*This is the first installment of a series on common illusions beginning writers might face. This first post summarizes my career as a scribe to date and serves as backstory; as such it can be skipped and if you want to get straight to the illusions, proceed to part II.
The first time I got paid for writing was in 2000. The father of this friend of mine wanted to write a letter to someone but felt he just didn’t quite know what to say, so he paid me $50 to write it for him. I photocopied the money and saved it. It was a weird feeling, a confirmation of a brave idea, a dream come true, an answered prayer, a life-changing event…all these cliche’s and much, much more. It was just a year or so earlier I realized I was a writer, and that meant I had an obligation to earn a living from the craft.
I’ve shown an evolving seriousness with writing since the age of 6. In first grade, I drew and illustrated a little story book called My Dog Rover. I’m not sure how, but it ended up making our local paper. I think the newspaper had some program with school through which they supported the arts and writing, even for grade school kids.
For my freshman year high-school career study I decided I would be a “fictional writer.” Somewhere between there and graduation, I either decided I no longer wanted to be a writer, or forgot about the matter all together. Just before entering community college I passed the test to become an electrical apprentice, but the idea of being an electrician just didn’t interest me. Even though writing about electricity and science interests me, looking back, the electrician idea was really born of a lack in conviction that seemed to promise stability at the time.
The second time I got paid for writing was in 2001 and it had to do with some scribblings from two years prior. For some reason I picked up Erwin Blacker’s Character and Dialog book and after that I decided I wanted to write a screenplay, which is odd because I’m not much of a movie buff; I have my favorites, but I’ve not much affinity for the entertainment culture the majority of Western culture has come to worship and adorn. Besides, I thought Hollywood dudes were wussies, and when I realized I was a writer I decided I would write in tablets, get a typewriter and write a book, just like the real crop who did it back in the day. I started typing the manuscript only to set it down after the first three pages.
Years passed, and the decision to try the screenplay came out of left field. I think I chose to to try it because I enjoyed writing short stories and creating characters, I think because people’s isms are the source of untold story potential. At the time, I was in transition living mostly in my van, and also skateboarding a lot, so I decided to write my first screenplay about your typical crew of skateboarders. I was always writing stories and sending them to the skateboard magazines but they never published any, at least not right away, and the characters for the screenplay were actually created years earlier in a short story titled Resist The Usual. That was January 1999, years before skate-based content was some sort of hip buzzword in the Hollywood elite circles. I remember pitching my script to more than a few people at the time, inside Hollywood and skateboarding who were like, “what’s this?” Hollywood always
seems to pick up on things about three to five years late, and I think much of it has to do with production times and the fact that people don’t want to take creative risks and “lose jobs.”
I posted the first ten pages of my screenplay on some website and this guy contacted me claiming to be a literary manager, which of course I didn’t believe. I saw a magazine blurb about a skateboarding TV show NBC was developing so I called them, not to get a job, since my screenplay was a feature film, but more to make a suggestion, which was to hire actual skateboarders to do the writing so it comes out better. Their associate had interviewed “a dozen skaters” and told me verbatim that “none of them could write worth a shit.” At that point, one of those little lightbulbs went off, and I immediately blurted out “I can…I’ve even got a script about some skaters…”
“Well then have your agent send it to us…” was her response.
Now I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t know of any, and I’d never even considered needing or getting one, but I would of been a fool to tell her that.
“I’ll have him send it over…” I said, acting as if. I was nervous as ever but made sure to sound calm and collected.
I then immediately contacted that guy who’d hit me up claiming to be a lit manager. I told him I might have got myself a gig, and that I needed him to, if nothing else, at least just pose as my agent and send the screenplay to NBC for me with his little stamp on it or whatever. That was a Tuesday. By Friday I was surprised when I showed up at the local skate shop and there was a contract that had come through the fax machine for me. I took it to the bookstore and checked up on all the language. It sounded legit, so I signed it and sent it back. The following week I got a pilot for the show in the mail, and I was asked to make notes on the dialog. I made quite a few unsavory comments.
A week after that I was called to some Santa Monica office for a meeting with the producers, and they asked me to bring the pilot. After the obligatory small talk, the executive producer walked into the room. Along with another showrunner, he was the one who had written the pilot I made all the unsavory comments in, and when I saw him reach for it, my heart sank and my stomach tied in knots as he flipped through the pages.
“No skater on Earth would talk like such a pussy?” he said as he shot me a glance.
“This dialog fully sucks…?” as he glanced around the room.
“Cheesy?” he asked aloud as the room went uncomfortably silent.
I could feel my face flushing with embarrassment. I thought for sure the next words out of his mouth would to the effect of get the something out of here, but instead he sorta smiled, looked at the junior producers, then back at me, and said, “This kid’s honest. Hire him…” and walked out of the room.
So I worked a full season as a staff writer, got some production credits and was able to join WGA. The show didn’t get picked up for a second season, but I didn’t care because I was financially set for a minute and those green residual checks kept on coming in the mail. During the time I floated off the WGA minimums, I was able to hodgepodge together my first book. I was just as fascinated by the process of making books, and decided I wanted to try to make more. I got a job as a feeder working an offset Komori 6-station press with one of the most amazing and brilliant thinkers I’ve met, a real Master Printer with over 50 years of experience and the temperament of a Founding Father. One thing led to another, and what started as a letter written for a friend’s dad has now turned into a niche publishing and distribution venture.
Don’t worry, this whole little series thing isn’t going to be all self-absorbed dribble about me; it is really just the backstory for the first illusion I want to discuss, the illusion of even a modest amount of success.
The editor of The Warfare is Mental, and pursuer of relatively interesting information. Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.