Just finished reading this long and entertaining profile of Samuel L Jackson, and found myself lingering over this passage:
William Friedkin, who directed Jackson in “Rules of Engagement,” told me: “Sam is a director’s dream. Some actors hope to find their character during shooting. He knows his character before shooting. Sam’s old-school. I just got out of his way. I never did more than two takes with Sam.” Friedkin said that some people say Jackson works too much, but he dismissed actors who wait around for “Hamlet.” “You take what you can get,” he said, “to keep your engine tuned. An artist doesn’t burn out with age because he works too much. Working hones his craft.”
This, in my opinion, is an excellent way to approach one’s profession. It’s the same with writing. Big pieces, bitty pieces, whatever — just keep at it. Of course, you have to be somewhat inspired by the subject at hand. You cannot be writing about, say, how watermelons are good for you in summer, the kind of fillers newspapers use to give the impression that it’s not just ads, that there’s some content too. But as long as there’s something to spark the mojo, the size of the assignment shouldn’t matter. Like Friedkin says, working hones craft.
The problem with creative work is that the creator only has so much control over it. You can delight over a big, fat, 10,000-word assignment but you may end up writing a merely professional piece. (Maybe it’s the deadline. Maybe it’s the pressure you put on yourself.) But a smallish film may result in a burst of inspired writing. So instead of waiting for Hamlet, as Friedkin says, it’s better, I’ve found, to make the best of what comes your way.
PS: Of course, at some point, you’ve got to keep in mind your brand, so to speak. You cannot go back to doing things you did at the start of your career. But then again, no one’s asking you to write about watermelons.
PPS: I do love watermelons though.