candlelit dinners” personal ad. Nor do you want to sound utterly devoid of personality. But making the review committee fall hopelessly in love with you — sight unseen — man, that’s the hard part. I hope I can pull it off next time I’m on the other side of the page.

4 comments October 22nd, 2006

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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