August 7, 2013
Have you heard? It’s easy to be a paid writer these days.
So um, that’s not exactly been my experience. My experience has been a long, work-worn journey, toiling late at night and early in the morning for no pay, before finally being paid tiny amounts of money for my work. I’m fairly certain — as a writer currently working in this internet age — that this is how it generally works.
And yet, writers in TV shows get paid all the time!
I was reminded of this television trend while watching Jason Bigg’s character on Orange is the New Black. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the show, and I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks obsessing over it. But there was one major plot point that I found a little upsetting (read: I was just jealous), and it had to do with Larry quickly and easily getting published in the New York Times.
The New York Times ”Modern Love” column is a delight. I read it weekly, I follow it on facebook, and I absolutely aspire to have an essay published there one day. But I don’t currently have the connections required for me to walk into some big office, pitch an idea, and emerge with a guarantee of publication.
Listen, Larry doesn’t even have another job. He spends all of his time masturbating (though not to the point of completion), eating pretzels, and watching Mad Men. He doesn’t appear to be practicing his craft, or spending hours at the computer sending clips to editors in an attempt to get noticed. So what the hell?
Well, Larry is not alone. It seems that, for the fictional, having one’s writing published in the big city of New York is an absolute snap.
Take Hannah Horvath. Hannah graduated from college with no practical skills, held various jobs that she did badly (when she showed up, that is), and had no published written work anywhere. And yet, an episode early in season 2 finds her somehow in the office of a high-powered publisher, wearing a bad skirt and agreeing to complete a paid piece about her drug adventures. I’m sorry — what? How?
This piece, published immediately, leads to an e-book deal. There she is, at a cafe somewhere in Brooklyn, with a publisher who’s taken the time to meet her there. He offers her an advance for the book that she will agree to write. Ahh. The life of a writer.
(Obviously, that didn’t turn out well for Hannah or her hair/ears, but the point is, how did she get that book deal.)
In the world of TV, though (and HBO dramadies in particular), Hannah was just following in the footsteps of her empowered female predecessor: Carrie Bradshaw. Carrie, much like Larry, spent her days walking down brownstone-lined NYC streets, eating light snacks while watching TV, and gabbing on her home phone. She lived in a beautiful (albeit rent-controlled, true) apartment, and ate every meal out. What did she do for work? Oh, she was a writer. She moved to New York and got a weekly column — followed by, bam! a book deal — with no trouble at all. People LOVE to pay for writing!
Sigh. No, people don’t love to pay for writing. Yes, you will have to write for free before you write for pay. Yes, even then, the pay will be low. Maybe someday I’ll have an e-book deal, a collection of essays, and a piece in “Modern Love” — I fully plan to! But I know it won’t be tomorrow, and that I’ll still need to eat in the meantime. Perhaps the writers behind these shows don’t remember what it was like to start out (or, in Lena Dunham’s case at least, never had to worry about money). Or perhaps they do, and they’ve just chosen to idealize the life we are all striving for. In the fantasy of television, becoming a paid writer is an easily achievable career goal. In life, it’s an admirable, exciting, and worthwhile one — but it’s certainly not easy.
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