Not long ago I stayed up until three in the morning just to see George Clooney interviewed by James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio. Clooney talked about all his films and the usual stuff and then was asked about the variety of his movies. He acted in Ocean’s Eleven and then made a little movie—a mere 32 million budget done in a month or so—extremely fast and cheap by Hollywood standards. This movie, he wrote/directed/produced/acted in—then back to Ocean’s Twelve. How does that work?
He said with the Ocean movies, there are so many name stars, if they paid salaries, nobody could afford to make them. Instead of salary, he takes a percentage of the back side—the profits. He lives on that money while he makes the movie that costs 32 million because it’s a story that needs to be told. It won’t make an immediate difference in the lives of the people it’s about or change things in a big way but unless people are aware of what’s happening, nothing will ever change. He took no salary for this movie and even used his house as collateral for the insurance needed to make it.
From that interview, this is what I learned:
You do what’s practical so you can do what matters.
Because I write for magazines, I’ve been accused of writing just for money. I’m told non-fiction is “non- creative”. It’s not imagining a character, giving her a family, friends, a job and a place to live. Non-fiction is easy. Fiction is hard.
Non-fiction writing is a place to learn. I write about topics I’d never research on my own. I meet new people. I juggle different styles of writing for different magazines. Articles were 1,000 word counts just a few years ago. Now editors ask for 750 words. I make every word matter.
I’m able to stay on top of trends, work on a short deadline, and research at lightning speed. I see the results of my efforts, in print or online, in a matter of weeks. Working on assignment, I don’t have to wait for reading periods or an editor’s response to my submission. I get paid, on acceptance, after the final edit or on publication.
A book? If I had a clean copy, ready to go to print today, when would I see the first money? Even the short fiction stories I’ve written took months to get published. My first royalty check was $2.78.
So yes, I am practical. I keep cat food in the cats, the lights on, and the computer connected by writing for magazines. I write short fiction for fun and send it off to Untreed Reads where it gets published sooner or later, and then I promote the heck out of it. In my head, I create characters, dialogue, and settings for later use.
In the meantime, I’ve established myself as an expert, worked on building a platform, and learned what it takes to be a successful writer. I study the publishing industry and have a marketing plan. I’m doing what is practical so I can do what matters because, like Clooney, I have a story that needs to be told.