It’s tricky, being a freelancer. We need to exude confidence but avoid arrogance, appear reliable and professional, whilst maintaining a creative edginess. We have a precarious vocation, but can’t be seen to court convention or the prosaic. Being the innovator or blue skies maverick often gets us jobs (and certainly pushes on form and content), but some ideas can be too ‘out there’ for commissions – and when the means to support ourselves relies on a regular income, the rope we tread is high and tight indeed.
Quite how we support ourselves in this increasingly challenging and, frankly, anti-arts and culture climate is a perennial problem. I have no solutions, just a steadfast impulse that we need to be true to ourselves. We write and create for many different reasons, and for me the sense of communing with myself, knowing my thoughts and reactions in response to the times I inhabit is a pleasure I can’t underestimate. This alone, however, doesn’t put grub on the table. In this capitalist system we need to work, and the product of our labour needs to be valued in monetary terms. How we go about making a living whilst having a life is a constant negotiation, but there are a few things I’ve observed which I feel don’t help.
For years I’ve seen artists and writers trying to second guess directors, producers, editors and literary managers, or considering shaping their emerging work towards whatever is currently doing well. It’s an understandable impulse, but deadly. Never try to jump on a bandwagon. Whatever is currently trending would have been seeded over eighteen months ago. By the time ‘your’ version amounts to something, it will be very much out of date.
I’ve also seen colleagues compromise ‘too much’ with the work, and that can leave a taint on the tongue. I’m all for collaboration and negotiation – I have grown substantially as a writer by exploring avenues I would never have travelled if left to my own navigation. It becomes a problem when artists or makers by their own admission feel they have conceded in some way, or given too much to a premise, aesthetic, or product not conversant with their concept or plan. Finding the balance between being a flexible and responsive team player and the assured primary creative is essential, and something that requires fine tuning. Again, we need confidence, but not egotism.
And as to what ‘they’ want…? What every director and literary manager and producer I’ve ever spoken to is looking for is fresh work made with energy and skill and passion, about subjects that matter to you, communicated in a way that has resonance to all, relevant to now. They want strong, developed, realised ‘voices’ with something to say. They don’t want mynah birds, or would-be mind readers. They want to be surprised, moved, excited. They want to hear what you think is important, in the form and aesthetic you want to use. Given the insecure nature of our profession,and the hourly rate which would defy any notion of ‘minimum wage’, much of our remuneration for the effort put in is not in financial form. Even more reason to check the balance and trust your own voice and your own passions.