by Ernessa T. Carter
I find it particularly funny that we're talking about Hollywood this cycle, because I live in Los Angeles. A little over seven years ago, I came out here with plans to become a screenwriter. I had even spent two years getting a hard won MFA in Dramatic Writing with the intention of eventually becoming a screenwriter.
"So what happened?" you ask. Good question. Well, have you ever really, really thought that you wanted a particular job, only to find out that your personality and work ethic isn't particularly well-suited to that job?
I don't like to network. I don't like to talk about my writing with someone who hasn't actually read my writing. I don't like to work hard on things that might never be seen by other people. I love receiving feedback -- from a few people. Feedback from a ton of people gets on my nerves. Being told what to do by the talent makes my head explode. I have a good personality, but I don't want to depend on it to get a job.
Warning flags should have gone up in my head the summer before my second year of grad school when I read two stories fairly close together in which my two favorite head writers at the time, Alan Ball and Joss Whedon told horror stories about being staffed on shows where the talent was in charge (Grace Under Fire and Roseanne respectively). I remember thinking that I could never deal with being mistreated by "a star."
I found out later that I was right. Hollywood has a reputation for being ego driven, but I've never in my life met so many people who are okay with being tyrannized by stars, producers, directors, and other big personalities. If you are really talented, have a small ego, and are okay with being told what to do, then you should come out to Hollywood. You could make a lot of money out here.
If you are like me, someone who likes people well enough, but prefers to work alone, and really, really doesn't like to be bossed around, then maybe you should be a novel writer. So I made the switch, which wasn't particularly difficult, because before I started writing my first novel, my attempts at a screenwriting career had tapered off to entering one or two prestigious screenwriting contests every year.
I love being a novelist. I like working with a small team. And I really love not having to depend on my personality to sell my writing -- to sell books yes -- but to sell my writing itself, no. And I love, love, love being my own damn boss.
But strangely enough, working in Hollywood first made it way easier to navigate the literary world. Some writers complain about editor and agent notes. I'm just ecstatic that I'm only getting notes from two really well-qualified people. No one yells at me in the literary world. I never get in trouble with the boss. I don't have to deal with the talent if I don't want to. In many ways I am the talent, except I don't have to wear makeup, be on 24/7 or stay on a diet to keep my job. My editor will never make me take a note or ask me to go on a coffee run. My publisher can refuse to buy my next book, but they can never ever fire me. Living without the fear of getting fired is just the best. I really don't think writers appreciate that enough.
So yes, I'm am Team Novelist all day. But I'll admit that every so once in a while, I read a great book, and I can't help myself: I start turning it into a screenplay in my head. I think about how to make the novel's interior passages visual, what plot points to cut out, and who would play who. Then I remember, "Wait, Ernessa, you're not a wannabe screenwriter anymore. Stop that." I get the feeling that though I've quit screenwriting, screenwriting hasn't necessarily quit me. But we'll see.
How about you guys? Have you ever had a dream job that you really thought you wanted, but then it turned out that you weren't a good match? Sound off in the comments!
In addition to running FierceandNerdy.com, Ernessa T. Carter is the author of 32 CANDLES, which is totally worth picking up at your local bookstore or at Amazon.com
Flickr image credit: Profound Whatever