Four weeks ago, I spoke on the phone for several hours with a friend in a moment of crisis. She’d gotten some interest in her screenplay, and even found a producer that was interested — if she’d be willing to make a few cosmetic changes. As it would turn out, the changes weren’t so cosmetic: They’d make the screenplay more topical, ephemeral, and speak to a much more localized audience, an audience limited exclusively to Louisiana sports fans. My friend was torn about the idea of selling out.
I’m torn too. Giving advice on how to deal with producers and directors isn’t a thing for me. My wheelhouse is prose, not screenwriting, although I’ve done both. I struggled to put myself in her shoes, a cash-strapped artist looking at giving up her firstborn child to the Fae.
I advised her to search deep, and then I advised her to do it.
“But Greg,” you cry as you wipe the indignant mixture of glistening Mountain-Dew-and-Rage sweat off the back of your neck (or maybe you don’t, who am I to say how you react?) “Why would you say that. You’re telling your friend to sell out! And sellouts are bad!”
You’re damn right I’m telling my friends to sell out. Better than starving.
The problem with writing, if you pursue it as your only option for advancement, is that you will starve. Or you’ll take minimum skill-level service jobs to support the idea “Writing or Bust”. Not even most academic fiction writers are that hardcore, though they like to say they are. “I keeps it real, with my teacher’s pay, while I hone the craft,” they say. But they’re not keeping it real, they’re developing a skillset independent of writing that can get them by in case they never break in, and then they preach a life of abstinence they’ll never stoop to themselves.
What’s worse is if you get used to starving. You learn to produce under the pressure, you create some great art, you sell it (FINALLY!) and you’re making good money. You’ve stopped starving… and so your well of creative angst might dry up. Sure, it might not, but why risk it?
And what’s the most horrible thing that can happen in selling your firstborn creative child? Your next child will have a better life for the recognition you’ve gained. You’ll have other babies, and you’ll love them too, unless you poured all your might into your first novel like Sauron and the One Ring.
If you did, that’s a dumbass move. Sauron lost for a reason: Only a really shitty jeweler makes just one ring*.
Sell your art. Write more. Be prolific. Improve.
*For hardcore Tolkien fans, and you’d have to be to have read The Silmarillion, I know that Sauron made many rings. He then gave them away to consolidate his power. You’re totally right. Sauron is a sellout. He’s still a terrible jeweler.