I Love Joss Anyway

But even so, I really love him:

“All the trappings of a union protest were there… …But instead of hard hats and work boots, those at the barricades wore arty glasses and fancy scarves.”

Oh my God. Arty glasses and fancy scarves. That is so cute! My head is aflame with images of writers in ruffled collars, silk pantaloons and ribbons upon their buckled shoes. A towering powdered wig upon David Fury’s head, and Drew Goddard in his yellow stockings (cross-gartered, needless to say). Such popinjays, we! The entire writers’ guild as Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Delicious.

Except this is exactly the problem. The easiest tactic is for people to paint writers as namby pamby arty scarfy posers, because it’s what most people think even when we’re not striking. Writing is largely not considered work. Art in general is not considered work. Work is a thing you physically labor at, or at the very least, hate. Art is fun. (And Hollywood writers are overpaid, scarf-wearing dainties.) It’s an easy argument to make. And a hard one to dispute.

My son is almost five. He is just beginning to understand what I do as a concept. If I drove a construction crane he’d have understood it at birth. And he’d probably think I was King of all the Lands in my fine yellow crane. But writing – especially writing a movie or show, where people other than the writer are all saying things that they’re clearly (to an unschooled mind) making up right then – is something to get your head around.

And as work? Well, in the first place, it IS fun. When it’s going well, it’s the most fun I can imagine having. (Tim Minear might dispute that.) And when it’s not going well, it’s often not going well in the company of a bunch of funny, thoughtful people. So how is that work?

[snip]

It’s always hard. Not just dealing with obtuse, intrusive studio execs, temperamental stars and family-prohibiting hours. Those are producer issues as much as anything else. Not just trying to get your first script sold, or seen, or finished, when nobody around believes you can/will/should… the ACT of writing is hard. When Buffy was flowing at its flowingest, David Greenwalt used to turn to me at some point during every torturous story-breaking session and say “Why is it still hard? When do we just get to be good at it?”

I tried to make this point Tuesday when I was talking to the college kids about tough stories, emotionally, and online reprisals and some of the weird and hard parts about my job, but like I was gonna make any point about anything better than Fuckin’ Joss.

People used to get pissy that I loved my job so much, that I was so into it, that I loved my co-workers like my family, that I spent all this time there and talked about it all the goddamn time and it made meso freaking happy. “Wow, isn’t THAT nice,” was the expression, with its bitchface sneer accompanying, implying I couldn’t possibly be for real, that I had to be getting away with something.

And in a way, man, I am. I keep trying to write about the process of getting my book published, what a relentless fucking humiliating exercise it was (until it wasn’t), and I always stop about three paragraphs down thinking, “Bitch, get over yourself, you weren’t walking point in Fallujah, quit whining.” For the most part, I do have a pretty easy gig. I sit at a desk and I type. Talk on the phone. Go to the library. Sometimes I have to convince somebody that doesn’t want to talk to me to do so, which means I … say different words, a lot. Sometimes I run out of coffee. Sometimes two of the fingers on my left hand start twinging. Quite the piteous figure, am I.

But writing is carpentry, it is a skill you acquire. You can’t teach somebody to want the story but wanting it isn’t enough, you do actually have to learn stuff, and there are times when your own inadequacy is pretty staggering, like whenever I re-watch BSG’s “Malestrom” or Babylon 5’s “Comes the Inquisitor” or read Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit and just think, “Holy living fuck, I should just go work in a tollbooth, this is stupid, I’m 32 years old and what’s the point if I can’t dothat by now?” And I know what I can and can’t do … I can’t do that. I’m not there yet. I have to read more and write more and meet more of the people who will blow my mind and change my life before I’ll be able to do anything that even approaches that, if ever. I do have work ahead of me.

And it is work. I’m not saying it’s the hardest job ever in the whole world (that would be teaching sixth-graders and the aforementioned Fallujah sitch, probably, though digging ditches doesn’t look easy, either) but it is work and people who do work should be compensated fairly for it.

In other words, fuck, just go read Joss already.

A.

8 thoughts on “I Love Joss Anyway

  1. virgotex says:

    damn, I almost blogged about that post yesterday. Glad you did instead.

  2. mdhatter says:

    If you love your work, you fight for it.

  3. BuggyQ says:

    I work part-time for a writer. She’s one of the more successful science fiction authors, which is to say that she’s relatively well-known in SF, not so much elsewhere. She’s been doing this for about 35 years. I think if you averaged out her total earnings in that time over those years, it’d come to *maybe* $30,000 a year. That’s *gross*, not net–now take out the travel expenses for going to conventions and book signings, research and office supply and computer expenses, the expense of hiring somebody like me to help with the burden of getting the words down on paper… If she didn’t have a husband with a steady job, she wouldn’t have been able to do this all these years.
    Most careeers, once you graduate and get the job, you start learning how to do the day-to-day work. But from day one on that job, you’re making a reasonable income. Writing isn’t so much like that. You graduate, and then you spend x years sending out manuscripts and getting rejection notes. Then you *finally* make a sale at 3 cents a word (for, say, a short story that’s a max of 7500 words, that’s…$225). So for the first ten years of your career (if you’re really lucky–for most its 20 years or forever), you have to be working a “real” job to make a living wage, or depend on a significant other.
    So even barring the whole debate over whether writing is really work, just from the standpoint of a living wage, writers don’t have it easy. Even the *most* successful writers don’t hit the big time till they get a movie deal, and even then the options aren’t typically huge. The Stephen Kings and Michael Crichtons of the world are few and far between.
    All that is to say, I have tremendous sympathy for the screenwriters. They are not typing away on their laptops by the pool surrounded by bikini-clad bimbos. Most of them live from one writing gig to the next, sometimes with terrifying gaps between paychecks. Residual payments from DVD and online sales may allow some of them to keep their houses. It’s that simple.
    They do the job because they love it, because they’re called to it. But that doesn’t mean they should do it for pennies.

  4. Michael says:

    Ma chère Athenae,
    Yes, you’re getting away with something. Man, are you ever. But it is *not* because you’re writing. It’s because your work is a labour (sic) of love for you. I don’t remember the exact statistics, but I think it’s in the neighbourhood of 10-15% of people who love what they do for a living. And if you’re in that lucky number, then sure, other people resent you, or envy you – because you have something they don’t, and want. Same as it ever was. But it ain’t necessarily about the writing per se, unless you’re dealing with a cave troll who has his name tattooed on his forehead so when people ask him how to spell it, he can just point up.
    If I ever become rich – or when my wife decides that *I* can be stay-at-home Papa – then I’d like to try my hand at writing, too. As painful and humiliating as I’m sure it will be, because damn, I love a pretty turn of phrase that *I* came up with. Or if my daughter will think I’m the best damned storyteller she’s ever met.
    Until then, I hone my languishing writing skills in the occasional pithy post, glad that the only editor I have to answer to is myself… πŸ˜‰
    BuggyQ, as an avid SF reader, you’ve now got me curious as all hell as to who your employer is.

  5. BuggyQ says:

    Sorry, Michael. My ego got the best of me on that one. I’ll only go so far as to say I know exactly how spectacularly lucky I am to be able to do what I do for six hours every Sunday. Tonight, as penance, I’ll spare Mr. BuggyQ cleaning the cats’ litterbox. That’ll bring my head back down to size right quick.

  6. Michael says:

    BuggyQ, no worries. I’m not some obsessive fanboi. πŸ˜‰ I was only curious in the event that it was Tanya Huff or Michelle Sagara/West, both of whom I’ve met. In any case, I figure that the chances are I’ve read some of her stuff, *whoever* she is. πŸ˜‰

  7. Michael says:

    BuggyQ, no worries. I’m not some obsessive fanboi. πŸ˜‰ I was only curious in the event that it was Tanya Huff or Michelle Sagara/West, both of whom I’ve met. In any case, I figure that the chances are I’ve read some of her stuff, *whoever* she is. πŸ˜‰

  8. Interrobang says:

    I love my job, too. Funnily enough, I’malso a writer. I haven’t actually sold any fiction yet, but I’ve sold a bunch of non-fiction, and I make the bulk of my money doing technical writing and software testing. (“Technical writing” in this case means I write help files for software and web applications, installation guides, how-tos, procedural manuals, testing documentation, and things like metadata schemata. I love doingthat, too.)
    I actually grew up in a family of people who loved their jobs (very few of us work in offices — we count several teachers, a commercial pilot, a lithographer, and a couple of transit drivers amongst our number) and I think that’s really shaped my perception of what a career should be, and why I worked so hard to get into doing this (as opposed to any of the other things people tried to shunt me into) and didn’t just settle.
    If that makes a few people think I’ve peed in their Wheaties, well, tough.

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