The Downs and Ups of Freelance Writing

The Downs and Ups of Freelance Writing

I’ve been approached with the possibility of paid work writing a feature script. Which is the second time this year, not counting projects I’ve initiated where finance is not in place yet. This time round it’s a low-budget thriller to be short abroad, and a job I’d be doing as a hired hand. Last time, a director I’d already scripted a short for contacted me about doing a feature this year and… that’s pretty much the last I heard. There’s also the guy who wanted me to convert his book into a TV series, and write the pilot episode. Not heard from him for weeks.

None of this comes under the category of complaining, by the way. I just want to outline what the reality of being a freelance writer is. Part of the trick is finding a balance between being proactive and reactive. Finding allies to take a new idea forward with, and responding to opportunities that appear through contacts, flesh and blood ones and those that exist online. Making a sustainable income while doing so – not easy, it turns out.

I know this, of course. Have done for some years. And there comes a point where there isn’t anything else I am motivated by or suited for, as ludicrous as the financial implications of my chosen way of life are. It’s the gold at the end of the rainbow that you have to watch out for. It may be there, but don’t bet on it. So: keep your head down, keep going, keep writing. Eyes on the prize.

I was recently in the running to do work on a fantasy computer game. At first I thought I was going to be writing background material, something I’ve enjoyed doing before. Then the contract appears, and with it mention of me taking on the marketing of the project. Well, I can do that. But I would also be responsible for running a team (of people I’ve never met – I didn’t even know what they’d be doing). And coming up with game mechanics. Interesting. And no mention of what intervals I’d get paid during this substantial piece of work. I wrote back, to clarify issues within the contract. And haven’t heard back since.

It’s not always like this. Last year, I did some Skype sessions with an actor in New York, helping shape a script he’d written. He was a joy to work with, and a decent human being too. And when, knowing he’d be interested in what I was up to, I sent him a link to a Kickstarter I was running for a short film some months later, he turned out to be one of the biggest backers, singlehandedly contributing 10% of the cost of the film that’s now in post production.

Also last year, I had the time of my life scripting about 7 hours of a fantasy drama serial, in audio form. It’s going to be released as an app this year some time. A wonderful experience. Not brilliantly paid, but absolutely worth taking on for the quality of what was created, as concepts turned into a script, actors were involved, and music and sound design turning it into something everyone involved can rightly be proud of.

This, I guess, is what it means to have a vocation. Something that matters to you in ways that go beyond what most jobs do. That’s part of who you are in ways that none of the regular employment I’ve had compares to. And, frustrating as it can be, it’s something I love. So…wish me luck as I go and check my email – there might be something good incoming…

Adrian Reynolds

Scriptwriter and coach, supporting creators to develop and profit from their own work. It all started when my first film treatment won me a meeting with Tim Bevan, producer of Four Weddings & A Funeral. Which opened the doors to work with production companies and filmmakers, and scripting episodes of Doctors for the BBC. Coming out soon is Making Sparks, a supernatural thriller serial featuring Merveille Lukeba of Skins - about to launch as an app. Then there's Dragon Run Saga, a fantasy adventure audio serial again in app form. White Lily, a short sf film about love, memory, and comets shot in January 2014: there are plans for a feature. On the way is the sf comic Dadtown, and two collaborations with an Emmy-nominated American filmmaker, also sf. As part of the Storia-Creative team, I'm developing new concepts for realisation across media. Over at, I offer support to writers and filmmakers.