Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Balancing time, cash and committments

Simple freelance fact: some commissions pay better than others. For example, I can plot and script an issue of The Phantom comic in a week. For the amount of time required, it's my best paying gig. I've written hour-long audio dramas that took weeks of plotting, writing and rewriting - and only got paid half as much as I do for an issue of The Phantom. A licensed tie-in novel takes more than a month, yet most pay about twice as much as the comic.

In truth, this is like comparing apples and oranges - they're both fruit, but they're essentially different and that's that. As a freelancer, you can [hopefully] pick and choose your work. I write five or six issues of The Phantom most years, it's a lovely bread and butter job. The stories are fun to write, and they don't take a massive creative effort because the character's world is already established. But I wouldn't want to only write comics.

Switching from one medium to another keeps me fresh, the variety offers challenges I wouldn't get otherwise. In January 2006 I calculated I'd written nine novels in the previous 27 months - that's a new novel from scratch every three months. I was doing other work as well, but the books were dominating my output. I felt burnt out as a consequence, and have only written three more in the 29 months since [albeit each was at least 100,000 words long].

There's a temptation when freelancing to chase every pound, go after the highest paying gigs. That's perfectly natural, you never know when work might dry up and writing is often a seasonal career. Not as bad as, say, strawberry picking but you try getting a new commission signed off between mid-December and the end of January, or during the dog days of summer. Insecurity and creativity are often bedfellows, so that's another factor at work.

But every freelancer has to strike a balance between working for money and working for the love of what they do. [If you don't love your job, it's time to get another.] You can't be afraid to turn down work, and you must have the courage to take a lesser paying job if it offers other compensations. I'm investing long-term in becoming a TV drama writer. I've spent plenty learning skills and craft, but earned next to nothing thus far in the medium.

I've written non-fiction books that almost cost me money, and spent months on other projects that came to naught. Sometimes you begrudge that, on other occasions it feels like no loss at all. As a wiser man than me once said, experience is what you get when you don't get what you wanted. Finding the balance between the value of your time, the money offered by a job and the committment that job will require is not easy, but it's something you need to nurture.

Speaking of time committments, I've got a few deadlines looming so can't guarantee my usual ramblings will be quite some frequent the next few weeks. If the writing's going well, I'll be blogging less until the end of this month. Of course, if the writing's going really well, I might be blogging more. What can I say, sometimes my brain gets full and needs emptying. Onwards.

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