Writing for Love, Writing for Money, and What Superman IV Has To Do With Being a Professional Writer

You ever see Superman IV? It was the one where Lex Luthor creates a “Nuclear Man” who fights with Superman. Mariel Hemingway is in it and she’s awful. The plot is awful. The whole thing is just a terrible drive down Awful Street.

But as awful as it is, I think it has a connection to the world of writing. Let me explain. Perhaps you remember Superman III with Richard Pryor? That one was awful, too. Richard Pryor had no business being in that movie, yet there he wassqueezed into the plot in an attempt to attract box office dollars. Anyway, after the disappointment of Superman III, actor Christopher Reeve wasn’t interested in another Superman film. Producers came to him and talked about a fourth installment, but he wasn’t biting. Why? Because he knew it would suck (and suck it did). So if he knew Superman IV would suck, and he didn’t want to do it in the first place, how on Earth did that movie ever get made?

Two words: Street Smart.

Street Smart was a nice little drama script that Reeve had been trying to get off the ground for years. He loved the project but nobody would finance the picture. The producers who owned the Superman movie rights told Reeve they would bankroll any picture of his choosing in exchange for doing Superman IV. He couldn’t resist, and he signed the papers. Street Smart was released in 1987 and kinda came and went without much hurrah. Morgan Freeman played a nasty pimp in it and got his first Oscar nomination. You can see clips of him online, being the man. He totally stole that whole movie. But the point here is not to praise Morgan Freeman and his soothing voice. The point is to show that, like Christopher Reeve in the mid-80s, we writers sometimes do things for love and sometimes we do things for money. And that’s normal; that’s perfectly fine.

David Morrell, the thriller writer, once told me that only about 250 people in the country make their living soling writing novels. All the other writers must do other writerly tasks to bring in money. They teach; they write press releases; they write radio copy; they pen articles. Think about the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (playing themselves) talk to one another about alternating with “a safe movie” and then “an arthouse movie.”

And they’re pretty much right (in my mind, at least). You have to take on some projects for loveprojects that might fail. This usually refers to fiction. And you will need to take on writing that doesn’t inspire you but pays the bills. Perhaps that’s travel articles for the local paper or running a newsletter of some kind. Just know that it’s normal, and we’re all doing the same thing.


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0 thoughts on “Writing for Love, Writing for Money, and What Superman IV Has To Do With Being a Professional Writer

  1. Kristan

    I’ve never seen either of those movies (or any Superman movies, for that matter — blasphemous, I know!) but you make a really good point. I think there’s a big difference between writing something you’re not in love with and writing something that goes against what you believe in. There’s nothing wrong with the former, but I think a lot of people consider it the same as the latter. (That’s part of the reason I hate the term "selling out.")


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