How do you attempt to become a professional writer while still earning a living? That's one of the eternal questions of the aspiring writer. And one I struggle with daily.
For me, the answer is simple. I don't sleep much. It's not a satisfying answer, nor is it the full one. But that's what it boils down to for me.
The novelist Dan Wells put it extremely well. It's a value decision. Do you want to be an author? Then you have to choose to give up things to carve out the time to write. As it turns out, I value becoming a filmmaker more than playing video games, watching much TV and getting a full night's sleep. My time is carved up into my my day job, my family and writing. There's not much else. It sounds sad when I describe it that way but that's not how it feels.
This website started the ball rolling years ago. I added a news section to talk about movies in production. It became a bit of an obsession after a while. Eventually it sank into my rather thick skull that the process of making movies was endlessly fascinating to me. That was the seed that grew into where I am now. Running the site kept putting me in contact with others obsessed with film. Some of them wrote scripts, which struck me as something that could be fun, if only I knew something about writing them.
And then I met a guy who could put actual scripts into my hands. I started reading a lot of them. It would still be a few years before I'd attempt to write one myself. When I finally tried, it was a disaster. It never got past a very shaky outline. Another year passed before I tried again. By then I had read William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade, a wonderful book that taught me the first bits about how to actually write a script. I had the idea to adapt a short story as a practice run, letting me try out writing in this format without having to come up with a story of my own. It worked well as an instructional process, not so well as actual screenwriting.
More time passed before an original idea hit me that I had to put down on paper. It came out of nowhere as two thoughts collided and just like that a story popped into my head. I got out of bed and wrote 8 pages that moment. The rest of the script took me another year. As time has passed, the ideas have come more readily and my writing has accelerated as well. Discovering the power of a rewrite burst the creative dam.
As that learning process unfolded, I started making value choices. Slowly a lot of things fell out of my life, until the present day when I live a pretty stripped down life. Yes, it would be nice to have some variety back. But that has to wait. The need to create is powerful and consuming. I can't give it up for something as trivial as a video game or watching another sitcom. Eventually, my creations should start paying me back, get me out of the cursed day job, and thus let me make different value choices. But it always comes down to those choices.
Do you aspire to something greater? Then you have to figure out just how much you value that and plan accordingly. I'd rather be a filmmaker than get a full night's sleep. And that's why I'm putting this thought down after 4 AM. Friends often see my creations and make the snide comment that I have too much free time on my hands. The truth is, I don't have enough.