Monday, July 09, 2007

Freelance dilemma: spec or paying work

As a freelance writer trying to crack a new market, you're always aware of bills. It takes time to build a client base and even longer to build a reputation as someone worth employing. I've devoted large chunks of the last two years towards learning the craft of screenwriting, particularly for British TV. At the moment it doesn't feel like I'm much closer than when I started. In the meantime, I've neglected my client base for the writing gigs I do on a regular basis. Some of them I thoroughly enjoy, others are more about the fee - trust me, you'll never love ever writing job you ever do.

Time and again, you come smack up against the same choice: do I devote the next X hours of my working time to speculative projects that might - or might not - lead to something? Or do I tackle some established, paying work so I'll be able to pay the bills next week, next month, next year? You have to strike a balance. Writers who have office jobs can go part-time, maybe working three days a week while writing the rest. It's a little trickier when you're already a professional writer, because you have to take time off writing for writing. Compartmentalisation is your friend.

Perhaps the trickiest part of finding the right balance is becoming comfortable with the need to do nothing. To step away from the computer and give your creative mind a chance to breath, free of deadlines and tax bills and council tax demands and all that other fun stuff. To realise that staring out a window while mulling whether your current project needs an immoral uncle as well as an amoral father. To see the bigger picture and to let your mind wander. To feed the soul and free the imagination.

I've also been trying to get some work experience as a script editor as I can apply for jobs as a script editor. Every time I see a script editor job advertised, it requires as least two years of experience. But how do you get experience if shows will only hire experienced script editors? The solution seems to be worker as a reader, and building up contacts in the industry so people with the power to hire [or make recommendations to those with the power] will put your name forward. It's not just what you know or who you know - it's both.

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