A bleak publishing and media landscape just got bleaker. Wheeeee....
I do love the rise in special interest writing--write about what you are passionate about! Become an expert who has insightful things to say! If someone just wants to be a “writer” that honestly tells me nothing (except maybe they have a very outdated idea of how writing/publishing works?)
Yes, the future is bleak for writers, something I keep thinking as my 14-year-old expresses a desire to write for a living (and as she watches her mom write and write and make pennies on her writing). I was feeling pretty defeated about the fact that my desires to someday just write instead of teaching full time, and then reading Big Magic helped me to reframe the way I was looking at my writing "career" as I hit middle age. I realized that part of the reason I have so much to write about is because of my 20-year teaching career. I have travel to write about. I have parenting and 21 years of marriage to write about. I've lived life. I wish I could make more money writing about it, but I'm still writing because I NEED to write for myself, not to feed my family. I'm trying to live in this current heart and mind space.
In 1963, in my freshman "career" class in high school, I interviewed 3 writers because the career I wanted was to be a writer of historical fiction. I ran across the paper I wrote some years ago, and what struck me is that all 3 said that I should get a day job, because being a full time writer would not pay the bills. I went on to get a doctorate in history, become a professor of US and women's history, but I never gave up the dream of being a writer, writing the first draft of a historical mystery that I shopped to agents, editors, off and on over my career. I also watched friends get agents, contracts, sell books, do book signing, but never make a living wage and watched as they finally gave up in the early 2000s when even those opportunities dried up. Then, in 2009, semi-retired, I embraced self-publishing, and as an indie author I have written 12 novels, 4 novellas, 10 short stories, and I have made a living wage over the past 10 years. Yes, the opportunities for traditional fiction writers and journalists have gotten steadily worse. Yes, being an indie author takes work beyond just the writing (just as being a professor had all sorts of things like committee work, and grading that was not the fun part of teaching), but it breaks my heart when young want to be writers are not at least alerted to the possibilities of self-publishing, particularly if they are interested in writing what used to be called mid-list fiction. Just as substack is providing opportunities for non-fiction writers that didn't exist 5 years ago, I do believe that even with (or because of) the effects of AI on the industry, being willing to think outside the box, not be discouraged by the gatekeepers, people who love to read the stories of others and to tell their own stories will find ways to do this.
*nods in recognition*
I write because I ignored its call in my youth. It won't leave me alone, it won't listen to reason, it cares nothing of the practicalities and artifices of Capitalism, it refuses to be done for others, it comes and goes like the weather, refuses discipline and advice and instruction, it wanders and hides and prowls and howls.
It doesn't care how I feel about it. It happens. It's more akin to some chaotic autonomic function.
Is it a curse? A blessing? A delusion? A trauma response? Yes.
This mess has no place or value in our neoliberal reality. Jesus wept when the internet was invented and my words were freed from my head and immediate vicinity.
But refusing it feeds the shadows and unaccountable pain. I'm dumb, doomed, and damned.
*goes back to writing*
I just finished a great memoir of a life in travel writing that somehow didn't mention that there's no money any more. It would not be possible to have the same career as that author, however talented you were. Ditto the advice I got, from someone decades older than me who was supported by his wife at the start of his career in the 1960s, to start out writing book reviews. Then there was the biography of Angela Carter that had me marvelling at how she managed to live on just writing back then without compromising on her style or subject matter. And now, for an essay, I'm looking back at working on a print publication before the internet really broke and wondering how many opportunities for simple in-office mentorship there are now. You may find your current stance depressing but it is the best advice and could save young people a lot of stress and free them up to create. I'm glad you're out there telling them! The more upfront we are, the better.
Oof. This reads spot on.
Ugh. This sounds so bleak and true. I want everyone in the world to write. I really think the world would be better, if everyone wrote. But the opportunities for getting paid to do it are shriveling up. Sounds like you handled that situation pretty well.
Yeah, it seems like the people having success now are specialists in other things. One of the hottest podcasts right now is by a conservative gay guy who loves perfume and talks about it with such passion you can't help but find it interesting. There's another guy on Twitter that is obsessed with Men's Wear (and is very entertaining about it). Both of those guys could eventually get book deals. Or columns. But it starts with the passion, not the vague dream of becoming "a writer".
Anyone who is honest would appreciate an honest answer. Thank you Sari for always being honest and helpful!