How Hard Can It Be

With the holiday season looming, I decided the time was ripe to earn a bit of extra cash. And so the hunt began to pick up some freelance gigs. That’s the nice thing about being a writer — you have a marketable skill that’s perfect for one-off jobs. The not nice thing about being a writer — people don’t always want to compensate you for that marketable skill.

Have you checked any “Writers Wanted” postings recently? It’s Depressing. Yes, with a capital D. I mean, first there’s the obstacle of finding gigs that match your skill set. But the bigger problem I’ve found: finding gigs that are worth my time. There’s a fine balancing act between “I could totally do this job, it wouldn’t take me that long” and “This is so not worth my energy.” And so so often, the scale is tipped heavily towards, “You are kidding me, right?”

$20 for a 400-word article. $4 per “post” (whatever that means). And let’s not forget all the wonderful, “You’ll get exposure!” listings. I came across a job the other day that paid $2.70 for every 50 voice “bundle” that you transcribed. My first thought was, “Oh, that’d be easy, I could totally do that.” And then I stepped back and thought: $2.70. That is nothing. How many “bundles” would it take to make that worth my while?

Look, I get it. People posting “Writers Wanted” ads for one-off jobs on the Internetz probably don’t have a ton of cash to spend. I mean, I’m trolling Craigslist for Pete’s sake. I should give them a break.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back? I thought I’d found a good tutoring gig with a pretty big, reputable tutoring firm. I had been a writing consultant back in college, and was actually pretty excited to flex those muscles again. And then I found out this company expects tutors to provide substantive feedback on a 10-page paper — including thesis formulation, overall paper structure, and common grammatical errors — within 25-35 minutes.

A 10-page paper. In 25 minutes.

Look, I get it. A lot of people don’t understand the time and effort it takes to write well. They don’t understand that it’s more than just vomiting words onto a page — that it’s about thinking critically, articulating clearly, arguing your point well and succinctly. But I’m sick and tired of people devaluing my profession, which I have spent years studying and honing. I am sick of people saying, “It’s one line of copy, how hard can it be?”

And of course, writers aren’t the only ones to deal with this problem. Designers, illustrators, editors — they too all get to know the wonderful world of, “How hard can it be?” Well, listen, it can be hard. It is hard. These professions that we pursue, they require specific skills, just like any other. Would you ask an accountant to review your finances in 30 minutes? Would you expect a web developer to code your entire website for $5? Would you be surprised if an architect didn’t want to draw up blueprints “for exposure”? No? Then don’t ask a creative professional to do the same.

I’m a firm believer in “time is money,” and quite frankly? My time is better spent furthering my own creative pursuits than trying to cobble together enough $2.70 bundles to pay off a credit card bill.

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Women Writers: What’s In a Name?

I want to start off by saying — this is nothing new. What I’m writing about has been goin’ on FOR-EV-ER. BUT. It’s recently been gaining momentum in the news. Which means people are talking about it — and by “it”, I mean women. Specifically, women writers. More specifically, women writers and society’s preconceptions about women writers.

So what are these news tidbits? First up — we have “My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters” by Deborah Copaken Kogan, talking about her experiences as a woman in the publishing industry. She titled her first book Shuttergirl — the publisher insisted on Shutterbabe, a title that (duh) negatively impacted how many saw the book.

There’s, of course, Wikipedia’s now infamous decision to create an American Women Novelists sub-category. Rather than, you know, just putting them with the rest of the (male) American Novelists.

And last but not least, there is the fascinating “Coverflip” by Maureen Johnson, challenging people to swap the “gender” of book covers:

I asked people to take a well-known book, then to imagine the author of that book was of the opposite gender, or was genderqueer, and imagine what that cover might look like. Because we have these expectations in our heads already.

Coverflip made painfully clear that we DO judge a book by its cover. Some covers look more “manly” (or at least gender neutral), while others look decidedly “girly”. And women writers — no matter the actual content of their books — often get stuck with a “girly” cover (or in the case of Deborah Copaken Kogan, a sexy title). And those girly covers turn off a lot of readers — aka, men. And hell, some women, too; I admit to being put off by pink covers with cursive titles.

But another thing about Coverflip caught my attention. Many of the redesigned covers don’t just feature different artwork and fonts — they have different names. Stephen King becomes “S. King”. Sarah J. Maas transforms into “S.J. Maas”. Which indicates that many readers aren’t only put off by cover artwork — they’re put off by the name on that cover.

This all, to me, brings up a very big question. I hope to publish a book someday, and when I do — should I publish under my real name? Or use an androgynous pseudonym, a la J.K. Rowling? Rowling’s publisher suggested she use a pseudonym, as a woman writer might be off-putting to boys. Which — ARGH, right? But those are the facts of the matter. That’s the world we’re operating in. If you’re a woman writer, there’s a high chance that your potential readership is going to drastically drop just because, to quote Margaret Atwood, you’re part of the “Writers Who Are Also Women” group.

So do you play the system to your advantage? Write under a pseudonym, knowing you’re likely to fare better, and then shock all the haters when it turns out that *gasp* you have boobs? Or do you write under your own name to “fight the good fight”? Prove that, yes, in fact, women CAN write.

I don’t have any answers to this. It’s a complicated issue and something I ponder. A lot. But I’m always curious to hear others’ take on the matter, particularly other women writers.

So tell me — if you’re a woman. Who happens to be a writer. What do you do? And guys, we don’t want to exclude you — do you tend to ignore books with “girly” covers?

(Edited to add — you may also want to check out the yin to this post’s  yang: Strong Female Characters.)

Money Matters

Have you heard of the book Steal Like an Artist? You probably have — it was a New York Time’s bestseller and seems to be doing pretty damn well for itself. (And, I might add, it’s a good, quick read, one of my favorites from last year.)

The guy who wrote that book, Austin Kleon, also puts together one of my favorite Tumblr blogs. It’s party of my daily digest as I glean inspiration for the day.

Recently he’s been posting quite a bit about the relationship between creative work and money. It’s a complicated topic, to be sure, and there’s a wiiiide range of opinions on it, but some quotes Kleon posted all seem to have one thing in common: just like everyone else, artists and writers and musicians have to make money. If they want, you know, things. Trying to make money shouldn’t be frowned upon in the creative fields, as it often is (“Dude, they totally sold out.”) — and creative folk need to give up the illusion that having a day job is some sort of mark of dishonor.

The reality is this: most people cannot earn a living solely based on their creative work. Not all of us can be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or Margaret Atwood. Most of us will have a day job that pays the bills, and try to steal time whenever we can to work on our creative projects.

And this isn’t even really a bad thing. There’s something to be said for the stability of a 9 to 5. If you’re not worrying about where your next paycheck is coming from, it frees you up creatively to take risks you might otherwise avoid.

I logically know this. But haven’t we all harbored a dream of being an embarrassingly successful writer, artist, musician, who is NOT an accountant, freelancer, doctor in her “real life”? I certainly have. I’ve pondered what my daily schedule would be like (write in the mornings, finances/marketing/cat snuggles in the afternoons). Byron and I have even talked about turning The Gentleman’s Smoking Lounge (aka, the shed in the backyard) into a writer’s retreat, a haven I can escape to and avoid the distractions of the house. The unsaid implication being, “This will be my area when I am a Real Writer.” Aka, a writer who only writes books and is able to make money solely from that.

Which — that’s not exactly fair to myself, and other creative folks out there. I AM a writer. I write, currently, right now. And other folks out there ARE writers and artists and musicians, even if that isn’t what they do from 9 to 5.

Yes, we may turn that shed into a writer’s room. We will reorganize the office so it’s more conducive to creative work. But I will still leave the house every weekday morning to go to work. I will pin together minutes and hours and weekends in which to write. I will still, like the majority of creative folks out there, have a “real job.”

And again — not a bad thing! Some great writers insist on keeping their day jobs (T.S. Elliot and Lev Grossman come to mind). Hell, Kleon even recommends keeping the day job. You gotta pay the bills. You gotta make it work for you.

But it’s hard to nip that dream in the bud. I will always imagine waking up as the sun rises, getting my coffee, and listening to the birds as I walk out to the Writer’s Retreat (formerly the Gentleman’s Cigar Lounge) to start my day.

Given the opportunity — would you forego the 9 to 5 in favor of working 100% on your creative projects? Or do you enjoy what the day job offers? Is there a “right” balance for creative folk?