Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Writing by the Numbers 2017

Table work on Drift at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference
It's time for the annual summary of my writing stats. I love this time of assessment and goal setting. It's perfect for a numbers geek like me, and it's so important to take a step back and try to look at where I've been and where I'm going. And to take a deep breath.

2017 was an incredible year for me. I was as creatively engaged as I've ever been--I spent a lot of time in the rehearsal room, on many different projects. Blood on the Snow returned for a 12-week (sold out) run. Both/And, my play about quantum entanglement that was commissioned by Central Square Theatre, ran at the MIT Museum all summer. I developed my full-length, Drift, at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference with an amazing group of artists/human beings. Then I won a Brother Thomas Fellowship from the Boston Foundation and was also appointed the next artist-in-residence at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. I started workshopping Mox Nox, a commissioned piece, with Brown Box Theatre Project.  And my full-length play, Blinders, was staged in South Korea. I've been trying to enjoy every minute, because years like this don't come along very often.

Blood on the Snow ran all summer!

Here are my writing/life stats for 2017:  (I'm publishing these a little early, because I'm heading to the National Winter Playwrights Retreat. I will update these stats in mid-January, when the final numbers are in and I have some time at my desk.)

Number of Productions/Readings:  48  (44 productions, 4 readings) 
(These were of 24 different plays, including 4 full-length scripts. )

Number of Performances:  227.  (This includes published plays. I shattered my old record of 151 set in 2015, thanks to Blood on the Snow running for 60 performances.)

Estimated Audience for 2017:  13,092 total. (up a lot from 2016, and a new record for me. This is more viewers than a typical Boston fringe theatre might see in a season, which is an interesting way to to look at it.)

For published plays I estimate low--40 people/performance. The rest of the total audience comes from books sales, plays published in anthologies, etc. I don't track plays used by students in competition. So the actual number is probably much higher.

Books sold:  40+   Books sales continue to be dismal, despite a new cover for Tornado Siren, and book events in VA, MA, and DC for Steering to Freedom.

Blinders ran in South Korea in October


Total:   181   (down from 186 last year)
queries for plays:  36
play scripts submitted:  145   (Last year I sent  142)
no queries or book submissions. I did make a handful of screenplay submissions.

I'd hoped to get to 170 scripts out, but didn't have the time. I'm so grateful for the Binge List for helping me have a couple months where I'm super focused on submissions.  Also, since 2013, I've been working on at least 1 commissioned piece every season, and now it's 2 or 3 at a time. That takes up time and also alleviates some of the pressure to get super high submission numbers. In 2018, I will be working on 3 commissioned projects at once, spread out over the year, and I hope to pick up one more (with a little luck). Getting these projects is more about relationship-building than submitting scripts, and the development/production process for these tends to have me highly involved (which is how I like it).

Big audiences at the MIT Museum to see
the opening of Both/And

Hours spent on writing :  1,338 hours   (last year was 1,223)
  • actual writing and research:  371 hours (my goal was 400.  I had 416 last year.)
  • reading for work (not fun):  23 hours  
  • rehearsals and writing meetings:  468 hours  (includes teaching. last year was 438)
  • marketing and admin:  347  hours  (last year was 274)
  • New England New Play Alliance and Dramatists Guild:  129  hours  (last year was 67. This year I edited and published the New England New Play Anthology, and I am now the New England Regional Rep for the Dramatists Guild.  )
As with last year, I spent a lot of time working with my hands, on major house renovations--I re-sided and painted half of my house, and also gutted a bathroom. Altogether, I spent about 680 hours on house renovations. (Last year I spent 873 hours on the house.)
Finally finished the exterior!

This gives a total work hours of 2,018 hours for 2017.  (I worked 2,096 hours in 2016.)

One new stat I tracked this year is the amount of time getting to and from meetings and rehearsals. I spent 175 hours getting back and forth to those 468 hours of rehearsals and meetings. (Not a great ratio.) One of the perils of working from home and being self-employed is that it's often easy to say "Sure, I can meet with you." This is an example of how tracking can help shift practice--before I started tracking this number, I'd meet people just about anywhere. But once I saw how many hours commuting was consuming, I made a concerted effort to shift meetings closer to home.

The other time stat that doesn't show up in my overall work stats is play attendance. For me, going to see plays is part of my job. This year, I saw 59 plays, which is about an additional 120 hours of work time not showing up in my totals.  If I were to add commuting and play attendance, my overall work hours grow by almost 300 hours.

As a freelancer, tracking work hours is important--it helps make sure that I'm putting in enough time. But also that I'm not going too crazy--2,000 hours is about the equivalent of a full-time job. I don't make much money, and I also have a family. Plus, I'm a writer--I need to actually live some life, and not just work all the time. Finding some sort of balance is important.

Here's how my time was spent in past years:
2016:  2,096 total hours. 1,223 writing hours (416 writing/28 reading/438 rehearsing/274 marketing-admin/67 New Play Alliance)+873 on house renovations.

2015: 1,596 total hours.  1,035 writing hours (262 writing/52 reading/295 rehearsing/303 marketing-admin/123 New Play Alliance) + 561 on moving and house renovations

2014:  1,556 total hours. 1,426 writing hours (452 writing/109 reading/342 rehearsing/396 marketing/127 New Play Alliance) + 130 hours farming.

 2013:  1,898 total hours.  996 writing hours (394 writing/308 rehearsing/294 marketing)  + 902 hours farming

2012:  1,630 total hours.  896 writing  hours.  (386 writing/278 rehearsing and meeting/231 marketing)   + 734 hours farming

2011: 818 writing hours.  (I didn't break out rehearsals from desk writing time in 2011). My kids were a lot younger back then.

I'd say the hours this year seem about right (I tend to under-report a little). As with last year, the house renovations were a major time sink. Lots of rehearsal and workshop hours also cut into writing time. When I'm spending so much time developing existing plays, it's hard to get to the desk for new stuff. I'd definitely like to bring my writing hours above 400 next year, and cut home renovation time closer to 300 hours. My Mt. Auburn residency will involve a LOT of research time, both reading and time on the ground, which will be fun.
I put in a lot of carpentry hours in 2017.
Writing output:
1 new full-length play (Mox Nox)
A couple new short plays.
Lots of rewrites of a bunch of plays.

Plays watched:  59   (saw 45 in 2016)
Movies/TV series watched:  45   (39 in 2016)
Plays read: 29     (25 in 2016)
Books read:  15  (17 in 2016)

There was just a big poll on Facebook looking at how many full-length plays people have written, and how many of them have been produced. I've written about 21 so far, with 15 of them produced or about to be produced. But my pace isn't super fast--as I progress in my career, I'm becoming involved in projects that have long development processes, or take a fair bit of research. If I generate 1 or 2 new full-length works in a given year, that's plenty. I'd love to be in a place where the world is pushing me to write more, faster, but I'm still struggling to find homes for my spec scripts.

I got to see a lot of plays this year, which was great. Really need to push to read more plays in 2017. I'd love to read 1/week, but I've never come close to that goal.

Gross Income:  $31,343    
published plays:  $940
play production royalties:  $3,623   (for unpublished work)
film projects:  $5,000  (hired to write a script last year--this was the final payment)
play commissions:  $2,750
teaching: $2,158   (I did some consulting/coaching.)
my novels:  $332
Prizes/fellowships: $16,000    ($1,000 from MCC, $15,000 from Brother Thomas/Boston Foundation) 
misc. (essays, panels, editing, other): $0

Expenses:  about $9,715  
I'm spending some of my Brother Thomas Fellowship money on starting a new theatre company (more to come about this) and on a new web site and travel to my productions. Some of this spending has already begun.

Net Income:  $21,628   

I didn't think 2017 had a chance to beat 2016 for income (unless the Steering to Freedom film option got picked up, which it didn't), but then I was awarded the Brother Thomas Fellowship. I'd love to keep gross income over $25K for the next two years. The Mt. Auburn residency is $10K/year for the next two years, so that gives me a solid baseline. Not sure where the rest of the money will come from. I need to find a way to keep the momentum going.

As a playwright who has struggled to make any money for a long, long time, it feels great to finally have two strong years in a row. But I'm fully aware that I've been writing for almost 30 years, and I'm only now at a point where I could possibly support myself (and just me, at a very, very bare bones level) through my writing. My career would have to take a major positive shift to be at a point where I could support my family. But at least I'm able to contribute financially right now, and that's a good thing.

past years:
2016:  Gross Income:  $25,857  Expenses: $11,472  net:  $14,385
2015:  Gross income: $8,662  Expenses: $4,979  net:  $3,682
2014:  Gross income:  $7,974  Expenses $5,580  net:  $2,494
2013:  Gross income:   $7,767  Expenses:  5,758  net:  $2,029
2012:  Gross Income:  $3,844  Expenses:  $2,808  net:  $1,063
2011:  Gross Income:   $2,638   Expenses:  $4,665  net:  $-2,027
The Brother Thomas Fellowship was a huge boost
 to my 2017 income.

Those are my writing numbers. I'm very pleased with how 2017 turned out, writing-wise (though the outside world often feels like it's a giant dumpster fire). I expect 2018 to have many fewer performances and less audience, because I won't have Blood on the Snow and Both/And running all summer long. But I do expect it to be creatively satisfying--I currently have readings and development lined up for the following full-length plays: Mox NoxDriftChore MonkeysNone but the Best, plus the Mt. Auburn project. That will take up a lot of brain space and keep me involved with a bunch of very fun collaborators. I can't wait.

I hope this post is helpful. I find that writers tend to be very secretive about their finances and other numbers, which I understand. We don't want to brag, or we don't want to look like we're giant failures. And we don't actually have a good idea of how other folks are doing, so we don't even know whether our own numbers are relatively positive or negative. This post at least offers the numbers of one playwright (who also writes novels and screenplays), and as you can see, I've had slow years and good years.  I think it's important to keep sharing, so that as writers we can operate from an informed position to set realistic goals and negotiate stronger deals for our work.

Please let me know if you keep track of numbers like this.  If you post about it anywhere, let me know, and I'll post a link below.

These are some friends who have summed up their years: