Monday, August 08, 2011

So You Want to Be an Author? Actor? Pastor? Etc?

I get a lot of emails from people wanting to become something they are not yet. What I mean, is they want to become an author, a screenwriter, an actor, a filmmaker, or even a pastor. These are all things I have done and currently do, so it makes sense people would reach out to me for advice, I suppose. I did the same thing when I first realized I wanted to do any of those things.

Here is what is really behind a lot of the emails I receive: Those who want to be authors or writers really want to be published. Those who want to be screenwriters or filmmakers really want to see their story played out in a movie theater. And most people contacting me wanting to be a pastor want to lead a church - often a big church.

None of those desires are necessarily bad, but they are often misplaced. They seek a validation that comes from vocation. It is completely natural. I still fall into it myself. But it is not the best way to get there from here.

Let's say you have a job now, but want to do something else. I have come to believe that there is only one genuinely responsible way to get there - start now. But don't quit your day job.

You will never make it to the shelf at Barnes & Noble or Blockbuster with your idea. (Mainly because neither will be around anymore by the time your idea gets to that point.) You may get a book in the Kindle store or a movie on iTunes someday. But, for your sake, I hope it is not your first book or movie. You might get a starring part as an actor on Broadway or in a big budget Hollywood movie, but unless you happen to be young, gorgeous, super talented and related to someone in the business, I wouldn't count on it being your first role.

You start becoming an author by writing. For free. For whoever will read what you write. I always recommend starting a blog to anyone who wants to be a writer. I blogged for about eight years before I got a book deal. I wrote the first few chapters of about ten books before anyone ever even read a manuscript. I have at least a half dozen screenplays on my Mac that have never seen the light of day. Mainly because they are bad. My experience is that by the time you get something you have written published or produced, it doesn't feel like that big of a deal...but like the next logical step in a lifelong process.

You start becoming an actor by acting. For free. For whoever will let you act for them (while keeping your clothes on.) Community theater can be great, but it can also be terribly painful. Pay your dues. Be in painful local productions - churches are often, sadly, a great place to start. Work for free in student films...they are generally bad too. I believe that you have to become the best bad actor in town before becoming the worst good actor. If you love acting even though you know you are a part of an artistic train wreck, then you may have what it takes to keep going.

You start becoming a pastor by pastoring people. For free. Love the people around you. Pray for them. Lead them to Jesus. Model a better life for them. Maybe someday you will find a community that financially supports you for it, but my experience is that isn't always better, just bigger. The vast majority of pastors in the history of Christianity didn't receive a dime for caring for people.

I think this philosophy applies to most everything. Except maybe brain surgery. Don't do that for free. But for the arts, it applies. Don't desire to be a professional at something until you have proven to yourself that you are willing to do your art simply for the love of it. From someone who has done it both ways, trust me when I tell you my greatest writing, acting, filmmaking and pastoring experiences were all unpaid. It doesn't get any better than doing it for free. Getting paid for it just lets you do it more. And more isn't always better. So...go do it.


MrReRe said...

This is a fantastic post and great advice... a road map that seems so easy to follow that many of us take it for granted. Thanks for all you do Joe. You are appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Joe, you have always been an inspiration to me and I have been questioned myself over the last year why I do what I do for free. I am just a musician who wants to share his life with God through music and hopefully reach others. If I would have stopped just waiting for the almighty dollar I would have missed out on what I was intended to do. Share Jesus and grow in faith as an individual.

Thanks again.

Faith Passage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jules Smith said...

Wow...great post. I recently started my own blog and am truly enjoying the writing - even if no one else reads it (which it typically the case I think). Thanks for sharing your wisdom and advice.