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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Slipping Into Something More Comfortable

Over at Man Bytes Hollywood, Dave has an excellent post that addresses an issue that nearly all developing writers face. He's recently started a new job that is offering him amazing benefits. Benefits so good that he finds himself looking ahead through his retirement years. But then he writes:

that’s when I felt a pang of . . . not fear, exactly. A pang of comfort. I didn’t know comfort could pang like that. But it scared me. I’m now working for an organization that could potentially take care of my modest needs for the rest of my life, all the way into my old, old age. If I never made that million dollar spec sale, I’d still live comfortably.

There’s that word again. Comfort.

Is it the natural enemy of writing success? Does comfort necessarily lead to complacency? I don’t know. But I suddenly have this feeling that a regular income, paid health benefits, and a nice pension fund ended many more writing careers than we’ll ever really know about.

Now I know a thing or two about this, though if you asked my parents, they'd probably be shocked that I said this. That's because I've never in my life been in a truly financially stable situation. I've always made much less money than the bulk of my friends and acquaintances, and I'm constantly struggling to meet my bill-induced expenses every month. It is not that uncommon to see my bank account dip into the red (though thankfully much less frequently nowadays, with the new part time job).

But I'm happy. Most people that know me would say I'm one of the happiest people they've ever met. I take pride in my happiness. A friend recently told me that he was describing me to someone else to see if they knew who I was. He started describing some of my physical characteristics, and finally this guy who was little more than an acquaintance, if that, responded, "Oh, you mean that really happy guy?" That made me feel good.

But at the same time, that happiness I feel and love also works against me as a writer. (And no, I don't believe that all artists must be miserable and starving.) My happiness is like the "comfort" that David was lamenting or fearing.

You see, I wasn't always like this. When I was in high school, I was a pretty angry kid. Not sad or bitter, but angry. As I'm sure many teens are. And I don't mean I was some stereotypical loner type or something, because I certainly was not that. In fact, I had then, as I am blessed to have now, many many friends. I just mean that I was belligerent and angry, and had a typical Aries' temper. (This, by the way, is something that would not surprise my parents in the least.)

Then in college, I made a fundamental shift in my thinking and attitudes towards life. How and why I made that shift is a different story. Suffice it to say that over time, I basically removed almost all stress from my life. To this day, I rarely get stressed or angry for longer than about 15 minutes. And even that only on occasion.

So now, in my writing as in other areas of my life, I also only rarely feel stress. But this is a bad thing for me. It leads me to complacency and (yes, you guessed it) comfort. I'll ask myself, for example, how I'd feel if I never sold a screenplay in my life. And I very accurately respond that I'd probably find a way to be perfectly happy despite this. And it's true. I know that I can be happy despite nearly any hardship that life throws my way. I'm extrapolating from my past experiences. I mean, I'm sure if my life became really terrible, it would be a lot more difficult for me to find the proverbial silver lining and remain blissful. But I honestly believe I could, and more importantly that I would. It's just the type of person I am (or have become).

You see, I've learned that there's such a thing as "good stress." Stress is not necessarily something to be avoided and/or actively removed. Rather, we must sometimes actively engage the stress because it will spur us to move to better scenarios and growth. Sure, I can look at my life and say, "why change when I'm happy with my life as it is?" I honestly believe that if someone told me I could never write again, I'd even then find a way to be happy. Where David wrote that "If I never made that million dollar spec sale, I’d still live comfortably," my equivalent take would be that I'd still live happily. And I know this is contrary to what most writers will tell you, i.e. write because you have to. For me, writing is just what I'm good at, and that's why I do it. Not great, yet, and that's what I'm working towards, but good. And therefore, I can see myself in life being happy even if I weren't writing. So I obviously can't rely on my inner burning need to write as the driving force to get me to do so.

The more growthful (if that's not a word, it should be) way of approaching the stress is to recognize it as inductive, actively examine the causes of that stress, and making appropriate changes to potentially bring you to an even better and happier state of being.

Ultimately, we as writers must do what so many of the commenters to Dave's post suggested (and they are all worth reading, by the way): take advantage of the good things that come our way and use them as a means to permitting us to write more and better. Rather than just assuming the writing time will come, we must actively search for balance, and fight to protect our writing time and schedule. Embrace the good stress and use it to make us better (and more prolific) writers. And if the good stress isn't readily apparent, maybe we need to sometimes seek it out or even create it artificially.

Write on!

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Blogger John Donald Carlucci said...

I'm in the same boat, but I take comfort in my DVDs. I order two or three imports (asian) a month and that cuts the stress of life for me. I can't tell you how relaxed I get watching Jackie Chan's Who am I. My family bought a 5 disc surround sound dvd system for me and said that I was the only person they knew who would use such a thing often.

My collection is my pride and joy. It reminds me why I write and never lets me down when I need a boost.

I need a dog I think :)


6:51 PM  
Blogger a.m. griffin said...

very wise words. i often have to remind myself that what i do isn't who i am or my happiness doesn't depend on results and optimal circumstances, not that they don't contribute, but ultimately my happiness is a decision. at least it brings me comfort.

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good post, I feel similar..I have always worked for myself, since 1988 anyway. I don't think I could go out into the 9-5 world and get a regular paycheck for labor I did for The Man. I am happy now, be it with no money and hanging by a thread

4:21 AM  
Anonymous Neil said...

This is a subject that I've been struggling with for years. I even have a writer friend who recently turned down a terrific job because he thought it would be too demanding and not give him enough time to write. I thought he was crazy, but I respect his commitment to his craft.

4:44 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

"And if the good stress isn't readily apparent, maybe we need to sometimes seek it out or even create it artificially." -- Which is why I've joined a private writing workshop that begins later this month.

Fun Joel, an excellent post. Hard to remember that stress can be good, and that happiness can be yours *right now* if you chose it.

So many people I fear expect writing to "save" them from financial ruin or a crappy day job or low spirits. I think that's asking the wrong things of writing.

Being a responsible, mature person means taking charge of our own lives and not waiting for writing or anything else to save us, it means taking responsibility for our own happiness -- with or without that million dollar spec sale.

6:06 AM  

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