The past month I’ve been tinkering on and off with an old short story I wrote. It’s sort of children’s story, but it’s a little dark. It’s a bit too long for most magazines doing young adult stuff, and it’s not long enough to make a novella. And it’s not really like anything else I’ve written, so it can’t exactly go in a collection.
Honestly, I’m not sure who it would even appeal to, so I don’t really know what to do with the thing.
The other day a colleague called me out of the blue wanting some career guidance.
“You’ve got the kind of job I’d love to have,” he said. “I’m wondering if you could give me some advice on how you got started.”
Downsizing some things is easy. With others, it’s painful.
This year I’ve made many promises to myself, and one of them is this: I’m going to live on the beach, at least for some portion of my life, and likely soon. I’ll spend my mornings watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, my afternoons writing and editing, and as the sun sets, my evening drink in hand and the sound of the waves on the beach lulling me to sleep.
I dream of hopping on my motorcycle with nothing more than my laptop, a bag full of clothes, and a few things that I cannot part with to begin a new life chapter — maybe just a short side story, maybe more.
But that poses an important question. What can I not part with?
I didn’t want to write this post because, well, my own writing is far from perfect. But I’ve learned a lot by being an editor this year, a lot of things that have helped me see where my writing sucks and what my strengths are.
Mostly though, I’ve seen things that make me scratch my head and say, really? You want to be a writer?
See, I told you I was hesitant to write this. I realize my writing that sentence makes me sound like a pompous ass. Behold, Jeff, the high-and-mighty, all-knowing wordsmith — and the feeble miscreants who exist around him.
One of the best lessons on writing came from my dad and Hunter S. Thompson.
“Don’t be boring,” my dad said, tossing me his latest copy of Cycle World. “The world is full of boring writers.”
I opened to the article he wanted me to read, “Song of the Sausage Creature,” probably the greatest motorcycle review of all-time.
Everyone’s jealous, and it’s because I’m freaking awesome. I’m not even 30, and I’ve hit my life goal: full-time writer. There’s nowhere to go from here but down.
Over the past four months I’ve written 171 articles. Some of them we’re actually pretty good. Because of this fact, I have achieved what the cool kids call “baller status.”
I see it everywhere I go. Grown men burst into tears. Children squeal. Women flock.
Howdy, everyone. Life is awesome. I’ll never have a better job. I get paid to write now. I’m still waiting for someone to call bullshit — “Wait, you’re telling me we pay this guy to sit on his ass and write whatever the hell he wants.”
So I’ve been lacking here, I know. And now, get this. I’ve been invited to write over at Medium. I still plan to do most of my personal writing over here, but I figured I might as well check out what all this fuss is about over Medium. Seems like a pretty cool site!
UPDATE (7/30/15): After spending a few years trying to push all Google users into Google+, Google is apparently trying a new approach. They’re calling it a chance to “lead to a more focused, more useful, more engaging Google+.” Others are more direct, saying the social site is essentially dead.
Original Post: Some writers say social media’s bullshit. They look on it as some unholy abomination, all that’s wrong in the world. I’ve heard others say to just write, just do your job, marketing isn’t worth the time. They have a point. It’s easy to get sucked into half a day of music videos, top-10 articles and cat memes. But those writers are ignoring the future, and they will increasingly pay the price.
The days are coming where freelancers will get hired based not only on their portfolio, but their social media presence.
The other day I became possessed while stumbling through an antique store. I found an old paper — two of them actually — sitting on a shelf tucked away among old bicycles, antique model tractors and dirty figurines.
The idea that I absolutely must read them suddenly washed over me. Old, rusty, used-up crap doesn’t normally excite me, but after spending a weekend immersed in The Great Gatsby and living it up vicariously through the rich, spoiled high society of the 1920s, I thought it’d be nice to get a little taste of old-school journalism and sense of what reality was a century ago.
It’s been a Gatsby weekend. I finally saw the movie, which I loved. I reread the book for the third time, which I continue to love even more. I even made a promise to address everyone as “Old Sport” all weekend in honor of Mr. Gatsby.
Rereading the book has been a delight. Rarely does a book make me laugh in giddy joy simply by the arrangement of words on a page. I’ve written about Gatsby quite often — strange for a blog about going vegan — and as I read the book again I was trying to think what it is that makes me love this book so. In school I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but now I have to agree with many that those eight chapters and 180 pages are among the finest ever written.
The internet is filled with writers, opinions and advice. Some of it is excellent. Much of it is utter nonsense. To paraphrase my favorite favorite fictional vice president as played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss: I’ve met plenty of people, and most of them are pretty fucking stupid.
Sometimes it seems writers spend more time writing about writing than they do actually writing. I know. You’re probably thinking, Jeff, isn’t this exactly what you’re doing right now? You got me. Guilty. The only reason I’m adding to the nonsense is because people have asked. And, well, let me be perfectly honest. I should be productive and start working on the two articles that are due Friday morning, but I’m putting that off by blogging about writing instead.
It is childish, someone once told me, to return to the same thing again and again. Children will re-watch movies dozens of times. They will want the same book read to them every night. They will listen to the same song again and again, and so I always viewed it as a childish act.
Think of all the grandeur in the world — all the books and songs and films. There’s so much greatness that no one can possibly experience it all in their lifetime. It’s impossible to read them all, to hear them all, to see them all. And it is our duty to soak up as many as we can before leaving this great world.
Poetry is supposed to be spoken. I imagine a time before the internet, before television, before radio. The people there are crowded around poets, listening to their words. When I was a kid I discovered Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry on HBO. I’d watch the poets late at night, and though I didn’t understand half of them, they fascinated me.
April was National Poetry Month, and I spent the day watching some of the old clips on YouTube. I’m a bit late to the party, but oh well. Here are 14 of my favorite def poets.
The one thing that amazes me whenever I read about freelance writing online — no one ever mentions sources. What’s a good story without a good source? In fact, think it’s so important I’m leading off this series with the topic.
I blame blogging. Or the internet. You could say it’s lazy journalism, but I’m going out on a limb and saying people just do not know any better. Say you’re a reporter. There’s a fire, and you have to write a story. That’s easy. Everyone knows what to do, even if you’ve never written anything before.
That’s it. It’s done. I’m a writer now. Sure, I’ve written on and off for years. I’ve even made money doing so, but I’ve never been a writer. I was always just been someone who writes. Now I am a writer. I don’t have a choice.
It’s amazing what stepping down from $40,000 a year can do for motivation. I still have another job, but all that work amounts to a whole $18,500 a year. Try living on that and paying off student loans and car loans and rent and all the other things necessary to simply live life. I guess a better way to say it is that I now have to write; therefore, I am a writer. There’s no deciding I don’t feel like it and not writing for a month. I have to write, or I can’t eat.
Springsteen once said people can change, but they can’t rid themselves of who they were. Traveling along life’s highway, old versions of ourselves are always with us, like apparitions haunting from the grave. Sometimes, he said, those old versions, those old ways of thinking and those old fears take the wheel. It’s impossible to shake your past.
That’s why change is so hard. People want to start over. They want to move away and become a different person. But that is impossible. As the old saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” They chase you down and haunt you wherever you hide.
Not an hour ago I sent an email to my boss. It’s time to step down, it said. I need to chase my dreams.
The career I spent years building towards, the white picket fence, the security and comfort I wanted — it all turned into a puff of smoke with just a few strokes of the keyboard. By morning that old fog will have lifted, and the remnants of those dreams will be gone, burned away by the bright light of the new day and new dreams.