Sunday, July 27, 2008

Workin' it. Well, not really.

Got into a bit of hot water at the Z2H blogs this weekend, when I let slip a portion of my Unified Theory of Real Work.

Now, while I don’t consider thinking about stuff to be Real Work (which isn’t to deny that it can have value), typing up my explanations for why I believe that does. And seeing as I went to all the trouble to type the stuff up in the first place, I’m going to put it here, too. Might as well piss off every writer I know at once and get it over with…

The post I replied to was asking about how much writers got paid compared to artists and other craftspeople, in both film and comics. Part of my reply was as follows:

“In the Work-For-Hire comics world, generally speaking, experience levels/marquee qualities all being equal, artists make more per page than writers. The rationale for this is that it takes artists longer to finish a page than it does writers. Some writers argue that that isn't true, that time spent originating/thinking about/constructing the story makes the contributions more equal than time spent at the desk/drawing table would suggest. I maintain anything I can do while walking the dog doesn't count as real work.”

I should’ve known that would ruffle some feathers. Another comment shot back (a little snarkily, I thought, but you can judge for yourself at the thread if you care), implying that I was discounting the value of creating an idea. My reply:

“I never said conceiving an idea lacked either value or import. I just said it's not real work. At least I don't consider it to be real work if I can walk the dog while I'm doing it.

Coming up with an idea is easy. Coming up with a good one isn't as easy, but it's not hard. Molding an idea into something usable is less easy. Writing a script is harder than that. Drawing a page/comic is harder still. Painting a that's real work.

I've done all those things, and, I'll say right upfront, my continuum for what constitutes real and/or hard work is based mostly on physical labour. I like nothing better than to lie in bed or walk the dog and think things up. Mostly because it's easy.

I know that at least some of what I think up has some value, because I've been paid for some of it and I've got others expending their resources in support of it. That doesn't mean it was real work.

The work in those cases came when I put pen to paper or fingers to keypad. And even then, it's not what I'd call hard work, not compared to climbing up a 32 foot ladder carrying two gallons of paint in the blazing sun for ten hours a day.

This is strictly my way of defining things, of keeping things in perspective. I'm a talented, creative, and driven guy. But I know a lot of talented, creative, and driven people who have to get up at seven in the morning, put on pants and probably a shirt, leave their house to go and do something they probably don't particularly want to be doing for at least eight hours a day, before coming home and using whatever energy they've got left after a day of real work to exercise their talent and creativity.

So in addition to being talented, creative, and driven, I'm also lucky. And that's something I'm determined to keep in mind."

In response to a comment about the value of actually writing and rewriting (as opposed to thinking about writing):

"I spend 90% of my writing time revising, tweaking and polishing.

Unless someone's really good with a blackberry and multitasking, that's stuff that can't be done (at least not effectively) while walking the dog. So it's real work in my book.

I still don't think it's hard work, though.”

The commenter who took issue with my comments pointed out that most peoples’ definition of work includes mental effort, something I willingly concede but qualified by adding:

“I'd have thought--well, I did think--using the term "real work" as opposed to simply "work" implies that I draw a distinction between what I was talking about and most definitions of work.”

In response to the notion that mental exertion can be physically tiring (and, if truth be told, the primary reason I’m posting all this here, because I think it’s funny), I said:

“It can be. In my experience it's not as tiring as physical exertion. I've been so physically tired I can't write, but never so mentally exhausted that I can't take out the garbage or do the dishes. I've tried to convince my wife that I am, in fact, unable to do these things after a long day's thinking, but she's not buying it.”

Addressing another portion of the guy’s comment, about doing actual writing, and doing it well, is hard work for most people, led to an interesting (to me) digression, something that I’ve spent much of the rest of the day (the rest of that wasn’t spent writing THE HOLIDAY MEN Episode 3, anyway) thinking about.

“Doing the actual writing is work, for sure. Not what I'd call hard work, necessarily, but work nonetheless.

Doing it well is a whole other kettle of fish. I'm torn on this one, between my much-cherished notion that writing is a craft that can be learned with sufficient effort (which could fit many peoples' definitions of hard work, if not mine), and to what degree one is naturally inclined towards writing well.

My egalitarian (and self-deprecating) nature wants to reject outright the notion that "talent" plays any role in whether or not one can write (or paint, or weld, or design an intercontinental ballistic missile), but I'm not sure I can, at least not after a certain developmental stage.

Some people will never be able to write well, no matter how much effort they put into it. They may be able to improve their writing skills, but if they spent the rest of their lives writing--and writing with the intent to learn how to write better, rather than simply express themselves--they just don't have "it."

Is that a question of inborn talent, or one's upbringing? I don't know. But I think for the person who seriously wants to write well who simply can't, for whatever reason, writing would be difficult, frustrating work indeed, if only because in the end whatever energy expended on the activity would result in something other than what the would-be writer engaged in the activity to create in the first place.

Eh. I'm rambling now (right, 'coz I wasn't rambling before...)”

I expect the conversation’s over now--the Z2H blog comment/discussions don’t tend to last too long, as the original blog posts are moved further and further down the page with every new post, eventually to be lost to the mists of time. But it was--not fun, exactly, but…challenging(?) in the best possible way, while it lasted.


1 comment:

Daniel Andrews said...

As always In interesting Read. Your opinion is realistic and respectable as far as my understanding of it all goes. I would never say that writing is not work, but putting it in comparison to a job I had working on an assembly line, wearing a set of un-vented coveralls, with a heavy sweat soaked filtered mask makes writing, drawing, or going to the gym (haha) seem like a dream.
I enjoyed the bit about your wife and the garbage. Ive tried that one too.
Thanks for shearing this. It was enjoyable.
Visit me here if you care to see my attempt at drawing :)