On The Literary Industry… and Other Things

being-a-writer
Fair Warning: There are no more pictures or subheadings in this article. 

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” – Someone in the past who wasn’t Einstein

I hate starting with quotes, it’s as cliché as a broken down car in a horror movie, but in this instance the opportunity is too apropos to pass up. For seven years I’ve tried making a living as a writer, and frankly it just isn’t working out. It hasn’t all been bad and you don’t do it for seven years without seeing a modicum of success, but here I am one month away from being homeless again so I think it’s time for a change.

The need for writers isn’t the problem.  Contrary to popular belief, the literary industry is still thriving just fine. Websites need regular content, Hollywood still needs screenwriters, there’s still plenty of news that needs to be reported, and book sales even went up in 2016. The issue is two-fold:

  1. There’s a surplus of people trying to write for a living.
  2. Good writers aren’t deemed necessary.

These two factors create a retail-like hiring mentality. Instead of looking at writers as practiced professionals, employers view them the same as the desperate teenagers they hire to hunker over cashiers – e.g. menial labor even a trained monkey could do. There are so many people clamoring for the position that these employers can get away with paying as little as possible, which in the freelance industry often means less the average hourly wage of a waitress.

Yesterday I was speaking to a California-based tech startup founder who wanted me to writer 20 – 25 product descriptions a day, each ranging from 250 – 300 words, five days a week for $400 per week. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly a novel-sized worth of content every two to three weeks – a novel for only $800 – $1200. And this a US tech startup with investor money behind it. That’s how little most people value writers.

These cheapskates wind up bit in the ass more often than not, hiring foreign writers for less than a penny-per-word and getting back unintelligible drivel they can’t even use. So what they do is try to hire an editor in an attempt to trick some poor sod into writing the content for less than it’d cost to hire a talented writer because, “The content is already there.” Or some other piss poor excuse.

Breaking into creative industries is another beast entirely. As much as I’d like to be a novelist or screenwriter, statistically speaking, most work is never seen by other people. The fact is breaking into any creative literary industry is a crap shoot no matter how good you are. There are thousands of potentially best-selling pieces of work rotting away on hard-drives, desk drawers or barren corners of the internet because they were overlooked for whatever reason. It bothers me when a post on here only gets a handful of views. (As this undoubtedly will wind up.)  Putting hours upon hours of time and effort into something only to have it ignored would drive me insane.

With that said, it’s time to – as Jared on Silicon Valley would say – pivot.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask for suggestions. I’m not a lost lamb. There’s always been another profession in my back pocket and it can get me into the gaming industry possibly even more easily than writing ever could – coding.

I’ve had an interest in computers since I was barely old enough to spell my name. I’ll never forget playing SkiFree on a Windows 95 that was left running in a forgotten corner of my mom’s work. In middle school I jumped at a chance to take a programming class. The absentee teacher didn’t go beyond showing us how to open Visual Basic but that didn’t stop me and my friends from creating a janky facsimile of the Game Boy Pokemon games we loved at the time.

I’ve occasionally dipped my toes into coding ever since. Learning enough to offer clients my services as a web developer, but I think it’s time to really dive in and make a career out it.

Did you know that right now there are over 200,000 unfilled software development jobs, and the average pay of those positions is over $100,000? Those numbers are steadily rising every year as we become a more technologically dependent society too.

The reason I’ve never devoted my time to coding is because it’s often taught in the most boring and asinine way possible, but recently I’ve come across a website that’s found a way to make the task a little more enjoyable – FreeCodeCamp.com.

Instead of focusing purely on single language mechanics, the site attempts to teach its users how to think like a programmer. It doesn’t hold your hand as much as a lot of other alternatives and facilitates learning through exploration and discovery. FreeCodeCamp also helps users build a portfolio and get involved in coding communities, creating prospective job avenues for people who complete the coursework and receive certificates of completion.

The overall point is that I’ve finally found a platform I can learn code on without wanting to stab my eyes out due to boredom. I burned through the material I already knew and am actively learning more daily. By the end of this month I expect to have completed my Front End Certification and making money as a developer either after being hired or gaining a few freelance clients.

As for the gaming industry side of things, I’ve installed Unity, started working to learn its systems and will be at least working on an app game by the end of the month.

I’m still going to write. It’s still a passion of mine and will never go away, but career-wise it’s just not a good move. It’s time I pivoted and frankly it’s a logical decision.

As a random extra in 21 once said,

“The way I see it, yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery. It’s all what you do in the moment.”

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