The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, August 23, 2007

M is for Money

Considering everything that is happening in my career
right now, it's pretty much inevitable that I'd be
thinking about money. Truth be told, if the next
couple of weeks go well, I will have raised my
career up to the precise level I've desired for over
a decade. And at that point, people start throwing
vast amounts of money at you. Literally hundreds
of thousands, and millions of dollars. This is no
joke at all.

The question becomes: what is selling out? What
is a legitimate use of your time and talent, and at
what point do you become a whore? I remember
years back, I met a writer who handed me his card.
It read: "Freelance Hack and Literary Mechanic."
The guy was dead of alcoholism within a year.

There is simply a limit to how much of yourself
you can sell. Personally, I've never sold out. I
TRIED to sell out once (ask me to tell you the
"Purple Heart" story some time) but fortunately,
if my heart isn't in it, I just can't do good work.
Wow, that was humiliating...just when you're
ready to sell out, there are no takers. Ugh.

But I get asked a LOT, and usually by starry-eyed
young Newbies: how do you keep your artistic
integrity. For me, the answer is fairly simple: I f
ind a way to fall in love with any project. You
see, my tastes in fiction range widely. There is
almost ALWAYS something to enjoy about a given
scenario. Or to put it another way, imagine a circle.
That circle contains everything I would want to
write if money were not an issue.

Then imagine another circle: this circle encompasses
everything that the market would like to pay me
for. You know something? So far, 90% of the time,
those two circles overlap. And where they overlap
is where I write. I don't have the luxury of writing
purely for love. Nor can I tap into my creativity
solely for money.

But for almost 30 years I've been able to find
something to learn, love, or contribute in every
commercial project. In one case, I wrote a script
out of revenge--the Producer of a certain show
tried to steal my work, and then made the
mistake of giving me another script. I embedded
something rather obscene in the dialogue, and
actually snuck it past the producers and censors,
so that no one noticed it until it aired...

Revenge is a dish best served alongside a BIG
check. Heh heh.

At any rate, I say this to encourage you to believe
that you don't have to betray your Muse to make
a living. That, in fact, if you will delve deeply
enough into your heart, you will actually find
your best and most successful work. Art and
Commerce are not enemies. They are neighbors.

And their children play together.

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