I've been pursuing playwriting full-time since November 2007. I've submitted short plays to contests and festivals and am working on a full-length. I joined the DGA, subscribed to American Theatre mag, researched theatres and publishers online, etc. I'm also reading plays, going to the theatre and, most importantly, parking my rear in front of the computer and burning the midnight oil. (sorry, cliches are my weakness...must curb that tendency...)
In my spare time (ha!) I read bios of other playwrights, both well-known and newcomers. It appears that making a living soley through playwriting is rare indeed, except for the fortunate few...and even they must supplement their income by teaching or going to Hollywood to write a movie script.
I would like more than anything to make a living as playwright...I'm not expecting a huge income, just enough to pay bills and lead a comfortable middle-class existence. Is that too much to ask? Or am I doomed to work 9 to 5 in an office somewhere and pursue my dream in my spare time?
I'm curious to know what kinds of careers or jobs others on this forum have. I was a copywriter (later promoted to copy editor) at for a small company that markets coin and stamp collectibles (worked there for 12 years) I was laid off last April due to downsizing and then worked at our local library part-time until November. That's when hubby and I decided that now was as good at time as any to see if I can make a go of it. While working as a copywriter, I'd been writing plays (and acting) for years for our local drama troupe, which is non-profit and located in a small city.
Needless to say, I'm a bit discouraged. I will always write plays, whether it becomes a paying gig or not. But it sure would be nice to not have to work another job so I can devote all my time to writing.
For the many many years I pursued acting I had many "menial" jobs, frozen yogurt slinger, sandwich artist, cake decorator. Even when I was making money as an actor I still needed these jobs to make ends meet. Now that my focus had shifted to playwriting I find myself working as a waitress (something I SWORE I'd never do as an actor, go figure).
The good news is I find inspiration in these jobs. Inspiration to do something creative! I'm constantly meeting new people, new characters, hearing their stories, seeing their quirks...goshdarnit - I'm experiencing life and getting paid to work all at the same time! AND it may all end up in a play, or two, one day. In fact, some of it already has...
I teach acting to middle-schoolers, full time. Though it's sometimes exhausting, it definately feeds my writing and keeps me excited about theater. You can't beat thirteen-year-olds for drama...or comedy, for that matter.
Kudos to you for having the commitment to devote yourself full time to playwriting. I'm afraid it is more an avocation for me. I edit books part time at home and interview handicapped people over the phone for a class action lawsuit, also part time, also from home.
Far from being a source of income, playwriting is a drain on my finances. Not only the postage, paper, binding, envelopes, etc., but, more expensively, the travel -- I try to attend my plays that are produced (I hate to think what percentage they represent of all the plays I submit). Although I've received an honorarium on occasion and even -- gasp! -- royalties from nice people like Paddy, the income compared to the outgo is probably the same ratio as that of plays produced to plays submitted! Horrendous. But so far I've done only short plays. I don't know much about money and theater, but it seems that a full-length play would stand a better chance of making money than a 10-minute play would. Best of luck with your full-length. I wish I could make that transition.
I would not be discouraged if I were you. Your passion and commitment are more powerful than you know. I'm a firm believer in the "things will work out" theory of the universe. Pursue your dream and your passion, and things will work out. You are fortunate to have identified what you love to do. My voice teacher and I were talking about this very topic today. She was an opera singer who has cobbled together a living from singing, teaching, directing various choruses, etc., and she considers herself blessed to have been able to make a living -- no matter how patchwork -- in the field she loves.
By the way, I, too, was a copy editor for many years -- at the Rocky Mountain News and then The Denver Post. I hope I got out in time!
Best of luck to you, and keep writing!
Last edited on Sat Jan 26th, 2008 04:13 am by kris
Copywriter here. Prior to that, editor with a couple of trade magazines. I've made my living solely by writing for the past 10 years, but never on my fiction or playwriting. I wouldn't try to make a go of it on playwriting alone, for several reasons. First, as you pointed out, the likelihood is fairly low. It's nice when I can pull in a royalty here and there, but $100 or $250 bucks a few times a year does not a salary make. Second, for me it would take the pleasure out of it. It would become something I have to do, like any other job. No more waiting for the right inspiration to strike, waiting for that half-snippet of conversation that triggers the idea. No, every day I didn't write would become a worry. I don't want to worry about my writing because it's my escape and my solace.
And for me, putting pressure on my playwriting to support me would run counter to everything I've done over the last three years. I have never expected a play to do anything other than get written. They are simply what they are, they come as they do, and then I send them out. Very luckily for me, they've been quite well received. Personally, I cannot ask anything more of my craft than I do. I know that in time something good will come of it--of its own accord. Maybe not a lifestyle, but a comfort beyond a nice meal out with the wife twice a year. And we'll get there, my playwriting and I. In time.
I never thought about the question, can I make a living playwriting. I always thought about the opposite problem, can I make playwriting my life? I tried all my life to become a playwright while working days as a journalist. However, I never had time to write until I quit the day job. I sold a house and made a $12,000 profit and lived on that money a year while I tried to write plays. It took me a year to get started, but it was the best thing I ever did for myself.
Yeah -- it's a good way: Flip real estate to get enough to live on for a year.
I wouldn't have the guts to try to make a living from writing though my hope is that I can build up a catalogue of work over the next ten years that might bring in a few quid to supplement my pension.
I've heard it said that the second most performed living British playwright is David Tristram and even he has to supplement his income by producing and lecturing. I don't know if that is true, but it's pretty discouraging if it is.
Of course Luana, things are different in the USA and you have my sincere best wishes that you make it.
...no different than aspiring to be a professional golfer. They are few and far between. Or a novelist. But then, all it takes is one really good one to get you going :)
...I teach b/c I love to teach. I write for the same reason. One I get paid to do and I still get my summers off. Then I golf. I write what I can and when I can and that is enough for me. Lately, my poetry has become important to me and I don't know why. I'll ride it until something else tugs at my sleeve.
Best of luck. And remember...all it takes is one really good one to get you going.
I take on unskilled temp work mostly.
I lack most of the social skills to get easily through job interviews for nice jobs.
Slugging stuff about warehouses. Putting things in boxes, taking other things out of boxes, putting boxes in boxes that came out of boxes... and more heavy lifting.
It doesn't change much from place to place. It's OK really (better than unemployment) but you kind of miss seeing daylight between monday and friday during winter.
Yeah, the day job. I work as a food service supervisor at a hospital. It pays all right. I have decided to go back to graduate school in a couple years (after i get my credit cards paid off). But I'm not going back for more theatre education. I am going to persue a degree in library and information media sciences. I am very interested in that field and I feel that i might be able to support myself in a much more stimulating environment than i do currently.
right now, i would just love to have a job that's more stimulating intellectually and more tolerant to me being a writer, but i guess that last one is just too much to ask for.
ggf, what made you quit journalism? i was a journalism major at the junior college i went to before i went to the university of iowa and ultimately changed my major to theatre. i am just curious because i haven't met up with another journalist who turned to playwriting (or, I guess in your case, someone who was trying to make theatre their life.
I am Perseverance Theatre's Master Carpenter, occasional actor, and of course playwright. I live for theatre. I think people think its weird that I am a blue collar carpenter and a playwright. I enjoy the physical labor, it keeps my body fit and my mind free to invent characters and plots and etc.
playwright_bo wrote: I am Perseverance Theatre's Master Carpenter, occasional actor, and of course playwright. I live for theatre. I think people think its weird that I am a blue collar carpenter and a playwright. I enjoy the physical labor, it keeps my body fit and my mind free to invent characters and plots and etc.
I can relate to that.
I find physical labour rewarding, and it leaves my mind free to wander.
And I feel fitter as a result, which is nice.
I meet a lot of really smart artistic types doing manual labour, I reckon its more common than people realise.
While I am more frequently playing the role of Literary Manager, Actor, and Director than Playwright... I can relate to not making a living on this craft. My day job is customer service - a lot like acting really.
i am a care-giver for seniors with physical limitations & dementia. in the summer, it's about 35 hours/week but in the off-season, the hours fall drastically.
i'm lucky enough to supplement that income with some nice royalty income - the two together are keeping me just barely afloat at the moment.
a couple of years ago, i was unemployed & so i guess you could say i was a full-time playwright for about year & a half. it was scary not to have more money coming in & although i loved sleeping in every morning & having all my time for myself, it was also a bit boring - not getting out there & interacting with others was very limiting (& i am certainly not what you would call a "people person"). even though my plays are not "reality-based," it was hard not having that contact with the real world every day. so many things out in life inspire ideas for plays that i don't think i would like to be a full-time playwright again even if i could afford it.
Since I initiated this post back in January 2008, a lot has happened.
I have a "real" job again. Couldn't do the playwright thing full-time, but not in despair. I've been working in an office as a part-time administrative assistant since August 2008. I've started a freelance writing business on the side.
However, I'm also doing a lot of volunteer work with our community theatre (acting, front of house, back stage, programming committee, etc.) I volunteer in my church drama troupe as actor, playwright, director and puppeteer. I'm submitting short plays for contests and writing longer plays, hopefully for production or publication. I manage two theatre-related blogs.
So if someone asks me, "What do you do?" I don't tell them I'm an office worker. I tell them I'm a playwright and then I watch the quizzical look as they mentally accesses the data. (Someone should write a play about this....seriously!)
No, but I could sure use one; maybe a greeter at Walmart. Last year playwrighting supported my vices - like rent and food. This year the bottom fell out. Why do you think I went on a diet? Walmart's calling.
I work as an overnight convience store clerk. It's a quiet store, so I get a good 2-3 hours of writing done every shift. Sneak off to the back office around midnight with my laptop and work on shows till 3:00. It's funny sometimes, I'll often work out scenes out loud while doing shift duties, and occasionally a customer will sneak in without me hearing the doorbell. Then I have to pretend that they didn't just catch me talking to myself like a crazy person.
So if someone asks me, "What do you do?" I don't tell them I'm an office worker. I tell them I'm a playwright and then I watch the quizzical look as they mentally accesses the data.
Yeah - tell me about it. I'll be behind the counter, in my uniform, and a customer will ask me, "So what did you do this weekend?".
Now in my head I'm thinking: "I held a dramatic reading for a full-length I'm developing."
Out loud I say: "Um... went to the bar with some friends, sang karaoke".
Quixo: Funny! Looks like your "day" job environment works well for your playwriting. I work an office (admistratvie assistant) and don't have a lot of time to actually write, however I do take notes (write down ideas, etc) or do online research as I'm at a computer and have access to the Internet.
I guess each of us had to come up with whatever works in our particular circumstances.