By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 3, 2014
Cindy Lou asks a question that we’ve all had to figure out over the years.
How do you get your friends to understand you don’t work for free. Especially during the Holiday’s, friends seem to forget I work for a living.
Listen to our podcast and then read I Will Not Read Your Fucking Screenplay. It’s great.
Steve: This is kind of the same thing about distractions and urgent to who? Urgent to him or urgent to me? Again, it’s a question of being a son of a bitch and I’ve had problems with this for a long time. I’m too much of a nice guy. But . . . Friends will definitely . . . Just like Seth was blocking that half hour for you Shawn, I can understand exactly, because he has hundreds of people a day trying to get something from him and take his time. I wish I could remember the name of this person . . . It was some famous scientist like a guy that split the atom, like Richard Feynman or whatever his name was. They wanted to have him talk about creativity. Somebody approached him for a magazine, and he said “Hell no. There’s no way that I’m going to give my time to some people who want to talk. I’ve got work to do, and the most valuable thing I have and the only thing I have is time, and I’m just not going to give it to this person who asks me about these things.” So I think we do have to, even if you’re only protecting yourself against the people in your family . . . You do have to block, put up that wall of steel and save that time and use it to get your work done. Even if it’s only an hour like you say Shawn, even if it’s only an hour. But, this brings me to . . . I’m sorry, Shawn. You want to go?
Shawn: I just want to drop in about the whole working for free element. I can totally understand because editors and writers especially . . . The layman person just does not understand that they need to pay you for advice, writing advice or editorial advice. So what I usually do is, when somebody asks me “Will you read this manuscript and give me notes?” I’ll usually say, “You know what? I’m totally booked up but I’ve got a list of friends of mine who are editors, and they have really good reasonable rates. I think they start somewhere around $1,000 to do something like that. They’ll give you their full attention, they’ll give you up to down, across-the-board evaluation and let you know. They’ll speak the truth to you”—and then you never hear from these people again because the truth is, they don’t necessarily want your work. They want to put the spotlight on themselves and they want to show you that they’ve done something and they haven’t really gone to the end of the line on their own editorial work. So it’s a little bit of a copout. So the way to deal with that is to always pass the buck to other professionals who are just like you and make sure you tell them how much that kind of advice costs, and then they’ll stop asking you after a while.
Steve: That’s a great piece of advice. Here’s something that happened between you and me, Shawn. That, uh . . .
Shawn: Oh, no.
Steve: I think it’s very interesting. I’ve forgotten exactly how this worked, but the bottom line was I needed Shawn to give me some editing help—real serious editing help on a book. It was The Profession, a couple of years ago. And at the time, I was, uh . . . We did not have—Shawn, you and I did not have a business relationship, so you weren’t going to make any money out of that. So I wound up paying you what? $30,000?
Shawn: Actually, more than that.
Steve: More than that. And the reason I did that—and I got a bargain because I thought “Here’s Shawn Coyne, A+ editor with ‘x-million’ years of experience and just a natural gift, and I’m getting his time, so I’ve got to pay for it,” and otherwise I thought I could never speak to you again. So, you’re right, When people realize what, and I don’t care if it’s editing or any other job that you’re doing, when someone is trying to get something from you . . . It’s like if you have a friend that’s a doctor and you say to him “Doctor, I’ve got this thing in my shoulder here,” he’s going to say to you, “Well make an appointment, come into the office and we’ll take a look at it.” But somehow for writers or editors, it doesn’t work like that. It’s like, “Give it to me for free.” And, I think you just have to draw the line. You have to lie if you have to do that. Tell people you’re out of town, tell people you can’t do it, but you cannot give your time. Just two days ago, I did this, I fell into this hole again. I probably shouldn’t be saying this on our . . . But a guy . . . Could he talk to me about his play, blah, blah, blah . . . For some reason or another, I don’t know why, I said “yes” and I met him for a cup of coffee in the morning. It was like only a half hour, but that’s a half hour of my day that I gave to him, you know? And, it was a total waste of time.
Here’s another thing I wanted to say on this. Part of what is so frustrating about helping people in this way is that they never listen to you. You give them your advice and, oh . . . I forgot if I told this maybe on another – I’m ranting now, I apologize. There was a guy—we’ll cut this out, Jeff, if it’s no good—who I met through email, he approached me. Would I do him a favor? He writes me with an ask, so I say “yes” and I do something for him. He comes back with another ask and another ask and finally he’s coming to me with something where he’s now asking for a friend. I think I told you this, Shawn. So I said to him, “You know, Joe”—whatever his name was—this is just too much. You have crossed the line.” And he said to me, “I always knew you were a Hollywood asshole.” Then he said, “Don’t ever contact me again.” So that’s kind of what’s really going on behind the scenes mentally with somebody that is doing stuff like that. It’s not like . . . Oh, there’s another classic thing—which everybody should Google this or read this. It’s called No, I Will Not Read Your Fucking Screenplay. It was written by a guy, a screenwriter who did a favor for a friend, and exactly what happens to everybody happened . . . The guy totally ignored him. The screenwriter spent all kinds of time helping, helping, helping, the guy totally ignored him and was just an amateur crazy person.
Shawn: That’s why they have to pay. Get them to pay. Somebody pays for something, they take it seriously. I’m not saying don’t help people, if they ask you a question that you can answer in five minutes, of course. Whether or not they take the advice, it’s just a good thing to do sometimes. But, you’re absolutely right. Unless somebody is paying, and I don’t know what it is, but once you take a dollar out of your pocket and you have to give it to somebody else, you listen to them far more than you ever would if they’re giving you the advice for free because you feel like, “Oh my God! I got to get something out of this because I just gave some money,” and whether or not you take their advice, it makes you focus and think all the more. So, if you need something from somebody, always offer to pay because it’s going to help you more than it’s even going to help the person who gets the money.
Steve: Very good. So true. Okay, here’s a question from Elizabeth Lada—and I’ve actually cut off the top of it. I apologize here. Elizabeth is kind of torn between—again this is on the subject of ‘How do we organize a year’—between jobs that make her money or jobs that are really something that kind of comes from her creative heart. So what should you do, she says, over the course of the year?