The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, September 29, 2006

Why Yes, I Am an Independently Wealthy Writer

by Melissa Bell

I've always been lousy with money. When I decided in my teens to go into the "arts", I never figured I'd make very much and my prediction turned out to be correct. For years I survived paycheque to paycheque, from temp job to temp job between squat-paying theatre gigs and the occasional bit part in a Made For TeeVee movie or low-rent film. I had no desire to head south of the border and try to make a go of it while sharing a 400 sq. ft. apartment with six other part-time actors and our rather large, but extremely fragile, egos. Even that would have meant a considerable upfront outlay of cash which I just never had. I loved the myth of the performer who arrived in L.A. or New York with $20 in their pocket and crashed an audition, and the next day were hired for a Broadway play or a long-running series. But I never knew anybody who had that happen to them. With the exception of one pal who made the leap and after many years of incredibly hard work, eventually became the star of his own mind-bogglingly successful sitcom, everyone else I knew just bounced around, most returning to Canada after a few years or soul-crushing months, and continuing with auditions and taking classes when they weren't tending bar or teaching aerobics. It's a hard life. A fun life when the work is happening and the roles are steady, but those occasions were, and remain, rare for the majority of performers. Most actors live well below the poverty line their entire lives and, while few of them complain about it – after all, we/they chose that line of work – I knew I didn't love it enough to make it to my 40s earning $350 a week doing summer stock in a field of canola.

Not that the writing life is any better. Income-wise it's worse. A lot worse. To date, in 2006, my writing has netted me exactly $287.68. And while I certainly can't live on that, I can live with it. That cash is a bonus. Because I can pretty much write wherever, whenever and whatever I want. I don't have to get dressed up when I do it, I get to choose my material, and where and when I send it out, if I choose to send it out at all. Unlike acting, I don't have to wait around for somebody's permission to work on "my art". An actor doesn't obtain much job satisfaction reciting Shakespearean monologues alone in their basement, no matter how brilliant they might be at it. But a writer can sit alone in a bar with a cold glass of beer and scribble ten pages of holy tripe in a 99-cent notebook with a pen they've ripped off from their dentist and leave knowing they've put in a good day's work at something they love doing. Try sitting at a table-for-one and re-enacting your favourite scenes from Pulp Fiction and see how long it takes for the cops to show up. "I was just honing my craft, officer!" and you're just going to have to leave that grilled cheese behind. Jeez, even at auditions, watching an actor go off to a corner of the waiting room and practice their lines with an invisible audience – they look like nutcases even when it's a perfectly normal thing for an actor to do. One needs an appropriate time and place to just simply be an actor. As a writer, there is never a bad time to just sit and do one's thing.

Except when I'm actually at my job. The job that provides the steady paycheque I never had up until a few years ago. But come lunchtime, I can wander off with my notebook, a felt-tip, and my imagination, and create something that is mine, that is my own.

And that, to me, makes me a very rich woman indeed.

(Bon weekend, y'all!)


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

This is nice, Mel and so true. It IS a privilege to be able to do what we do.

Fri Sep 29, 12:29:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

I've made zero writing this year, will actually be in the hole. I love what you wrote, you're sooo right, we are very lucky and very rich indeed.

Fri Sep 29, 01:29:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I love writing, too. But when you are at your pay-the-bills job you can't be writing, so I really understand the whole Canada Council Grant thing. When I was a starve in the gutters of Paris young artist I disdained that sort of thing. Now: where's the application? (Even though I love my job, I would like to pursue it half-the-time and write the other half.)

Fri Sep 29, 09:51:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

But doesn't your day job eat up alot of your time...

Our industry isn't exactly known for the short hours! Inspiring post, Mel.

Sat Sep 30, 03:11:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

So who was the pal? You got me curious.

I made a list for my artsy teenage kids recently. I listed two types of jobs (very generally speaking). In one I put the musicians, actors, writers, painters, sculptors, poets... etc.
Then I listed all the jobs that actually made money. I told them if you are seriously considering a job in the arts, marry someone from this second group. I did.

Great post MelBel.

Mon Oct 02, 12:34:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Your post made me laugh out loud! I'm sending it to my talented actor brother at his day job :)

Tue Oct 03, 09:23:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Great post, Mel. Got me thinking.

I quit having day jobs last year, and I'm still having day-job withdrawl. It's like an addiction; I feel like I need it just to get me through this rough patch. Freelancing's my meth, I guess. The day-job was my junk. Both eat away at my writer-soul.

But then I write, for no pay, and relax a little. Call it my counsellor ;)

Wed Oct 04, 03:52:00 pm GMT-4  

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