Passion Project

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Every now and then I make the mistake of reading an essay by a writer writing about writing. I know you've all read this kind of thing before. It goes, "The craft of writing -- and I call it a craft, not an art, for there is too much an element of joinery and carpentry to be pure art -- but it's an ancient craft, the craft of the shaman in the fire circle, the troubadour, the world creator."

At which point I skim down to the part -- and it's always there -- where the writer says something like, "I don't really write. It's like I'm taking dictation from my imagination. I create a world, and characters that live and breathe, and I wait for them to tell me what to write. And when I'm really in the zone, it's like I don't even know what time it is."

See, here's where I get uncomfortable. Because when I'm writing, I know what time it is at pretty much every moment. I know when it's a little too early to think about lunch. When it's exactly time for lunch. When it's okay to take a break after lunch. When it's time to click on to Defamer. When it's time to check email. When it's time to think about a snack. When it's time for a diet coke. When it's a little too early to suggest stopping for the day. When it's exactly the right time to suggest stopping for the day. And when it's the right time to think about where I'm going to have lunch the next day.

In other words, I'm never in the zone. Maybe I'm the only writer alive who has never written a character that told me what he wanted to say. I would love a character like that. For me -- and maybe I'm the only one -- writing isn't an art, or a craft, it's a job. I like the job. It's often a fun job. But it's work, which I define as a thing you do for money when what you'd rather be doing is getting up at 11 and reading magazines all day at the Starbucks in Malibu.

But that's not to say that I don't care about the work -- of course I do. I wouldn't do it if I didn't. But people, in this business, I mean, the people in this business who hire writers, are often more comfortable thinking about writers as these passion-driven lunatics, as these creepy obsessive fantasists. People in this business read those pompous essays that writers write when they write about writing and don't think, as I do, "Oh man, what a pain the butt that guy is," but instead, "Now there's a writer I want to work with. There's a writer with passion."

Because everybody wants to work with someone passionate. And, if you're a writer about to pitch something, here's a little tip: pitch it as a "passion project," as something you've been burning to write. It almost guarantees a sale. I did this a few years ago, and the response was amazing. You go in, you talk passionately about your passion project and the passionate feelings you have for the passionate characters, and the person you're pitching to figures, maybe wisely, hey, if this guy is passionate about it, why not pay him to write the script, so we can see for ourselves.

Which is the downside of the passion project. Eventually, you have to write it. Eventually, it's you, a computer, and your exquisite sense of exactly what time it is. And someone eventually calls to ask where the draft is, and when you tell them you need another week, you know what they're thinking: What's taking so long? I thought this was his passion project. It should be easy to write.

One of the reasons, I guess, that there are so many essays and books and articles by writers about writing, is that it's a lot easier to write about writing than it is to write, you know, for work.

But maybe I'm just not passionate enough.

That's it for this week. Next week, we won't invest. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long