Thursday, March 11, 2010

Aspiring Screenwriter Tip #4 -- What to Eat

Ace has been rather busy working on a very cool new script, so when I bounced an idea off her for a little post here she gave me this kind of wavy go-ahead-and-do-it gesture. At least, I think that's what it meant. She was eating an egg roll at the time, so it may have been a come-here-quick-and-give-me-the-Heimlich gesture.

Y'know, now that I think about it, I haven't talked to Ace since that night...

Well, anyway, Ace and I were talking one time long before the eggroll incident and she told me a funny story she'd heard about a finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship. I'm sure you've heard of the Nicholl, yes? Where they give you $30,000 dollars, spread out over a year or two so you can focus on writing a script rather than worrying about paying the bills. Anyway, said finalist was very gracious and glad to get where he was, and was eagerly awaiting the final word, but he had one problem.

How was someone supposed to live for a year off $30,000?

This blew me away. Honestly. As a guy who's spent most of his life with an income that's average-to-low (and has pretty much just been low since I started writing full time), the idea that someone couldn't survive on such a sum is stunning to me.

Then again, it's not that surprising. People have certain needs and standards. So here's a dinner tip. It's something you can eat that will save you a couple hundred or more over the course of a year.

Swallow your pride.

One thing I've seen again and again is people who want to be writers, they want to have all that spare time, but they're not willing to give up anything for it. They still want to buy organic eggs from Whole Foods and the 7-grain wheat bread and y'know Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is just a little tangier than the store brand (you really can taste the difference). Plus, they want to go out to clubs and movies. And, really, are things so tight that you need to buy the Value crackers in those embarrassing generic-white boxes?

Give it up. Swallow your pride and admit that if you really want to put time and energy into writing you need to make cuts somewhere else. And the easiest place to do it is food. I'm not saying starve yourself, but ditch the name brands, start shopping cheap, and admit that the taste difference between Kraft and Value macaroni & cheese isn't worth sixty-five cents a box. Most movies these days are just as good on Netflix as they are on the big screen, and hell, there's still a lot of good stuff on television. Basic television, I'm not even talking about cable.

A lifestyle that costs less is a lifestyle that takes less to support. That means less time you need to spend selling suits or bagging groceries so expenses are covered and more time you can spend writing. If you're writing full time, there's a better chance that inexpensive lifestyle can now be supported by your writing. Which means more time writing.

I've been writing full-time for three years now. No other job, no savings to live off, nothing else. Every cent in my bank account comes from my ability to string words together in a way that appeals to people enough that they'll pay me for it. I haven't ordered a pizza in those three years because I can get a decent frozen one for 1/5 the price. The last movie I paid to see in a theater was V for Vendetta (no piracy--my job lets me go to screenings, and I can wait for Netflix on a lot of stuff) . Generic rum costs less than half what Captain Morgan's does and when it's mixed with Coke you can barely tell. Heck, after two or three drinks you can't tell at all.

You know what my big splurge was when I sold my second book? We got Thai food. My girlfriend and I walked up the street to a little place near us and got take out chicken pad-thai and curry. Our gigantic splurge was about twenty bucks. Yeah, it's not much, but she understands that freedom to write for another three or four months is far more important to me than living it up for three or four nights.

If you can't bring yourself to do your grocery shopping at Food 4 Less or the 99 Cents Store, you're probably not going to make it as a writer. If you refuse to drink wine that costs less than $8.00 a bottle, odds are you don't have what it takes. If it's impossible to start your day without name-brand breakfast cereal and organic milk, you probably won't be doing a lot of writing that day.

You'll definitely never have a prayer of catching up with me, that's for sure.


  1. I love the messages in this blog about being frugal in order to survive and stay in the mix. I did the same in the early stages of my art career -- no cable, name brands, or expensive outings. For nearly a decade, recreation consisted of gardening, walks in the park, quality time with my cats.

    When I made the breakthrough after a decade there was no time to spend money, as I was too busy and exhausted. And I stayed with my generic name brands. But I did pay for several vacations to MX.

    Now that the wave is over because the market has changed due to the economy, it's like starting over, but it's nothing new to me, I'm used to scrapping for it, lol.

  2. Yeah. I already do all this. Is there anything cheaper than Value Brand? I aint called the Scriptmonk for nuthin'. :)