When you start to sell your writing, there will opportunities to make money by changing what you've created. Should you take them? Where do you draw the line regarding how much of your novel, screenplay, or other creative project you are willing to change or exploit?
In the previous post I quoted some of the comments cartoonist Bill Watterson, creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” made at a graduation address back in 1990. In this post I’d like to share some of his comments about “selling out.”
I think he was unique among successful comic strip artists in not licensing his characters to be used on toys, sheets, cups, t-shirts, etc. (although you’ll see them on bootleg merchandise). It would have brought in millions. Why did he decline? He said:
“The so-called ‘opportunity’ I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need.”
This is a tough issue for writers, especially scriptwriters.
Once somebody buys your script they can demand any changes they want.
You wrote a script about a sensitive young girl facing her first sexual encounter? Some studio executive can decide the story would be better if she’s a hooker. Of course you can refuse, in which case they’ll hire somebody else to change it.
Over the years I’ve seen writers handle this in different ways. Some decided they would make the changes but try to save as much of their own work as possible. I tried this once with a TV movie, a romantic comedy that a network exec wanted to change “a little” by having a hit man trying to kill the female lead. It led to a draft that didn’t make him happy and didn’t make me happy, either.
Another option is to approach the whole thing as a craftsperson with little personal investment in the final product. In other words, just do the job, follow orders, and move on. Although this can fill the bank account pretty quickly, I think it kills the spirit equally quickly.
The method I finally settled on is to enjoy writing my version. When someone wants changes, naturally I’ll agree to those that make it better and also to those that make it different but not worse. If they insist on changes that make it significantly worse, I walk away and try not to see the finished product.
Here’s one more selection from Watterson:
“You will find your own ethical dilemmas in all parts of your lives, both personal and professional. We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled. Sooner or later, we are all asked to compromise ourselves and the things we care about. We define ourselves by our actions. With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are. Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.”
If you didn't read the previous post, please have a look. I hope that these two posts may lead you to the conclusion that you are already successful.
(You'll find writing advice and inspiration from the classic and modern great authors in my book, "Your Creative Writing Masterclass," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)