Beware the Writing Pronouncement

What’s on the iPod: Laundry Room by The Avett Brothers

The end of a line.

I learned yesterday that my great-uncle, Les Gallagher, the youngest of the Gallagher boys (and my grandmother’s brother), passed from this life at a respectable 95 years old. Ironic that my aunt and I were talking about him at lunch on Friday and planning a trip in the fall to visit him. His passing marks the end of that generation, and nearly the end of that line, as the other seven boys had had children, but only three boys came from them.

Beyond that sad news, what a week it’s been. Where last week I couldn’t get a soul to talk to me about this article topic, this week I have six interviews. I don’t need six interviews, but each one lends something new to the conversation, and it’s a complex topic. I’m three down and three to go. Then there’s the interview for an entirely different topic. Oy. Friday is looking like my next chance to catch my breath.

I was cruising through Twitter feeds yesterday when I came across a link to an article pronouncing “SEO is dead.” I read it. I clicked away from it, thinking “Meh.”

Maybe it’s just me, but any time someone says to me that something is “dead” I think “How were you burned or what haven’t you done?” See, it’s a common defense with writers stuck in the low-paying whirlpool, so to me, the words are empty. They lack any real facts.

So this article went on to add how Google isn’t finding us with SEO and how social media optimization is the new Greatest Thing Ever (my emphasis). Maybe. But why throw all your eggs in one basket, I ask?

Because we’re wired to hunt for the easy way.

It’s why the mortgage industry crashed and burned. Investors ignored the obvious warning signs because this was fast, easy money. They failed to recognize that the losses would be just as fast and easy.

It’s why writers get mired in bogs of low-paying gigs with no control over their careers or their own earnings potential. They chase the easy money. Problem is it’s not much money and it’s never going to be. So they become disenchanted rather quickly.

I’ve seen more pronouncements involving this area or that area of writing being “dead” that I wonder why I wasn’t invited to the wake. Here are some of the pronouncements I’ve heard just this year:

– Magazine writing is dead.
– Business magazine writing is dead.
– Consumer magazine writing is dead.
– Copywriting is dead.
– Proofreading is dead (well, for the most part, it’s severely injured, but still alive).
– Freelancing is dead.

Please. Are you kidding me? If it’s all dead, why are there writers still working and earning very good wages?

Because it’s not true. None of this stuff is dead. The writer’s will to push beyond their limited boundaries is what’s dead. In one case where I pushed back and told the guy how it’s not true and how he could improve his odds, he responded with “Well, I’m just dabbling anyway.”

Then shut the f**k up.

What’s wrong with pronouncements is it does nothing to further anyone’s career, nor does it help anyone who has a legitimate issue or a question. It’s damaging and doesn’t build community. What’s going on instead:

Someone has been rejected. For every pronouncement, I’d bet there are at least four out of ten of them who have been rejected. Instead of bitching about it, they should be looking at how to improve their odds or their writing (or both).

Someone is waiting for help. Not in the case of the dude I just mentioned, but it’s true some people will ask for help or whine indirectly for help. Just ask. Don’t bemoan the state of the industry, because it’s simply the state from your chair. From my chair, things aren’t like that. Ask for help directly.

Someone isn’t serious about writing. Dabblers think they want to write, but they can’t commit to more than a passing interest or attempt. It’s the easy way or nothing at all. When that easy way becomes too depressing, they give up. If you’re dabbling, don’t think your experience is everyone else’s experience. It’s not. It’s your experience alone.

Someone has a major lazy streak. I can’t stand when writers expect their peers to do all the work for them, including become their emotional crutches or their career counselors. Screw that. That’s laziness, and it’s no way to run a business or build a career. Instead, these people need to decide if they want to devote the time needed to build that career and if so, get off their duffs and do it. Otherwise, give it up and just dabble. But please, don’t whine about it.

What pronouncements, writing-related or not, have you heard lately?

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  • Devon Ellington July 24, 2013 at 11:44 am

    I'm dealing with dropped balls from two organizations just along those lines — these people are lazy, and they're used to having someone else cleaning up the mess. I'm finishing out my terms with both, and then leaving. I can't afford (on either a financial or an emotional) level to waste my time with dabblers.

    It's one of the things that's frustrating about teaching — people beg for classes, but when someone takes the time to put it together, they either don't sign up or they sign up and don't participate. It's simply disrespectful.

    I'm looking forward to autumn, where I get to cut major deadwood out of my life and career that's stacked up for the past couple of years.

    There is, however, a pronouncement that is true:

    Your (insert type of writing) won't write itself. Put butt in chair and do it or shut up about it.

  • Lori July 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    It does lack respect. It's certainly a proving ground for their commitment, isn't it? I would say as long as they're not getting a refund, screw them. They can show up or not. But it would singe me royally to put that kind of effort into something that they're not taking as seriously.

    Amen to your pronouncement! I remember a guy I worked alongside for years (his office was right next to mine). He came to my door one day and said, "I have the cover story this month and I'm just overwhelmed! How on earth do you do it every month (we had a smaller budget, therefore I was on the cover a lot). I looked at this guy, who was there longer than I was, who was making more money than I was, and I couldn't help myself. I said "I stop whining in other people's doorways and I sit my ass in my chair and write."

    Seriously — a cover story? It's the same as any other article except for placement. Lord. What a putz.

  • Kris July 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Last summer I met a girl who worked part-time at a casino. We talked, and I found out she had a journalism degree. I don't, but shared that I had been working as a freelance writer for more than five years. Her first remark: "There are no jobs in our industry." I found out she had worked for a small-town newspaper after graduating. Pay rates at these types of publications are notoriously low in my part of the world. Shocked, I told her that there were lots of places online to find paying work, and shared that all of my clients are in the U.S. I offered to share with her where I look for work.

    She kind of brushed me off and then revealed she wanted to spend as much time with her children as possible while they were small. I completely respect that, but don't make up something about an entire industry when you have never looked beyond your own backyard and aren't really interested in finding writing work!

    For the record, 2013 is going to be my best year (money wise) by far.

  • Paula July 24, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    I love Devon's closing comment!

    And while I know some people place a higher perceived value on cover stories, you're right Lori: the only difference between a cover story and any other feature is placement. That guy's question makes me wonder how little effort he put into non-cover stories.

    I liken it to people who spend 10 minutes explaining why they're too busy to do something. They spend more time making excuses than they would have spent doing what they're trying to avoid.

  • Lori July 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    Kris, that's exactly the way I'd approach someone who says that. Her answer seems to be indicative of what I've heard, too. Wow. Makes you scratch the head a bit, doesn't it?

    And good for you! Fantastic to hear it's been such a good year for you! So far so good here, too. 🙂

    Paula, exactly! LOL Once, I listened to an eight-minute explanation by some interview subject as to why he was the wrong person to talk to. But he still wanted to be quoted. LOL Make up your mind already!

  • Gabriella F. July 24, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    You know, Lori, sometimes during the occasional slow spell, I worry that some aspect of our profession is "dead" and that I won't be able to sustain a business for much longer.

    And then I put my head down and start contacting past and potential clients, and that slow period comes to an end.

    I'm always surprised when people say, "And you make a living as a writer?" Yeah, and lots of other people could, too, if they put their heads down and worked hard and didn't accept crappy pay.

    On your other point, love your comment about the cover!

    P.S. I posted a comment about a week ago (I'm sure it was groundbreaking), and then I went back later to check in, and the comment got lost in the ether! Just want you to know that I've been paying attention but apparently I've been in an involuntary lurker mode. 🙂

  • Lori July 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    You're right, Gabriella. Sometimes you lose a little faith when things are slow. It takes a wicked busy spell to turn that perspective around!

    Ack! I haven't checked the spam folder, but I bet it's in there. Sorry, toots. I'll go dig it out.

  • Lori July 25, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Actually, I'm not seeing it in the Spam folder, either. It's truly been evaporated!

  • Gabriella F. July 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Yeah, it's possible I hit publish but didn't have the captcha correct and didn't realize it. Operator error!