I Hate Writers
I love writing. On top of being addictively cathartic, it gives me a reliable avenue for yanking the truth out of whatever situation might be at hand. Only it seems like whenever I tell people I’m “a writer,” I can feel their eyes start to roll, having immediately written me off as some smug prick with an unhealthy love of the sound of his own voice.
To be honest, I almost can’t blame them for dismissing ‘Julian, The Writer’. Due to the arch, excessively authoritative tone of online and print writing these days, the typical scribe is perceived as a passive-aggressive English major hoping to ascend the digital editorial ranks before realizing they blew money on their MFA.
Yeah, I guess your piece was good, in an obvious sort of way.
— Guy In Your MFA (@GuyInYourMFA) January 19, 2015
Either that, or a troll who builds a following off pieces that shamelessly (and, sometimes, offensively) court quick clicks. When my soul-crushing, major organization job became too much to bear, I opted to pursue writing instead, hoping to do something which stimulated my creative acumen as opposed to letting it die a slow, agonizing death. Only now that I’ve spent the past few years stacking bylines for various outlets, I’ve realized that today’s writing industry isn’t much different than the corporate purgatory I tried to escape. It’s filled with insecure people using positions of power (in this case, social media followings) to mask their own mediocrity, and those in charge reward mimicry (‘clickbait’) over insight and creativity.
We can change this, though. By renouncing the false idols this industry worships and ensuring that quality reigns supreme, we can revolt against the slave-drivers in power. We wordsmiths can remember the pride that accompanies looking someone in the eye and saying, “I’m a writer.”
To understand the ills of “professional writing,” one must first understand that writing is, by its very nature, an inherently self-indulgent practice. Those who write professionally do so because they believe that what they have to say is worth hearing. And for all the complaints about the dwindling standards of writing on the Internet today, it’s clear that plenty of writers at the major publications know their way around good copy – or, at the very least, they’re adept at Googling synonyms.
However, once some writers reach a certain plateau of popularity, it becomes less about the work itself and more about catering to their audience (and other potential audiences) in an attempt to build their ‘brand.’# Take Jason Whitlock, for example. He’s become more talking head than “writer” these days, but his work in both mediums is better known for its incendiary tone than its quality or insight. Remember Don Imus’ claim to fame, calling the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hoes”? Whitlock used it to make his own popularity (and money) soar by removing Imus from the conversation, taking the black community and its own issues to task instead. It was irresponsible, considering the dialogue then became tangential to the actual problem, but it was a brilliant move from a marketing perspective. And this happens all the time, on even the smallest of scales.
Sad, ineffectual people will use their elevated positions as semi-reputable writers to compensate for their lack of creativity, personality, or courage. A friend in public relations recently told me about inviting a ‘quasi-popular writer’ to an event coordinated through her office, only for the writer to brazenly aim negative comments about said event directly at her job’s Twitter account – all while swigging the free drinks, of course. Bylines have become a source of power for the insecure. For some, they’re the muscles they couldn’t develop. For others, the validation they’ve spent their entire lives chasing.
Fortunately, these people — my “peers” — are pretty easy to disregard. Unfortunately, navigating the world of professional writing is like traveling deeper into the concentric circles of Hell: once you get past the trolls and malcontents, there are the warring publications to deal with.
Some not-so-insider information: publications exist to publish, but to do that, they need money. This turns them into businessmen as opposed to strictly publishers, so they draw battle lines between themselves. They squabble over headlines, traffic, unique visitors, and superior content, woefully unaware that, from a distance, no one can differentiate between their websites. The real irony is that these media organizations make working for them feel like being part of a cult: you’re expected to drink the Kool-Aid and submit to subjugation for overall group success.
‘Successful’ media companies lasso impressionable recent college graduates and convince them that the lone route to prosperity is through precious association with them. As a result, eager young staffers and freelancers end up pledging it all to companies who simply exploit them for labor and page views. Freelancers, who more often than not are treated like shit, are willing to expose themselves and risk future unemployability for the sake of a byline and pay equivalent to a utility bill. It leaves you feeling dirtier than the rampant but decade-appropriate sexism on display throughout Mad Men.
Remember that episode from Girls’ second season where Hannah does coke, rages in ill-fitting clothing, and sleeps with her recovering drug-addict neighbor to write a piece for a site that was clearly poking fun at xoJane? She did it for the opportunity to be published—and $200.
Speaking of money, sometimes publications don’t like to pay writers in a timely manner — or at all if, they don’t feel like it. If you’re a freelancer, the inevitable day will arrive when you’ll have to hunt a publication down for your money like the IRS, begging them for something they owe you. I’ve even had a few colleagues tell me they ended up saying “fuck it” and charging it to the game. The trials that come with writing are like the unwanted in-laws you’re forced to deal with.
Considering all the shit we writers have to deal with, you’d think we’d treat each other better…
When talking to other writers, it isn’t uncommon to be pigeonholed or looked down upon simply because someone’s either ill-informed about your work, or just uninformed in general. On countless occasions, I’ve been dismissed as a “rap writer” by people unaware of how condescending that sounds, especially when the range of my work extends beyond hip-hop — or music, for that matter. It’s a box that writers of color often find themselves unfairly placed in, and it’s a slap in the face every time.
The elitist behavior doesn’t end there. It can seep into your own office, from people you know. Imagine watching someone you’ve worked with or pitched stories to talk shit about your writing on social media as if you can’t see it.
Your dialogue just isn't believable. I don't see even one character giving a chapter-long speech on obscure philosophy.
— Guy In Your MFA (@GuyInYourMFA) December 7, 2014
Rather than get pissed off about someone else’s accomplishments, why not try to figure out how to achieve something on your own? If you can do something that’s never been done before, or put a fresh spin on something well-known, people will gravitate towards it. I promise. If you create dope, enduring shit, someone will notice.
When I tell people I’m a writer, I don’t want to be lumped into the ranks of chronically miserable and self-important verified Twitter accounts. And I’m not trying to antagonize, nor am I delusional enough to think I’m more significant or influential than actually I am. I’m merely holding the mirror up to some things that need to be addressed. Perhaps doing that will make them cease to exist.
Submitted To The Art of Writing
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