Today is super busy, as will be this week. I go to print on multiple magazines, and stuff is on the line. Needless to say, this isn’t going to be a long post.
But recently I realized that although I talk about a lot of things here, there are lots of other things that I don’t talk about, mostly because they’re extremely personal. So where do I get that out? What’s my outlet? Up until the other day, I didn’t have one.
I’ve edited and read lots about Day One, a journaling app for the iOS and OSX platforms. I decided to give it a shot, and ever since I’ve been jotting down quick notes every now and then — whenever the urge strikes me. It doesn’t have to be a long post every time, and there’s not pressure, I just have to write what I want. I gotta say, it’s been liberating.
Who knows how long I’ll keep it up, but so far it’s been fun.
Back to work.
Yesterday was all about trying to make sense of a complicated situation — health insurance. It took most of the weekend and a few different spreadsheets to really determine where we were at, and in the end it was decided that my son and I should be on the same plan with my day job, and my wife should stay on her plan. Turns out that if she leaves her job for any reason — laid off, fired, she quits — then she can hop onto my insurance, no worries. Problem solved.
Doing all this math though, put our current status in perspective. In just a few months, one of our cars will be paid off, saving us a few hundred bucks a month. And should my wife get pregnant, then we’ll save some more money because we’ll temporarily pull my son out of daycare while she’s at home. At the end of it all, we could shave $2,000 a month off of our monthly expenses and that’s awesome.
On the flip side, it put both of our current job statuses in question. And my declining health seems to be a direct result of that problem.
On Thursday of last week, I had a huge presentation to give in front of the CEO. I was super nervous — my job pretty much hinged on this talk, as I saw it — and it put my stomach in fits. Complicating things even further, I did finally see a doctor about my condition, and the results were a bit scary. But after the presentation was done, I spent the next three days stress free, and my IBS seemed to disappear. Turns out that extreme stress may be the reason I’m having so many problems.
This led to a debate with my wife about our respective stress levels, both of which seem very high. In fact, comparing them to the first 18 months of our son’s life — when I was supporting the family by myself and my wife was taking care of KJ — we had similar problems. Should we even try to have another child, or will it put my stomach into permanent fits?
After talking it out, we realized that what’s really at the root of the problem is frustration with our current situations. Back in 2011, I was really pissed off doing what I had to do. My main client was horrible to work for, and it was such boring work that I felt all of my creativity sucked out of my body. I hated it, and it stressed me out. It wasn’t until a pretty major breakdown that my wife and I decided she should go back to work. That transition also led me to a new opportunity, and that took away the stress. Things were better.
My day job has its ups and downs, none of which I can get into here. But there is one main point of my frustration, and it cuts to the core of who I am as a person, as well as a worker. I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s a fixable issue, or if it’s just something that I need to sort out on my end, and right now I don’t have an answer. I’m just waiting it out, trying to work it out as I go.
However, the time will come when I have to decide if the stress produced by my particular situation is worth the physical toll it takes on my body. If I should just quit and be healthy or if I should stick it out and get paid. And it’s complicated even further because if Kirsten does get pregnant, there’s a very real possibility that she’ll have to get onto my health insurance at one point or another. That means that if she got pregnant right now, I’d have nine more months to solve the problem. That would be tough.
Honestly, I just don’t know what to do other than push forward each day. Right now, that’s what I’m doing, and although I’m not very happy with it, I know that I’m the only person who can change my own destiny. I can either fix the problems on my end, adjust to deal with them, do whatever it else is that I have to do to keep food on our plates, or find another alternative. Only time will tell which path I choose.
The analogy I’d like to use here is that it was like going to a mechanic for an oil change, and being told you need a new engine. They wanted to test my … “stuff” which required defiling a spoon, give me an EGD and a colonoscopy. But at the end of it all, they really figure I have gastritis. Needless to say, I’m working on a second opinion. ↩
Yes, I understand the irony of my stomach having problems while my wife carries a child in hers. Also, I like potato chips. ↩
No seriously, it was a big breakdown. I don’t think I’ve ever quite gone as thermonuclear as I did on that day before or since. Fortunately, we fixed the problem. ↩
I wrote yesterday about the perceived value of what I do, and how certain people don’t see it. I bumped into this again later that day, and it got me thinking about what I do, how I do it and what the future is for people in my position.
The problem starts right at the keyboard. Everyone thinks they’re a writer. Very few of them actually are.
Social media gives all of us a voice, and anyone can setup a blog like mine at any corner of the Internet that they want. It’s not that difficult, often it’s free and it gives you a platform to speak where you have no fear of censorship. That’s empowering. And misleading.
They start up a blog, and all of their besties come out of the woodwork proclaiming that they’re the “best evar” or that they’re the next Hemingway/Bukowski/Tucker Max because of the way they do what they do. That swells their heads. Makes them think that they actually could make a go of this and go pro. They could make money off their writing.
That’s appealing to pretty much everyone, even those who don’t like to write. It’s because the concept of being a writer seems so romantic. Here you are, just a keyboard/notepad/typewriter and a space to create. You can pick up the kids whenever you want, hang out on the weekends with your buddies and write drunk all the time. It’s the perfect life, right?
Except that’s not how it is in the real world. I’m sure it could be if you really were a Hemingway, but in today’s market it’s an uphill battle to prove that you’re really worth your salt. And that’s because there are so many people out there who are willing to do the work for free because they think it’s their only way to get into the business. It’s not.
So the first problem really scales out like this:
Because someone who’s looking for content can get it for free, why should they pay for a professional? And for the startup or the starving businessman, I get that perspective. Financially, on their end, it makes sense. But for the writer, not so much.
What those “writers” are doing is bringing down the market for the rest of us. While a good writer can command upwards of $2/word for their work, these others are working for free. And there is no middle ground here where everyone gets paid $1/word and we’re all happy. Instead, it’s working for fractions of a penny and calling that a good gig. Seriously.
I’ve worked before for under $0.05 a word. For the average 1,000 word article, that’s $50. The same article to a legit magazine could pay $1,000 or $2,000. Quite the variance, right?
The other problem with working for exposure or credit is that the exposure or credit is never quite as great as they say. Think about the last time you read an article on the web. Did you check who the author was? Half the time I don’t, and it’s my business. So what help does this “exposure” do for you when no one cares who wrote your piece?
The promise of future payments or bonuses based on traffic are also bullshit. They never happen, and if they do the owner often tweaks their analytics to their advantage. It’s another bullshit was for them to get your work for free. Fuck that.
So we’ve got it down now that writers who aren’t really writers bring down the overall value for the rest of the industry. And that because they’re bringing down the overall value, people feel it’s OK to scam the newbies on what they should be paid. But what about the perceived value of the writer in the first place?
Because everyone thinks they’re a writer, therefore, everyone is a writer. There are exceptions to the rule, and these are the people who hire writers because they find writing detestable and maddening. They also usually like math.
One example of such a person is a former employer who shall remain nameless. At one point they yelled — and I do mean yelled — “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO WRITE THE WORDS I SAY AND MAKE THEM MORE GOOD?”
Hand to God.
What I do isn’t just about hammering down on a keypad until the words come out right. It’s an art; one that not everyone has the ability to perform, regardless of their sensibilities. This person didn’t know how to write themselves, so they were frustrated by the process. But they also didn’t understand why it took me time to do what I do, and therefore they felt I was either milking the clock for money or trying to screw them over.
Another employer at one point was rumored to have said (prior to my coming onboard), “What’s so difficult about this? Any eighth grader can rearrange words on a page, right?”
If any eighth grader could do what I do, then I’d be out of a job.
Some people think that what I do comes so naturally to me; that’s it’s just so simple to do that I can just command words to appear on a page. And because there are so many shitty writers out there putting out massive amounts of content, their perception isn’t unwarranted. It makes it more difficult for writers with their own particular set of skills to get a gig and work professionally.
Making things more complicated is the definition of good writing. What exactly makes up a well written article? To some, it’s following Strunk & White to the letter, for others it’s creating a tone that fits their sensibilities. The tough part is that it’s all subjective. There’s no way for me to know what the person is going to like until I’ve done the work. That means that sometimes a shitty writer will get a good gig in spite of their shittiness, leaving the rest of us out in the cold.
So what does all this mean? It means that Marie and I need to get our book about freelance writing done. If we can teach just a few people what it really means to be a freelance writer, maybe we can start changing this perception.
That’s it, off to Scrivener.
I have this cool automated system that sends me job listings from Craigslist via text message. It’s come in handy quite a few times, and is actually how I found my day job. Even though I’m not really pursuing a bunch of stuff right now, I’m always looking for something, so I keep the system in place.
An ad popped across my iPhone the other day, and after reading it, I wanted to huck my phone through a window. Here’s what it read:
So, you write, and you’re probably good at it. But being a good writer honestly means crap in this job market. In fact, chances are you’re…
b) “Employed” and making what amounts to less than minimum wage
c) Blogging or writing for an audience of your 10 most loyal friends
It’s okay. We all know the struggle.
Wow. Just … wow.
Sure, there are lots of writers who might fit into this mold. Maybe I got lucky, and maybe several of my friends are lucky as well. But calling someone out like this in an ad to try to get them to work for you? Ridiculous.
Now I would’ve stopped right there, but I had a feeling I knew where this was going.
If you want a change of pace, however, and a position where people actually read your work, ASSHOLE.COM has you covered. ASSHOLE is read by nearly 500,000 people each month, and revolves around the original, creative, and oftentimes snarky pieces created by writers like you. Just check out the “news” section of ASSHOLE to see for yourself.
Oh by the way, I changed their website’s name here. I’m sure they won’t mind.
We’re currently looking for FREELANCE WRITERS and are making this open call to anyone who’s looking for a new writing gig:
1. Sign in to ASSHOLE.COM – you can use your Facebook, Twitter, or email account.
2. Create your own “ASSHOLE” (think of an “ASSHOLE” as a blog). You’ll be able to post in your ASSHOLE and have friends and readers join it. Your ASSHOLE can be as general as “Jane Doe’s World” or center on something specific like “Jeremy Lin updates.” It all flies.
3. Write one post in your ASSHOLE titled “I want to write for ASSHOLE,” and explain in whatever way you want why you’d be a good freelance writer. BE SURE TO DO THIS.
4. Post regularly in your ASSHOLE and express your point of view.
5. Get 50 people to join your ASSHOLE by end of day July 31, 2012.
Hehe. Join your asshole.
On August 1, we’ll begin reviewing the ASSHOLES created and will reach out to writers we would like to bring on as freelancers. There are paid and credit-based freelance positions available.
Wait, I’m sorry. There are what?
There are paid and credit-based freelance positions available.
So wait. First you insult your audience, which is always a great technique. Then you demand a lot of them — all for free, mind you — on the promise of exposure and nothing much else. Then you have to rope 50 of your friends into this network, on the hope that maybe you’ll get a paid or credit-based position. Now tell me, what exactly does “credit-based” mean?
In the interest of being fair, I went to ASSHOLE.COM to check them out. It’s a pretty site, but that’s about it. Their goal is to become some kind of new social network, and although I’m very familiar with that premise, it’s hard to compete against Facebook and Twitter, and yet require you use your Facebook or Twitter account to sign in. Otherwise, it’s really like Pinterest, but with news and fluff. Oh, and none of it seems to be written very well — shocker.
This is just another example of a company trying to make some money off the backs of writers being promised nothing more than exposure and potential income. I hate that kind of shit.
The best part though has to be the ending.
Go to ASSHOLE.COM, and sign in to get started. You’ve got nothing to lose and have through July 31st to make your case as to why you’d be a great freelancer.
Actually, I would lose something. My dignity, my pride, and potentially, some of my income.
There’s this picture of me from my eighth-grade yearbook where a group of friends are standing behind me, and I’m holding a textbook, pretending to read. Peeking out from the cover is a comic book. The caption reads, “I’m not sure guys — but I don’t think she’s buying this study group.”
When it comes to telling stories, comic books have always been a major influence in my process. In fact, they’ve always been a part of my life in one way or another. I recall taking a briefcase to school one year and inside was a sketchbook, colored pencils and a few copies of my favorite comic books. Things really ramped up when we moved to Arizona, because that’s when I learned that there were stores that only sold comics. That changed my life.
Every week I’d go down to the comic book store to get the latest issues. As I grew older, I started up a special bag for just my comics. Today, I hear they call them a pull list, but back then I just remember having a brown bag that contained all of my favorite new releases (in appropriate bags and backers, of course), ready for my grubby mitts. Eventually, I’d take the city bus from my high school to go to All About Books and Comics off of Indian School and Scottsdale Road, then take another bus to my parent’s office in the Scottsdale Airpark. It was a long walk from the bus stop to their office, but I did it once a week because I loved reading comics that much.
In high school, I spent a lot of time drawing comics, and eventually I figured I could make a go at a career in the field. I didn’t know much about the logistics of the whole process, but I had watched quite a few videos and read interviews with some of my favorite artists, and it seemed like they all worked from either the corporate offices in New York City or from their own homes. One of my favorite artists, Todd McFarlane, once remarked in an interview I saw somewhere that he used to Fed-Ex his pages to the office and work out of his home outside of Vancouver. I figured that if he could do it, why not me?
So I went to the University of Arizona my freshman year and quickly learned two things: 1. Consuming only chocolate milk and ice cream sandwiches is a quick way to put on 30 lbs., and 2. I’m not Todd McFarlane.
Sure, I did alright as an artist, but while taking all these classes with people who really wanted to make art their career, I learned that I just wasn’t a good fit. I abandoned my dreams of becoming a comic book artist, and spent my 20s working on cars instead.
When I picked up an iPad a few years ago, I downloaded the Marvel Comics and DC apps almost immediately. Soon I had spent way too much money on comics, reliving my past and enjoying the future. I bought books I hadn’t read before, old classics, ones with characters I didn’t like as a kid — whatever I could to just soak in all these great storylines from these amazing writers and artists. To this day, I still buy comics on the iPad, and some even on the same day as they’re released. I’m hooked again.
For me, comics are about the story and the art, and they both have to work together. If the story sucks and the art is great, I’m going to be disappointed. If the story rocks and the art is bad, then I won’t be able to get through it. The two have to work in harmony, and when they do, it’s just amazing.
If I had to pick one though, it’s the story. I recently re-read The Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon, and it was just fantastic. Chris Claremont’s 17-year run on The Uncanny X-Men taught me that stories can be important; it’s not just about kicking ass and taking names. These writers inspire me to make my work better and better until I can reach the amazing heights that they’ve attained. They make me want to be better.
I’ve never written a comic book, but it’s something that I hope to do someday. For now, I’ve got my novel, this blog, my writing book and all of my web stuff, so there’s not really a place for it right now. But soon I’ll put pen to paper and make my comic book concept a reality.
Hell, maybe I’ll even bring back Samurai Moose for a cameo.
I was in the fourth grade, and it was 1986. Family Ties was huge to me back then, and of course, I wanted to be just like Alex P. Keaton. I remember putting on my sunday best brown suit with a yellow shirt and tie, and going to Wayland Academy just as happy as could be. Two other things happened in that school: I watched the Challenger disaster live (and then saw some dickhead kid reenact it with dry-erase markers) and the time I was riding my bike and my shoelaces caught in the front wheel, flipping it over so my face hit the asphalt and the rear tire smacked me in the back of my head. Still got a scar from that, I think. ↩
Funny story about that bus stop. There was one girl who always waited with me, and one day we were both approached by a new kid we didn’t know. He says to me, “Want to buy some weed?” This was it. This was the big moment when peer pressure would make me submit. I had to say something, because “no” just wasn’t going to cut it. Quick — come up with something good! “Umm … it’s against my religion,” I say. He laughs in my face and says, “Man, there are a million ways to say no, and you just picked the dumbest one.” Then he turns to the girl. “Want some weed?” She says, “No, I don’t smoke weed.” He responds, “See? Now that’s how you do it, stupid,” and he walked away. ↩
My buddies Bryce and Tony and I used to draw characters based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles role playing game, and we’d throw dice to figure out their characteristics. One of my favorites was Samurai Moose, a moose with dual swords. I still have a sketchbook filled with his pics somewhere around here. ↩
I lived in the Coronado dorm at UofA, rooms 534 and 536 (I moved at one point). Our student IDs were just like debit cards, and they worked in any vending machine across campus. Since I had no idea what proper nutrition was or how my metabolism worked, I just ate what tasted good — and a lot of it. Now that I think about it, 30 lbs. might have been conservative. ↩
And how I learned is a story I’ll have to tell someday. Just know that it involves a dresser made to represent a vagina, a baby’s doll made to look like a sex toy and a 6-foot tall penis. Seriously. ↩