Sometimes it’s easy to do this: Sit down in front of a computer and get all the weird stuff that bumps around in your head onto paper, and have it make coherent sense. Sometimes it just flows out of you like someone else is writing and you knock out something beautiful and meaningful in less time than it takes to heat up Trader Joe’s Chicken Piccata in the oven (with preheating it comes to about 40 minutes).
And sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed with the things happening in your life and the events jangling throughout the world, that you don’t really even know where to begin. There are times when you write something you feel is monumental, and share it so other people can be moved. But then barely anyone reads it and you don’t know if the Facebook algorithm didn’t like the headline, or if maybe it just wasn’t as important and powerful as you thought it was.
And there are the times when you create something quickly, something that means nothing to you, and BOOM! the article spreads quicker than lice in kindergarten, and you think “Really? That’s the thing that went viral?” That can feel worse than when the meaningful pieces you write are duds, because, it makes you question what you are doing. Like, why strive for excellence when mediocrity is king?
This is what it’s like to write for a living. I believe what we do is important, and so do you, since you’re reading this. But it might be one of the only things in the world where the cultural value of it continues to rise while the monetary value plummets.*
Intelligent, informed people sharing their knowledge and convictions with the world is still valuable and crucial to a healthy Democracy, yet payment for doing so is evaporating quicker than Karl the Fog in September. Even if you don’t like me or agree with the things I write, I still provoke you into thinking and emoting and acting, even if that action is just to yell at your computer and type mean things in the comments.
I’ve been thinking about the world journalist Herb Caen wrote in and I’m incredibly jealous of him. He had one job, he sat down and wrote 1,000 words a day. Being clever, and smart and knowledgeable and empathetic at 1,000 words, six days a week for 50 plus years, is not easy, it’s an incredible feat. And Caen was a brilliant and talented writer. But back then being a brilliant and talented writer was enough to make a good living. He didn’t have to worry about promoting his work on Twitter and Instagram. He didn’t have to focus on growing his email list. He didn’t have to worry about whether Facebook changed its algorithm. Being a damn good writer was enough.
That era is gone. I’m lucky that I make a living as a creative person while residing in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s a pretty meager living, but it’s still an accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s a hard living to make. I don’t get to just focus on being the best writer I can be. Considering that BrokeAssStuart.com is what I do full time, and that I’m also responsible for paying people for their work, I have to juggle the responsibilities of sales, marketing, social media, business development and a hundred other things. It’s kinda funny that I got into all this to be an art dude and somehow had to learn to be a business dude along the way.
Those of you sneering right now saying, “Well get a different job” should quiet down. I give your life meaning. Writers get paid poorly to create the articles you read for free, just so you have a space to bully people online. Without us your lives would be meaningless.
For the rest of you, consider supporting the creators you like. Find out if they have a Patreon and then become a monthly patron. Or email them and see if you can paypal them money. Or buy them a meal. Writing is a wonderful way to make an impact but a horrible way to pay your bills.
*This can be said for most of the arts actually.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.