Saturday, February 23, 2008

It's Dangerous Work, But Somebody Has Got to Do It!

Writing has to be one of the most hazardous occupations in the world. First of all, it requires you to sit down, virtually immobilizing yourself, at a desk or workstation that may not be designed for optimal human endeavor. It requires very little exertion to be a writer. You can work hard all day and burn about 12 calories and still feel tired when you get home.

Second, it creates an insatiable urge to eat sweets. Maybe all Americans have this, but writers have motive and opportunity to eat more than their fair share of donuts, chips, soft drinks, and other things.

Third, a lot of writers don't earn as much as they would like, so they eat at the lower end of the gastronomic spectrum, tending to go to places where you obtain your food without having to exit your car (thus not burning precious calories).

Fourth, writing can be a fairly stressful job if you consider not having a steady paycheck and exposing yourself to every flamer in the world who wants to call you an idiot.

So why do we do it? I don't know. I suspect that if we had other skills or inclinations, we would have gone on to have successful careers. But I have always found a lot of satisfaction in the work. It's fun. It's challenging. It doesn't get boring or old. It's an adventure. I've met lots of great people through writing I otherwise never would have got to know.

I guess I became a writer because I didn't want to work for a living.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I just bought a Mac

My first computer was a Macintosh. So was my second. That was back in the dark ages before Brittney Spears was even born.
Then an in-house career in a series of corporations and crass circumstances put me in the Windows camp. I found PCs likeable enough, although it's kind of weird that to turn them off, you have to go to the button that says START. They wouldn't do that at Apple, but at Microsoft nobody thought it mattered and apparently they were right.
I just came back because of Vista. I'm a bit apprehensive about anything like a new operating system and I've been hearing bad things. So I went to a Mac.
Fortunately, the cross-platform thing is not as big of a deal as it once was. It's still imperfect, but it's nowhere near the problem that I remember it. And my own computer skills have increased enough that it's easy to make the shift from PC to Mac and back again. The only down side to Macs is that they're more expensive and the software they require costs bank, too.
The upside is that they actually work.

My Favorite Things About Writing

Writing is really easy. It's practically like not working at all.

Writing is particularly rewarding when a non-writer who cannot even compose an email without a thesaurus (and misspelling at least six words) criticizes your work.

Writing is really fun when a vice president stands over you as you type and from time to time puts his greasy fingers on your computer screen.

Writing is interesting when you have to write compelling persuasive marketing copy for a product that is much worse than the competitive offerings.

Writing is such a hoot when you go on Elance and see that somebody is seeking a writer and then says the assignment is "really easy" providing you are "somebody who knows what she is doing." Just like the space shuttle is easy to build if you know what you're doing.

I love to be a writer when somebody looks at 5,000 brilliant words in a draft layout format and throws it on the floor because there is a typo in one of the footnotes. It's particularly rewarding when that person is fat and says, "This is garbage!" in a way that makes drool fly out of his mouth and sounds vaguely like Daffy Duck.

It's a blast to be a writer because at the end of most days you do something that very few people can do in our increasingly illiterate, overstimulated, attention-deficit-riddled society. You articulate coherent thoughts.

Money and Writing

It's not a sensible thing for a writer to develop a fondness for money. Money is like raging alcoholism: it's one of those things that only a few writers actually have but most people associate with the writing life.
On the other hand, it's absolutely possible for a decent writer with a love of hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit, and high-speed Internet access to earn a good living.
Most writers who fail at this have either not persevered long enough (and it's one long dry marathon getting started as a writer) or they don't develop a sound business sense.
A sound business sense means understanding that writing is not about art work, creativity, or expressing yourself. Join a quilting club if you want to do that kind of thing. Writing is about earning a living and possibly saying something useful, although it's important to keep those two items in that particular order.
There are lots of writers who insist on writing only what they want to write. You can't run other businesses along that formula, so why should writing be different? For instance, if I want to make peanut butter sandwiches and sell them to movie stars for a million bucks each, that's a noble dream but it won't fly as a business. I can want it till I'm blue in the face, I can say affirmations, I can chant and moan and visualize it and write a business plan, but it is not going to work.
A long time ago I met a woman who asked me about writing advice. She told me this: I want to write about German immigrants of the 19th century who settled in Fayette County, Texas. I told her to find another career. Now you might be able to write something on that subject (there are a lot of Germans in Texas, for all you non-Texans reading this) but it would be more like a thesis or an article you could give away to some local heritage society. You can't make a career around this.
Many would-be writers are stubborn. She said that was what she was going to write about. She only came to me to find out how to make money.
You make money by selling what can be sold. It used to be that you sold your writing to businesses (very lucrative if you do it right) and publications (newspapers and magazines). Last I heard, nobody is clamoring for articles on 19th century German immigration to Fayette County. But learn to write about medical technology or the latest movies or economic trends or learn how to do a killer interview, and you could sell some work.
The big shift in my lifetime is the imminent demise of the traditional publisher (sorry to break it to you this way). Anyone can publish a website (which is really just an electronic magazine), a blog (electronic newsletter), or even a book (vanity presses which are now just called digital printers). Magically, we all got promoted to be publishers.
Unfortunately, being a publisher is even harder in terms of mindset than being a sales-minded writer. You can do a blog on 18 cool things my dog can do but nobody wants to read it. You need to marry content with market.
And that's where most non-earning writers fall flat.