Work vs Inspiration

Chadwick Saxelid made an interesting point in one of his comments on a blog post here:

It is has been my observation that the most marketing focused writers
seem to be those that do work for hire or write with the lowest common
denominator in mind. We’re not talking about art, we’re talking about
product. Creating a marketable business model. (Remember, this is
coming from a guy who reads more product writing than he does art
writing. The product is more fun.) Even Mr. Goldberg has stated he
wouldn’t write another Harvey Mapes novel unless there was a for sure
sale. That’s market focused writing rather than art focused writing.
It’s sitting down and writing something that will sell, rather than
something that speaks from the heart.

Right now I am going through that very same struggle. Do I want to be a
"hack?" Someone that works for hire, that won’t write something he
couldn’t sell. Or do I want write from the heart? Spends hours, days,
weeks, months, or even years working on a project that, in the end,
only a handful of people might bother to read, no matter how hard I
might market it?

Now, Chadwick, is when you should create something from the heart, something that really drives you to sit down at the computer each day and write. Ultimately it’s that passion that what will make your book great, not a premeditated effort to write something you think will be "saleable"… because nobody really knows what will or won’t sell.

I wrote THE MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE on spec — I didn’t have a contract. It was truly a "passion project" for me, a story I was burning to tell. Then again, I didn’t have the DM novels or the MONK novels to do, only my TV work. I wrote BADGE in the time I now use to write the work-for-hire stuff.

But my life has changed since then and so have my professional obligations.   I would LOVE to write another Harvey Mapes novel, but since I have to make a living as a writer, the time spent on it would take me away from my paying work. I simply can’t afford to write another Mapes now, not while balancing my script committments and the work-for-hire novels (DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MONK).

Once you make the leap to professional, and you have contracts to honor, it gets harder and harder to find the "free" time to gamble on writing the passion projects you can’t be sure will ever pay off financially. Does that make me a hack? No, it makes me someone who has
professional and personal committments and needs to prioritize his time to best fullfill his responsibilities.

7 thoughts on “Work vs Inspiration”

  1. Oh, where did all this light come from? Why is everybody looking at me? Dang, it’s sure hot in here, isn’t?
    First, I meant no disrespect to you or other professional writers by using the term “hack.” The reason I put it in quotations was that it is a term that I do not consider mine, but it is one that is familiar and slung around. I think it is an unfair way to smear writers that do work for hire or write to market rather than following their heart. I hope my original post gets across that I find merit in both approaches to writing.
    Second, thank you for clarifying and putting into things into a professional, as well as personal, perspective. You show that writing from the heart can pay off with a sustainable career doing what you love.

  2. As someone who has long thought Lee is one spec novel away from the best-seller list, I have to agree that it’s insanity to suggest that not writing another Mapes novel is some kind of hackery. Lee wrote Mapes because he was in love with the idea and the character. He poured his soul into it. And after it was rejected by everyone in town, he sold it to 5-Star, which pays almost nothing and has distribution to match.
    Now Lee and I have had long discussions about where he should put his time. I’ve urged him to write a spec thriller, and he’s argued to me, quite persuasively, that it’s tough to turn down paying work for a gamble.
    But even if he’s wrong, what he should be doing is pouring his heart and soul into something new. It’s hardly hackery to decline to write a sequel to a book that barely sold, for God’s sake. There are plenty of things Lee can devote his writer’s soul to, there are tons of stories that he can tell. If Mapes had been a huge hit, some might call him a hack for turning to an unnecessary sequel. To call him a hack for not writing that sequel when the first book doesn’t bring in any money, that’s just nuts!
    — William Rabkin
    President, Lee Goldberg Fan

  3. I don’t think Chadwick meant any offense or to criticize my work-for-hire novels … he’s been a very effusive fan of the DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels (and he even let me murder him in THE DOUBLE LIFE, which comes out in November).
    I think he’s wondering how we make a choice between writing what pays and writing what inspires us. Sometimes they are both. I give 100% to my DM and MONK novels and am very proud of them. But would I prefer to be writing entirely original novels instead of tie-ins? Absolutely.
    I could probably get a contract from Five Star for another Harvey Mapes but, financially, it just doesn’t make sense for me to that. I would make a lot more doing another DM or Monk and Five Star’s distribution is just too limited.
    However, if a mass market publisher offered me a contract for a BADGE sequel, and paid me the advance I get for DM or Monk, well, that would be a different story. I would chose the sequel over another DM or MONK in a nanosecond. For one thing, I would undoubtedly have a much higher royalty stake in a BADGE sequel vs my tie-in work.

  4. But even if he’s wrong, what he should be doing is pouring his heart and soul into something new. It’s hardly hackery to decline to write a sequel to a book that barely sold, for God’s sake. There are plenty of things Lee can devote his writer’s soul to, there are tons of stories that he can tell. If Mapes had been a huge hit, some might call him a hack for turning to an unnecessary sequel. To call him a hack for not writing that sequel when the first book doesn’t bring in any money, that’s just nuts!
    Perhaps you should visit my blog and read my glowing reviews of some of Mr. Goldberg’s books…both The Past Tense and The Man With the Iron-On Badge.
    As I stated before, it was not my intention to call Mr. Goldberg a hack. He’s a commercial writer and I, by the way, am predominantly a reader of commercial fiction. So he writes the kinds of books that I most like to read. Fair trade from my standpoint.
    My point, if I had one to make, was that some writers can do work for hire and others can’t, or won’t, or simply don’t for whatever reason s/he might have. And they are both right. If Mr. Goldberg doesn’t write another Mapes novel, fine. That is his decision and, as both he and you have pointed out, it is probably a very sound one to make…both from a business and personal standpoint.
    Rejection hurts, no matter where on the bestseller scale a writer might be. I had only been blathering on about how confusing it can be to hear passionately argued points in defense of commercial writing as well as against it. I spent six years in the San Francisco State University creative writing school being taught that commercial writing was for “sell outs,” and that “those books” weren’t worth reading, and certainly weren’t intelligent. It just showed how little people understood that kind of writing. (And god help the writer who happens to land on the bestseller lists…”They were so good before they started making money.” Huh?) To this day I hear rants from co-workers about how commercial publishing “stifles creativity.” Ugh!
    Damn, I blathered again. I’ll just close with a simple enough statement about the whole situation, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
    Also – those angered might be happy to know a character with my name gets murdered in the Diagnosis Murder book that follows The Dead Letter. Reading it will be a splendid way to vent your frustations. 😉

  5. Like most things in this world, there at least three sides to the issue; the A side, the B side, and somewhere between, the Truth.
    The A side: On this one, I fall squarely in Chadwick’s camp. I first read MY GUN HAS BULLETS and laughed until I had tears in my eyes. BEYOND THE BEYOND made me laugh even more, and from then on anytime I saw the name “Lee Goldberg” on a book, it became part of the library. (I still have my copy of UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS, which I bought when it came out. P.S. Lee, you were entirely correct in your comments on the “new” PETER GUNN with Peter Strauss. It would have been glorious!) I enjoy the DM series (for those who remember, Lee does with the DM world what David McDaniel did with U.N.C.L.E., and it’s one hell of a ride. (I firmly believe Lee will understand that and take it for the compliment it is). MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE knocked me out. Starting out as what I thought would be something fun and light hearted, Lee veered right into John D. MacDonald territory with the core mystery and the solution. I made no secret of how much I enjoyed it nor how much I wanted to see a sequel. Or a series.
    The B side: Having been a writer from the age of seven, (well, that’s the word I use; Hollywood and New York have yet to agree)and spending too many years of my life trying to break in on the Dark Side (aka screenplays, networks, and those particular Creatures of Evil known as “producers”), I admire Lee tremendously for 1) hanging in there, and 2) having a successful career. The reality is there are indeed only so many hours in a day, and a writer who makes a living at it (especially one with a family to support) has to pick and choose where he devotes his time. While I would be the first to buy/order/grab a sequel to BADGE, I completely understand Lee’s reasoning. Writing from the heart is good, we all do it, but if one has a choice between writing from the heart and supoorting one’s family, to me that’s an easy choice.
    The Truth: As much as we readers would love to see Lee write what WE want, he’s got to do what’s right for him and his career. Again, there’s only so many hours in a day, and time and energy have to go with what pays. Starving in a garrett for your art is very cool at 19, but coming up on 50 I find the idea ludicrous.
    John D. called himself a “hack”. Ian Fleming had no pretenstions about it. Nor did Dickens, from what I’ve read. I see nothing wrong with the term. If you can make a living with your writing, laugh all the way to the bank. So what if it’s McDonald’s instead of Chez Cafe of the Week? Your living life on your terms, not someone else’s, doing what you love to do and getting paid for it, and you can’t beat that.
    William Simon
    Regional Director, Southwest
    Lee Goldberg International Fan Club

  6. Oh, oh, oh, does this hit home. I’m about finished with a novel I’m writing under a pseudonym. The first novel in a 2-book contract (The Devil’s Pitchfork) comes out in October and the 2nd is completed and the third, which will hopefully be the first book in a second multi-book contract, needs re-writing.
    I’m a fulltime freelance writer, editor and novelist.
    There’s only so much time and energy. My agent is shopping around the follow-up to “Dirty Deeds.” But I’ve been thinking that this novel I’m just finishing up may very well be my last on-spec novel (or so I say). Concentrate, says I, on the bird in the hand–the Derek Stillwater novels I have contracts for–and on the nonfiction business that pays the bills.
    I’m sure many fulltime writers think this. There’s only so much time and energy, and you really have to focus on what pays the bills or you’re going to have to go and get a REAL job.
    Mark Terry


Leave a Comment