Short 'n Curlies #46 by Si Spurrier
The Keyboard Is My FuckMonkey:
"Mind the gap!"
So shrieketh the subway-based baddie in underrated 70's schlock horror flick Death Line, which is on my tellybox right now and therefore relevant, and coincidently acts as proof that lumpy-faced cannibalistic B-movie bastards have more than a little in common with Accountants. Why? Because "mind the gap!" is also the perennial drone of my personal MoneyMonkey, who meaningfully ejaculates Said Advice to any of his clients foolish enough to be self-employed, freelance, or otherwise Financially Doomed.
THE GAP BETWEEN GIGS is anathema to the Freelancer. It sucks at his mind like a frontal-lobe fellatio: ever-looming, indefinitely postponed, Awful in its possibility… The freelance life is the Monetary Equivalent of That Scene In Bad Action Movies — you know the one, you've watched it a thousand times — where the plucky Lantern-Jawed Heroist has to sprint across a bridge, roadway or alien hardlight proton-beam as it collapses: staying one half-step ahead of the CGI spiderweb-cracks, defying several of the more pompous laws of physics, and always allowing time for a final Stumble-Drop-Grab-Clamber at the very edge of the crumplezone.
So it is with we writerly, arterly, one-gig-at-a-timerly Povertyhounds: forever rushing forwards, never daring to stop, endlessly peering down into the crocodile-infested water of Next Month's Rent.
Mind, yes yes yes, the Fucking Gap.
Of course, it's more complicated than that. Take comics: a pale and floppy world of which I am ostensibly Part. Here the freelancery division roughly falls between writers and artists, and the latter group have a very different approach to Gapology than we wordists. An artist is typically working on just one project at a time: his page-speeds and schedules measured in scales of weeks and months rather than days. His Indiana-Jones-stylee collapsing-bridge visual-metaphor thingy involves a vast suspension-span made of rrrrreeally fucking big bricks, which fall at a snail's pace and light-up like Volcanic Vegasbombs long before they're ready to drop. If he's got any sense the artist has spent the whole Dizzying Sprint carefully planning how long each brick will remain in place, and can hop merrily between them without pausing to shit his pants along the way. It's the world's worst action sequence, because — with all due respect to the great, influential and awesome Artists of the world — the pencil-twiddling morons don't have anything better to do with their brains, while making pretty pictures, than Planning The Next Gig. It's a hard life.
(I'm reminded, incidentally, of my Former Existence as an art director In The Movies. It was Accepted Wisdom among Producers and A.D.s that the final two weeks of any shoot would be blighted by delays, absent-mindedness and general cockuppery, because everyone in the cast and crew — from the Director to the fucking Best Boy — would be spending at least half their time on the phone, setting-up their next gig. This also explains a lot about why the Finale episodes of Certain Comics aren't quite as supremely gorgeous as their predecessors…)
At any rate, a writer's job is much more schizophrenic. Individual projects last a lot less time, and the poor sod will typically be working on several at once, flitting back and forth like a narcissist with a mirrorball. He doesn't want to get into the habit of working his way through each separate gig in long focused chunks, because that prevents him from taking-on new work should an Unsympathetic Editor (and yes, funfans, that's a tautology) call-up out of the blue with an amazing opportunity Which Is Only Viable If Accepted NOW NOW NOW. The writer would rather deliver four different First Episodes on time — to four different editors — than complete the entire six-issue run of a single project whilst telling three other guys to Go Fish.
This writer — since by now we're all unshakably attached to the Bridgesprint Analogy — is not so much rushing along a single collapsing span as pogo-sticking between numerous dissolving high-wires. He'd be a twat to ignore the shiny New One appearing to one side if he can squeeze it into his sideways shenanigans, and so his battlecry — as he hops and sweats and paints Ginger Runways in his underwear — is NEVER SAY NO.
By way of example, in the past two months I've worked — at various times — on a Sarcastic Steampunk Fantasy tale, a post-apocalyptic spandexathon, a folkloric Urban thriller, a black-comedy sci-fi, a contemporary bodyshock horror, a Mutants-Vs.-Vampires sciencefest, a London Crime-grime mobalot, an existential time-travelling romantic comedy, and an action adventure narrated by a fucking vulture.
Keeping track is not easy. You've got to be good at changing gears, you've got to know what the fuck you're doing, and you've got to plan it all like a Genius to make sure there's always at least one thing on the go.
I have a GAP approaching.
I am pariah, I am scum, I am A Bit Rubbish At Planning.
Of course — so sayeth my inner reassurance — this needn't be an indication of unpopularity, or shitosity, or a glowing FAILSIGN. On the contrary: I've been so busy I can barely pause to bitch about it, and this is simply one of those awkward coincidences when a half-dozen gigs finish all at once. Oh, there are dim and vague rumours of Other Things In The Pipe, but nothing at an advanced enough stage that I could segue neatly into it when the other stuff ends, and He who Just Goes Ahead And Gets Started On Something Anyway, Because — Hey — The Editor Said It's Definite, I'm Just Waiting On A Contract, It's As Good As Greenlit, Really, Totally, We Are Set…
…is a Darwinian implosion waiting to occur. I know whereof I speak.
(Incidentally, none of this stuff even touches upon the writer's obligation to be thinking about other projects, new ideas, new pitches. That's an additional time expense which you can choose to either schedule, if you so please, or just squeeze-in wherever you can: in the shower, on the bus, balls-deep in your wife… It doesn't get taken into account when we're talking deadlines or workloads, is my point: it's just something you have to do, all all all the time, and you Will Not Get Paid For It. I say this purely as a Polite Warning to those considering a career in wurdmakingz, and pose the follow-up query: do you think, if you make it, you will ever again go on holiday to relax? You think your imagination ever gets time off? Uh-uh, chumpal. You will die young and exhausted, because the most energy-greedy organ in your body Does Not Get To Stop.)
ANYway. How does one — by which one means Me — best deal with an impending GAP? Well — by fighting it, obviously. By battering it into submission with a vicious salvo of editor-emails, making top-grade schmoozings, and Pitchity-Pitching like fire'n'fuckstorms; all to patch-over-the-pit and keep on sprinting…
…which presents something of a problem. Because when, exactly, have you had a chance to sit down and convert all those nebulous, constant, headache-inducing and Oh So Very Free-Of-Charge ideas you've been potboiling, into cohesive, concept-led, narratively satisfying stories, outlines, pitches, etceterah etceterah?
Here's the truth: you do it in the Gaps. You make love to those horrifying, gaping chasms of workless fear; you dance between the raindrops of panic and financial loss; you stare the Gulfs Of NonSchedule in the face and they fill you with the twittery adrenaline of CONCEPTMAKING.
All of my best ideas have arisen when I'm peering into the workvoid. Better yet, all of my most incisive transformations between "High Concept" and "Actual Functioning Story" have occurred when my brain's in a fluttering condition of No Money Coming In. There's hunger in all that frustration and desperation, I think. Obviously I'd never dare suggest that the prospect of Guaranteed Longterm Work can (and often does) sound the death-knell of a writer's ability to create Anything Worth Fucking Reading — and obviously I'd appreciate the opportunity to test this for myself, if only a publisher would be Scientifically-Minded enough to offer me a highly-paid Exclusive Contract — but for now my counterintuitive Advicenuke detonates thus:
Don't Always Mind The Gap. Once In A While — even if you can't afford it — Jump Into The Fucking Thing.
Anyway: that's writing for comics, if you wanted a Potted Version. A job that pays like shit, requires constant brain-effort, demands the ability to hop between incomplete jobs like a literary circlejerker, precludes you from ever getting a mortgage, necessitates you spending at least as much time looking for work as actually doing it (up until such time as you're Big Enough that you don't have to try any more, at which point you're pretty much doomed anyway), and which above all presents a sadistic inverse relationship between Quality Of Work and Quality Of Life.
I love it.
But there's not much work to go round, so, y'know… Do the sensible thing and Don't Bother, yeah?
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C/O William Christensen,
515 N. Century Blvd.
Rantoul, IL 61866
(Disclaimer: Secretly, I'm nice.)
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