As a 23-year old journalist fresh out of college I am aware of all the challenges that face me career-wise. Jobs are scarce (particularly in print), wages are low, and most entry-level positions require you have at least 2-5 years professional experience, which makes no sense. If you are lucky enough to find a job, you will work in a high stress environment that requires you to do many things at once for very low wages. I’m not saying anything new here. The demise of journalism has been written about ad nauseam. If you are a journalist or you want to be one, no doubt you have already this speech a thousand times.
I’m saying all this because I came across THIS article today and it boiled my blood. I know you can find articles all across the internet advising you not to be a writer or journalist, but this one was published by Forbes (in 2012), whom I respect as a news authority. In it, a woman with supreme bitch face (pictured above) rips the heart out of any person who ever aspired to put pen to paper. She tells the reader they are not a good writer, no matter how good they may think they are. She tells the reader it is too hard, and that you should quit and find an easier job. She tells the reader that if you are stubborn enough to become a writer, you will never make any money doing it, and will essentially fade away into mediocrity.
Its a well written article. Its probably better than this very blog post critiquing it. Her sentences are tight and concise. Her prose flows well, and her euphemisms express her ideas clearly. When I finished reading it the teeniest bit of self-doubt peeled off the digital divide and swirled around my head. That self-doubt wanted to wriggle into my ear and manifest itself in my brain. “She’s right,” I thought to myself. “This is really hard and I don’t even know if I am that good”. “What if I never find a full time job in journalism?” I said to myself. “What if my writing never becomes good enough to work at the New York Times, or to write my novel or screenplay?”.
The self doubt orbited my brain. I thought about the 15 different job applications I had floating around in cyber space. I thought about my interview last month with VICE News; a job I really wanted and a job I did not receive. I thought about the pennys I was earning as an intern reporter at the Jersey Journal and when, if ever, I would be able to move out of my grandparents house. Yes I thought about it all. And then I thought about what to do next. I could reassess my future to determine if there is more viable career options available for somebody with a journalism degree (there ain’t). I could reach out to the few journo’s I know and get their feedback. I could try to ignore it and continue working my ass off, determined that my American dream will soon come true. And of course, I could have a panic attack.
I decided to write this blog post.
In it, I am going to tell you why everything in this article is BULLSHIT that was written by a mean-spirited person who does not deserve a moment of your consideration. I will break down each graf with the authors words italicized and my reaction in bold. It really is sad that Forbes would allow something like this to be published for mass consumption. I’m sure this article has made writers of all sorts feel bad, just like it has to me. But being that we are writers, we always have the opportunity to write back, even if we suck at writing.
NOTE: I can’t break it down graf by graf because I made the dumb mistake to tweet to the author of this article and she won’t give me permission to republish it in full. So I will only highlight a few important grafs instead…
Why You Shouldn’t Be a Writer
by Susannah Breslin
“So, you want to be a writer. You were always good at it, or you never tried it but want to give it a go, or your friend makes money doing it and maybe you could, too.”
Given the title, this is an extremely condescending way to start an article. The writer is already talking to you from a place of higher power, as if she knows best and you are just a fool.
“Really, though, you shouldn’t be a writer. Here’s why.”
I am already taking everything this author says with a grain of salt. She has been talking down to me since the first sentence and now she wants to tell me what I should or should not do? Bitch please.
TIP #1: You’re not good at it.
“Just because you can write doesn’t mean you should. Just because you do write doesn’t mean you’re good. You could call yourself an Olympic diver, but that doesn’t mean you are.”
I like how these are “tips”. She is tipping me off that I am not a good writer, as if that is advice that can serve me well.
“But here’s the question you should be asking yourself: Can I write? Not literally. Not physically. Not technically. Anyone can do that. Can you make the words sing? Does your prose have that certain something? Are you gifted at showing not telling, or telling not showing, or creating an entire world that didn’t exist before that is born again when someone else reads your work?”
I ask myself all the time if I can write, and sometimes its a yes and sometimes its a no. I probably can’t make my words sing. I try my best to show and not just tell,and I doubt I can create and entire world like George R.R. Martin. But you know what? I am writing right now so that one day I will be able to do these things.
“Probably not. Most people cannot write well. This is a fact. This is something that is true. This is a hard thing to accept. Most people cannot write well, and that includes you, and what we can conclude from this is that the person we are talking about here who cannot write well is, in all likelihood, you.”
Major slap to the face. The author is telling me that in all likelihood I cannot write well. She has no real proof of this, but she sees it as a safe assumption considering most people cannot write. This opinion is dripping with contempt. Even worse is her awful smugness in the way she tells you that you are not a good writer.
TIP #2: It’s too hard.
“Think digging ditches is hard? At least you know when you are done. Think erecting a skyscraper is hard? At least what you have when you are finished is an unequivocally completed project. Think flipping burgers at the fast food restaurant in the strip mall of the nowhere town in which you live sucks? At least you get a paycheck.”
This is where I staunchly disagree. I love writing BECAUSE its hard. What makes a good article so good is that it is hard to do. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth it. Anything worth doing in life is hard. If somebody tells you not to do something because it is too hard, ignore that person and walk away.
“Writing is thankless work. It is like housework. It is like laundry. It is like a soap opera. It is never finished. There is always more to do. People may tell you that you are good, but you won’t believe them, or you will believe them too much, or you will not know who to believe, least of all yourself and this thing you created that is nothing more than a mess of letters trying to make sense of things that don’t: life, death, what happens in between.”
Writing is wonderful work and I love that there is always more to write about. I can think of numerous occasions where I wrote a news article about a person or a charity or an event that actually made a difference in somebody’s life. Great writing can start conversations, inspire people, and influence the world. Show me housework that can do that.
TIP #3: It’s too hard to monetize.
“No, you say. Not me, you insist. You’ll be the exception to the rule. The one who rose to the top of the pyramid. The one who put in his, or her, or its 10,000 hours and transformed what was barely a skill into a gift that will change the world, inspire others, and earn you millions of dollars.”
Now I must be honest. This part of the article hit home for me because I do like to think that somehow, someway, I will be the exception to the rule. Its hard not to think like this if you want to be a writer and you want to be rich. But I would like to think that if I write something great that people will read years after I am gone, that will provide me with more satisfaction then any amount of money could.
“Because you didn’t have “it.” And you didn’t work hard enough to become it. And you will see you should have picked something else: something easier, something less complicated, something other than a writer.”
I may not have it, but I will work as hard as I can to become it. And I would rather die than not follow my dream of becoming a writer.
Now in all fairness, the author published THIS article a year after “Why You Shouldn’t Be A Writer”. In it she doesn’t really apologize for the cruelty of her original article, but provides three reasons why you should be a writer. She says writing speaks to the child inside of us, it can make us immortal, and it allows us to create things that did not exist before. She also says how she received lots of negative reaction from the original article, which is some sort of a preamble to her new article. Like she is making this article out of pity to all the writers who were offended by her first article. I really don’t like this person.
There’s no point to put something like that on the internet. People who want to be writers wrestle with enough self doubt as it is. We don’t need some woman who has a platform to completely bury us just because we are pursuing what we love.
I want to be a writer because it is by far the most interesting thing I think you can do with your life. When you write you expose yourself to everything that is new that is going on around you. You follow things that are interesting and that matter. You create things that were not there before and are based entirely on your perception. I can’t think of a better way to live.