The writing industry can present some terrifying obstacles for people who make a living off of their creativity. As writers, we can be plagiarized or have our most simple concepts stolen. There’s competition to write about the same subjects for the same websites or magazines. Let’s face it, there are far more writers in this world than there are ideas. Let’s say you stumble upon an article that is strikingly similar to yours, can you really be sure that somebody has stolen from you, or is it more likely that you share remarkably similar opinions? It’s bound to happen, especially for those of us who write regularly about pop culture and film. How many of us are there do you think that love Star Wars, movies from the 80’s and cult classic television shows? Millions, I’d wager.
This also happens in the world of fiction and screenwriting. How many times have you been working on an idea for a t.v. show pilot or a short film script, and something similar begins production that you couldn’t possibly compete with like a cable television show or a big budget film? Many writers shut down in the face of all these dilemmas, and abandon their projects instead of using the gathering momentum in the public eye to forge on with their own. Some think that it’s better not to write at all anymore after they face this heartbreak several times in a row. Others become militant, suspicious and aggressive toward their peers.
This defense mechanism in particular can be very destructive. Some of the best contacts (and friends) that I’ve made through writing have been people with whom I have the most in common. We may write about the same subjects, but we never have the same things to say. Even people who love the same material view it from a different perspective, through the filter of a different set of life experiences. Writers who hunker down and get territorial only hurt themselves via their isolation. They lose contacts and possible future jobs because of their unwillingness to network or their pride.
Some writers will try to sit and think of an idea that nobody has ever had before. In my opinion, this is impossible. No new ideas exist, not from a basic plot point of view. Just fresh approaches, individual voices and changes in detail. That’s what makes someone’s writing unique. Not their ability to think of something totally new, but their talent to communicate their distinct vision to a reader. Turning to gimmicky writing may be tempting, but in the long run it’s only a waste of your most precious resource, time.
Other writers guard the basic knowledge of freelance writing as though it were a mysterious puzzle that nobody else could put together for themselves. I often get asked, “How does one become a freelance writer?” Through only two short years of experience, I have volumes of information to share with them. Mostly about what not to do, but still…by sharing your experiences with others and helping talented fledgling writers, you aren’t taking any attention away from yourself. You’re giving a gift to the reading public, re-teaching yourself good technique and facilitating new talent. This is always a good thing, and can even reinvigorate your passion, reminding you why you began to work as a writer in the first place. Don’t be stingy, nobody likes a snob.
I’ve often found it to be true that by helping someone get their start, you often times end up with more work because of this in the future. I’m not suggesting writers give away precious contacts that it’s taken them years to make or share their inside tracks on what they’re about to get published. But people will remember when you’ve helped them out and will be willing to help you in the future. It’s an age-old principle. You reap what you sow, sow wisely generously into your professional life and it will come back to you.
There are also things that you can do to ease the pain of your creativity. It’s never easy to have so many ideas in your mind and not know what you should be focusing on professionally or creatively. But if you can work through it instead of shutting down or quitting, you’ll be rewarded. Be versatile as a writer. Allow yourself to work on several ideas at once. Even if you simply acknowledge your many ideas or outline them and keep them handy for the future, this can prevent you from putting all your literary eggs in one basket. Learn how to write or pitch for different mediums. If someone beats you to the punch on a personal essay in a non-fiction magazine, perhaps you can turn to a spec script for a comic book company or enter a fiction contest with one of your short stories. You don’t have to be an expert in all the different formats, but by being well versed in a few that you work well with…you can really diversify your writing portfolio while staying true to yourself.
Writers should be encouraged by these common challenges, difficult and frustrating as they may be. What this means is that you have a head full of workable ideas. Ideas that large financial backers are biting on and putting into production or publishing. Even though it can be emotionally heartbreaking to have a pet project ripped from underneath you like the rug you’re standing on, what it means is that you have “what it takes” to make it as a writer.
You know you’re growing in an industry when you really begin having problems and difficulties. It means you’re out of the honeymoon stage with the idea of being a writer. Chances are, when you announced to the world that this was your chosen profession, you got some doubtful looks or some patronizing pats on the arm. When most people think “writer” they think of a tortured artist living out a non productive and impoverished existence. But after all, it’s just another job. Like every other job in the world there are positive and negative aspects to being a writer. Stay on the path long enough to find the negatives and begin to deal with them, and you’re really on a legitimate career path.