Making a Living

I had lunch with a TV writer-friend not long ago, and he was lamenting how the business was letting him down lately. He hadn’t worked much in TV during the last year and was despairing about his future. He told me that he wished he wrote books, too. So write one, I said. But I could see from the expression on his face that he wouldn’t. He liked the idea of writing a book…actually doing it was something else. He was a TV writer, and that was it.

I decided long ago that I was going to be a writer first and a TV writer second. There’s no question that I make most of my living in television…but I believe it’s important to me professionally, financially, psychologically and creatively not to concentrate on just one field of writing (It probablyhelps that I started my career as a freelance journalist, then became a novelist, then a non-fiction author, and finally, a TV writer/producer).  So I write books, both fiction and non-fiction, I teach TV writing, and occasionally I write articles and short stories… most of the time while I’m simultaneously writing & producing TV shows (though the TV work always takes priority over everything else). 

While the income from books, teaching, and articles doesn’t come close to matching what I  make in TV, those gigs keep some cash coming in when TV (inevitably) lets me down, keep me "alive" in other fields,  and, more importantly, keep my spirits up.

As a result, who I am as a writer isn’t entirely wrapped up in whether or not I have a TV job or a book on the shelves. I often have both, or one or the other — but if I have neither, I have a class to teach or an article to write.

I’m not producing a series right now. But last week, I partnered with a major production company and pitched a movie with them to a cable network. I met with representatives of a European TV network that’s interested in having me teach TV writing to their writer/producers and consult on their series. I rewrote a  TV movie treatment to incorporate studio notes.  I turned in a freelance script to the producers of a new drama series. I taught an online screenwriting class. I submitted a short story to Amazon shorts. I wrote 60 pages of my next novel. Next week, I have a meeting with a studio exec who has shows to staff up, a notes meeting on the freelance script, galleys to proof on one of my novels, more pages of my book to write, and probably a whole lot more that I don’t even know about yet. 

The bottom line is, I am always writing something for pay, even if that check is miniscule and hustling for my next gig, whether it’s in TV, publishing, or something else.  Why? Because that is who I am… a professional writer. And I have a mortgage to pay, just like everybody else.

6 thoughts on “Making a Living”

  1. But could your friend do that? Could he write a novel for pay with no background?
    Or were you suggesting he write one hoping it will sell?
    By the way Lee, you left out writing comics. That seems to be a big one that established writers are pumping out for little money right now.

  2. I was suggesting he write a novel on spec — which almost all authors have to do with their first or second books. I wrote THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, THE WALK and MY GUN HAS BULLETS without a contract…I also wrote UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS and co-wrote SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING on spec as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up writing another novel or two without a contract to start with.

  3. I have three books out on spec now. Two nonfiction and just completed a first novel. It’s in rewrites, but still, it’s a matter of doing it. Selling them sucks, but that could change.

  4. Wow, great post. I was just thinking this myself. I’m a writer. Most of my income comes from freelance journalism. I’m also an editor of a technical/trade journal. I’m also a book reviewer. I have the first in a 2-book contract coming out October 1, for the start of a series of novels. Maybe it will create a larger percentage of my income. Hopefully. My agent is shopping around what we hope will be the start of a series under a pseudonym. I’ve got a new client who has me write business reports in an area I have a lot of experience in, and it more closely resembles, well, a business report, than writing, although I guess it’s journalism of a kind.
    The point being–I’m a writer. And since any one area can dry up without a moment’s notice, I figure it’s good to work in a number of different areas. A freelance writer’s dismal concept of job security.

  5. I write spec novels regularly, and would not have survived as a novelist if I had insisted on a contract first. Right now I have a spec mystery circulating.


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