If You Can Be Anything Else…

Today I am discouraged. Deeply discouraged. There’s an old cliche about artists–and it started with writers—that if you can be anything else, you should.

That’s about how I feel about writing right now. I love it, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. But, damnit, I sure wish I could. Because finding a job as a writer is straight up torture.

People say, “Oh, the Internet is mainly made up of writing. You should be able to find work there.”

HAHAHA! What a load of crock!

The going rate for web writing is about 1 cent per word. An average online article is about 600-800 words.

So, that means, a typical online article pays about $6-$8. Try making that add up to your rent. Which you can’t, really.

Because unless you know the content well enough to write off the top of your head, you’re going to have to do some research and note taking.

So, say you’re writing an 800 word article for a tree doctor website on tree rot–which you know nothing about. (Just to put the whole “word count” discussion in perspective–that high school research paper that you spent half a semester writing in the eleventh grade? It was typically about 1,000 words. Just saying). So you’ve messaged the client back and forth on their tree rot piece, because they don’t know what they want really.

They just want something they can throw on social media to promote their new membership packages. But, they also don’t want “trash,” so they have a defined way they want it to look and sound so that it doesn’t qualify as “trash” to them.

So, they send you about six links to pages and the occasional YouTube video they want you to look at first, so that you understand what they want it to “be like.” Fair enough. Consider it “training.” So, you read their suggested pages, many of which are their competitor’s websites, and you understand they’re trying to one-up their competition. Got it. All’s fair in love and capitalism. Then you start of the project.

You hit Google and find enough factoids about tree rot to sound relatively decent. It takes you a bit, because the websites you are reading use a lot of terms you don’t know, and you have to do research just to understand your research. But, you get through it and you throw together the 800 words and submit. And at the end of it, you find that the entire project, with the “training,” researching, note taking, and writing all put together–took you about an hour and a half.

You get paid $8.

That’s not mentioning the time you took to chase the job and conceptualize with the client. All free. And God forbid the client wants revisions!

The only exception is if you can find a company that wants to produce the content in house, all on the same subject, and is willing to hire and train a staff content writer. This means all of your topics are going to be around the same subject, so it minimizes your research time. And they pay an hourly wage for a content writer on staff, so this guarantees you get paid for your research and concept development.

But these jobs are very few and far between. After all, why pay a fair price when you get the same thing for a bargain basement rate? And then, when fair wage web content writer jobs do show up, they are competitive. They typically require the writer to be an expert in SEO, the science of making your site show up in a Google search. SEO can be very complicated and is ever evolving, because Google tries to stay one step ahead of web designers trying to out game their bots. Then, it becomes a numbers game instead of actually writing. I tried to learn SEO at one point, and I really sucked at it.

So, all in all, online writing is a scam.

Then there’s fiction. This is an intensely competitive world. Making it as a novelist is about as one-off as making it as a rock star. Especially now that the novel is dying. I mean, the world only has one major bookselling chain. What does that say?

Without going into the details of the publishing industry, I will say this. I read a publishing blog post recently that said, “It’s not realistic for writers to expect to make a living writing fiction.” Based on my experience, that’s pretty much true.

If online writing is a scam, and novels are all but dead, what’s a writer to do? Over the years, I’ve had a number of random full-time writing jobs that surprisingly have added up to a significant amount of professional writing experience.

But, every time, I damn near slit my wrists before I found the job. Every time, I was shocked and I held on to it for it dear life, because I’ve never seen another job like it. Unfortunately, these jobs don’t last long because it’s hard for a company to make money off writing. (That’s why the “other guys” only pay 8 bucks for it). So, my amazing job lasts about as long as it takes for the company to figure all that out.

I’m in this place again, now. And I honestly don’t know how much more I can take. In my dark moments, I decide that the world doesn’t value writers and that I’ve picked a vocation that just doesn’t sell.

In my happier times, I tell myself that God is in control and that he gave me this talent, and he intends for me to use it and he will provide. But, today, I’m in a particularly dark place. I need to believe that God is in control of all of this, because by everything that I can see, I should just give up writing. I should just say I couldn’t make it as a writer, and move on.

But, then, what would I do? I’m a writer.

So, I trudge on, and pick my chin up and try again. Because I love writing, and I’m good at it, and other than sell office supplies, I’m not really qualified to do anything else.





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