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Saturday, April 2, 2022

Paid Content

 


As previously noted, every once in a while I have to ask for money.

I don’t have to do it very often these days. But, this has been an expensive year and I’ve got bills to pay and people to take care of.

Having given up military consulting work and having shut down my woodworking business and art studio when I left Alaska, I subsist for the moment primarily on income derived from my social media sites and this blog – including the various merchandise I sell under my brand.

A few years back, I wouldn’t have believed this possible.

A few years back it wouldn’t have been possible.

But despite the sneering complaints of certain vocal critics, it is possible for a writer to make a reasonably decent living this way.

Yes, writer.

It used to be “writer” was defined as somebody who assembled words and ideas into books, short stories, articles, and perhaps screenplays, fact or fiction, and submitted those efforts via various means to editors at publishing houses or various presses or various media outlets, and then lived on cheese sandwiches hoping a check of some meager amount would come back. Traditionally the profession of “writer” meant you repeated this cycle without healthcare or adequate hygiene or presentable clothes until you died, or gave it up for a real job.

That model, that definition of writer, still very much exists.

And a lot of writers make varying degrees of living from it.

If you’re a Stephen King or a John Scalzi, you might make millions and live in a golden mansion high on a landscaped hill in the middle of a private island waited on hand and foot by an army of nubile olive-pitters (this is totally true and I heard it directly from one of George R.R. Martin’s gardeners). But more likely you’re a stringer for the local paper, and you might make enough to buy a cheese sandwich or two providing you’re not particular about the definition of “cheese” or those weird green spots on the bread.

Various degrees of success exist between those poles.

Me? I wanted to be a writer since I was kid. It’s a sickness, writing. A weird mental disorder that makes you sit in front of a keyboard for hours, daydreaming and playing with ideas and wondering why anybody would read the blather on the screen. But my grandmother gave me a Hardy Boys book (#8; The Mystery of Cabin Island) for Christmas one year when I was about 8 or 9. I’d been an indifferent reader up to that point, but that book captivated me and my lifelong obsession with words began right there. Somewhere shortly thereafter, in a staggering moment of epiphany, I realized there were actually people out there who got paid to sit in front of a keyboard and daydream and those people didn’t have to put on pants every day. Hell they might not even own actual pants – unless you consider pajamas legitimate work apparel.

I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.

I’d always intended to go the traditional route, cheese sandwiches and all.

I’d never intended to write about politics. But evidence would suggest that’s where my talent lies – if you’re charitable and agree that it is indeed an actual talent and not just something you could train a chimpanzee to do (they taught ‘em to fly spaceships, so I imagine political pundit wouldn’t be that difficult).

But by the time I was free to write what I wanted (upon my retirement from the military) and I started writing in earnest with the idea that someday somebody would give me actual money for it, the world had changed. How we connect to it had changed and continues to evolve at a rapid pace and a new type of “writer” became possible – well maybe not new new, but perhaps a more modern version of the political broadsides and pamphlets penned by the likes of Thomas Paine.

It’s amazing to me how fast this has gone.

Ten years ago, hell five years ago, I would never have guessed that Facebook would become my primary platform for day to day short form.  Facebook is a horrible platform for the kinds of things I write. It’s a bastard cross between a blog and public forum and doesn’t do either very well. It’s subject to arbitrary and random censorship. There’s no protection for intellectual property at all. It lacks the most basic of editing tools and formatting functions, its search capability is ridiculous and all but useless. Facebook’s interface, timeline management, and display are one of the single most infuriatingly horrible experiences in an age of limitless customization – limitless to everybody but Facebook users that is. It’s impossible to get any kind of help from the operators and it’s subject to every kind of cyber-abuse from bullying to trolling to sexual assault.

And Twitter, where I spend many hours every day, is, if anything, worse.

If Facebook is a dysfunctional community, then Twitter is Monkey Island in that community’s horrible zoo, a screeching riot of flying shit and bared fangs. Twitter is a chemical plant for distilling out the absolute worst elements of human existence, like some sort of highway where every driver is armed and in the throes of howling road rage and they don’t care if they die if they can take everybody else with them.

And yet – and yet – these platforms do one thing very, very well.

They do the one thing that traditional publishing venues cannot do.

Facebook and Twitter (and Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, et al) connect creators to people in an organic, viral, geometrically expanding manner that is completely impossible anywhere else.

Now, interacting with readers on a real time basis for hours upon hours every single goddamned day isn’t for every writer. It takes a certain degree of masochism to do it, see my previous comments about road rage and flying monkey shit.

In point of fact, a lot of writers become writers because they are anti-social bastards who enjoy living on moldy fake-cheese sandwiches and sitting around all day in dirty pajamas and who tend to break out in a cold sweat when they actually have to put on pants and go outside where all the other people are.

So real time interaction with their audience isn’t something they consider a feature.

And that’s okay. “Writer” is a loose enough definition that it accommodates the gregarious right alongside the hermit.

But, if you write well, if you write the things people are interested in, and if you’re willing to interact with your audience directly and in real time, then social media makes it possible for your work to spread far beyond the size of audiences normally available to traditional writers. For example: A few years ago, when I started doing this full time, Stonekettle Station averaged maybe 20,000 visitors per month – and that was after eight or ten years of writing every single day.  Maybe 3,000 people followed me on Facebook, maybe another 1000 or so on Twitter, and like one weird guy on Instagram.

A few years later, with some considerable effort, my daily Facebook audience is coming up on 250,000 subscribers, 200,000 on Twitter, and a single long form essay on Stonekettle Station can exceed 200,000 unique pageviews in a few hours.

That’s not connectivity traditional publishing, even things like newspaper columnist, can do.

Social media, for all its ills, has created new opportunity, an alternative to traditional writing models. Not a replacement, a supplement.

And that’s where I ended up.

I admit that in my case there is some degree of luck. I happened to be in the right place just as opportunity opened with the right experience and skillset and enough free time to take advantage of it.  It suits me. It’s not easy. Really it’s not. It sometimes (often) takes 14 to 18 hour days, research, writing, swearing at the screen, it can be incredibly frustrating at times for reasons you never imagine or anticipate. It requires constant attention, a constant presence, and everything becomes grist for the mill, making much of your life public – something that is often less than thrilling to your spouse.

It’s work.

And it is … writing.

I’ve had a number of critics sneer at me, you’re not a real writer! Well, okay. Fair enough. I'd point out that I am published in the traditional fashion, and I even got paid a considerable amount for it. But, I’m not particularly put out by my critics and I’m willing to go with whatever description you want to call it.  Sincerely.

But what do you call it?

I sometimes crank out a quarter million words in a month for a dedicated audience larger than that of many highly successful novelists. Hell, news sites steal my work on nearly a daily basis, and publish my stuff as their own for profit – that’s got to mean something, right? Now, I’m willing to accept any label you want to slap on that, but before you do, I’d like to suggest you try it. Start a blog, social media sites, assemble words every day, build an audience without gimmicks or tricks solely on the basis of what you write, and then tell me what you call that effort.

As a cautionary note: no matter what you call yourself, no matter how much adoring admiration you manage to inspire in your audience, no matter how many people send you fan mail and messages of respect, no matter how successful you eventually manage to be and how full of yourself you become as a result, your family and friends still think you’re a putz and remind you of it as often as possible.  Ideally this keeps you grounded and from turning into a complete ass. Ideally.

And every day, every single day, no matter how well you’ve done, everyday, you’re sure that’ll be the day it all falls apart and you’ll have to go get a real job again.

I’ve been invited to a number of writer’s conventions to talk about this with other writers – or those who want to become writers under this new paradigm. That’s something I’m happy to do. I’ve been pretty lucky and I’m glad to pay that forward. The world is a big place, there’s plenty of room for many, many more writers – or whatever you call ‘em – in this new arena. Catch me at WorldCon in Chicago later this year and we'll talk about it. 

But, here’s the downside – or at least the part I like least.

Every once in a while I need to ask for money.

I don’t like this. I really don’t like this. I don’t like asking for money.

I’m getting more used it, especially since it doesn’t seem to bother readers at all – well except for that one guy who shows up periodically to call me names and generally make an pest of himself. But ideally, I write something and if you like it enough, you’ll kick in.  And thankfully, you do so often enough that I can mostly survive on that part. Mostly, but not quite.

So when I began this I found a way to assuage my conscience.

Any subscriber who donates any amount via the donation button or as a Patreon during the period of April 1st, 2022 to April 30, 2022 will be put in the running for a giveaway. Every few days over the next month, I’ll give away loot. I’ve got at least a hundred of my handmade ink pens, engraved with Stonekettle Station. I’ve signed copies of books that my work appears in. I’ve got signed copies of my photography – and given that I generally don’t sign those prints, these will be unique. And randomly, I’ll give away a couple of Stonekettle Station T-shirts (If you win one of those, I’ll have it made to your requirements, size, color, sex, etc).

Winners will be announced every few days until I run out things to give away.

To donate, click on the “Donation” button on the upper right side of this screen and follow the directions or click on the Patreon link for additional options.


Edit: Readers viewing Stonekettle Station on mobile devices sometimes can’t see the side-bar. As such, I’m attempting to embed the donate function code here in the text.

My Patreon is here


You may enter more than once. Each donation will be counted as a unique subscription. If you’ve already donated to Stonekettle Station this month, you’re already on the subscription list.

Those of you who already donate via an automatic monthly payment, you’ll be entered automatically in the giveaway.

I’ve discovered that winners sometimes, often it seems, do not want their names made public. I’d like to tell readers who got the various art pieces, but if you want your name kept private I will certainly do so. When I did this before, the first person I selected to receive a prize refused because they lived on a boat and had no room for addition items. The alternate also refused for personal reasons and requested that the artwork go instead to a charity for auction to raise money for a cause important to them. They wanted it kept anonymous. So, that I did. I will honor any reasonable request when it comes to such things.

Legal Disclaimer: To be clear, this is not a lottery or a raffle.  Donations are voluntary subscription fees specifically in support of this blog and the associated social media feeds and conducted in accordance with state and federal requirements.

That is:  you’re paying for content not a chance to win something.

I am not claiming any tax-exempt status or charity. Donations are considered business income and I pay all applicable state and federal taxes on that income and I have the records to prove it.

The items I give away are my artwork, created and paid for by me.  As such I chose to randomly give them away to supporters, just as I gave away my custom made pens to my fellow writers.  The giveaway list is generated from voluntary subscriptions, since I have no other way to determine who readers are.  You are not donating for a chance to win a prize, you’re paying for the content of this blog and my associated social media feeds and I’m using this opportunity to give something back other than just my usual blog essays, Facebook posts, Instagram, and Tweets.

As always, thank you for your support.

46 comments:

  1. Mystery of Cabin Island was my first Hardy Boys as well.

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  2. FYI, it appears signing up to become a Patreon doesn't generate a donation until May 1st. This is outside the window for getting in on the giveaway. That's not a deal breaker for me, but if you want to a chance to get a prize, maybe use the Donate link instead.

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    1. The first donation doesn't won't happen until then, but I'll see you've signed up and include you in the give away. // Jim

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  3. I’ve appreciated your work for awhile, so it’s time I gave you a little something to show that. Donated, can’t commit monthly, but glad for this opportunity.

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  4. I bless the day I went looking for an entirely different Jim Wright I used to know, and found the old Stonekettle Station (well before you left Alaska). Thanks for being an island of sanity and clear thinking.

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  5. Thanks for poking me. I really needed to reassess where, and how much I spend for services. I upped my Patreon a bit. Thanks for what you do.

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  6. I didn't know you had a Patreon account. Backed you there today. I appreciate your perspective on current events and I'm learning to create better pictures thanks to you. I appreciate what you do.

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  7. It is a sad thing to have professions in this world where one is expected to subside on handouts. I don't have a solution for it, but it makes me sad.
    Here's my $10, Jim.

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  8. Hey TOS, I've followed you in Zuckerville for years, have never been threatened with the airlock, have actually been thrilled to get a couple of direct responses from you. I was following you on Twitter but then one day I was blocked. I don't know why, I can't recall interacting with you there and if I did it certainly would not have been in a confrontational manner or bad intent. So here's a fair question: if I donate, will you unblock me on Twitter? That would be a good enough prize for me. Thanks, 1FluOver aka @noneflewback aka Paula Fluharty

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    1. I checked your account on my Twitter block list. You weren't blocked.

      BUT I also could not see your account when I did a search for it. I changed twitter apps and was finally able to see your account, but could not see any posts from you. So, I blocked you, then UNBLOCKED you and your tweets were then visible.

      Not sure what the deal was, some internal Twitter hangup maybe?

      Anyway, see if you can access my feed now.

      //Jim

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  9. The Nancy Drew stories were my guilty pleasure.

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    1. And Trixie Belden! Honestly, I also read the Hardy Boys. Adventures!

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  10. Done, and glad to help. It wasn't much, but I just spent the earth getting my dog diagnosed with GOLPP at Tufts yesterday, and she's going to cost me a small fortune by the time all is said and done. I just wish I could've spared a bit more.

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  11. Your writing is insightful and provocative. Thank you.

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  12. Happy to have been a small monthly contributor for a couple of years. You are worth much more, but retirement income doesn't match the pleasure I get from reading your words. I follow you on Twitter as @MichelleRNCHPN. Nothing gives me a bigger kick than the occasional Quote Tweet from you. Thanks for all of your hard work, and if I win the lottery, I'll up my Patreon amount!

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  13. Done and thoroughly enjoy every word you write.
    I wish it could be more.
    Thank you for keeping me from hurting someone the last few years.

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  14. Nancy Drew...read them all! Happy to donate as your contributions have been an oasis in the vast desert ofcthe last few years.

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  15. Dear God, how was I not already donating? Also been reading you since Alaska; I believe it was David Gerrold who turned me on to you. Fixed.

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  16. I consider your outlook on life and politics as important to me as a traditional newspaper subscription and pay accordingly. Thanks for your work.

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  17. Having followed you under several monikers and the privilege of painting one of your photos, i would be happy to offer a bit to your continued sustainability.

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  18. I like your work enough to send a small amount monthly. Even knowing it's not required, I do it because I want you to keep writing in all the formats. Your insights are worth more than I can afford, and I am grateful for them.

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  19. Jim, hope this helps in a small way. I read most of your posts, don't comment much, but really appreciate how you can cut through the bullshit. Write on!

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  20. You have certainly earned this month's Patreon allocation with this essay. I'm seriously considering giving you a raise. Not saying I will, but thinking about it.

    I learned to touch type when I was 9 (still have the typewriter) and dabbled in words ever since. You and others have inspired me to continue doing so.

    Having passed the average lifespan of a male, I declared victory and am dedicating some of my bonus time to taking up online space with my life experiences, thoughts, photos, and other drivel. It's your fault.

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  21. I always look forward to reading your work. Thank you and a contribution is on the way.

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  22. Jim, you've provided me with a gazillion dollars worth of your humor, knowledge, perspective, talking points and the importance of correct punctuation. I have only a small fraction of that gazillion to wave in front of you to demonstrate my appreciation of the talents you have shared with me. It's yours. With much appreciation of just some of your skills because I'm sure I only know, again, a small fraction of same. You'll see me in the "donate" area. Kathie Z. PS: How's my punctuation (after the third glass of wine?) ;-)

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  23. It's not a lot but I am glad I am in a place where I can patreon something every month and not worry about it. I also know every dollar helps, so I am happy I can help in some way. I agree with what you write most of the time, and when I don't? It gives me something to think about and that is worth much more than I am able to quantify.

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  24. i am more than happy to contribute. And you are correct, it doesn't bother me at all to be asked. i do wonder about the best way to contribute, as i was contributing quarterly, but is it better for you, if i do so monthly? As always, thank YOU.

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  25. OK, I've been following you for a while on Twitter and now I know you're on Facebook as well. Funny, I never looked there. Throwing coins your way, everyone deserves to be paid for their work and I certainly enjoy yours.
    Ken

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  26. I appreciate you and am happy to donate.

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  27. Jim, just sent some dollars your way - your writing and analysis is the best on the net and we need to keep hearing your voice. I was an officer in the Air Force in the late 80's so I remember how it was during the cold war - I shake my head at how a large segment of our population is now using Putin's regime as the model for running the US. Thank you.
    PS my son was in the Navy so your use of "colorful metaphors" and your storytelling make me smile.
    PPS You'll never hear me call you out on typos...I do a fair amount of writing in my job so I know the struggle.

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  28. I don't do social media, but I check here almost daily eagerly awaiting new material. You've recently re-posted some of your social media content here, but not nearly often enough to satiate my appetite for your talent. Yet, I offer what meager financial support I can so that I may (hopefully) continue to enjoy your work.

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  29. Jim: I have been contributing via Patreon for a while. I have also bought a pen and a seam ripper from your etsy page. I stumbled on your twitter account a long time ago. I gotta say, I check it out a couple times a day. Even if I don't agree with everything you say, you make me think about things and that is a good thing.
    From a Canadian that has learned way too much about US politics over the last few years. Thanks.

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  30. I know it’s not much, but very happy to help

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  31. Your takes on current political shenanigans are welcome and insightful. Least I can do to help out a fellow Alaskan is to keep the sandwiches going.

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  32. Jim, I knew your Dad during his last Middleville years and I know he would have been proud of you....donated and good luck.

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    1. Thank you. I miss him. Not a day goes by, that I don't want to tell him something.

      Not too many folks in Middleville that would agree much with my position. I wonder how many know I'm on the the Veteran's memorial in the middle of town, along with my dad and brother?

      My mom still lives there, and I get back a couple times a year. I eat breakfast with mom in the local diner, TK's (her favorite place). I'm usually careful to not be noticed.

      Thanks for dropping by, Mike. And your support. I appreciate it // Jim

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  33. Long time reader, first time patreon subscriber. Thanks for asking, enjoy your writing.

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  34. Happy to contribute $10/month, Jim. I enjoy your writing and photography very much.

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  35. Bucks sent! Thank you, Jim: I've yet to read anything you wrote that I could say I disagreed with. :)

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  36. I prefer to pay you via Patreon monthly than pay NYT or WaPo, which is probably wrong for a former journalist to not support the b flagship.
    But you're with every cent.

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  37. The social platforms have proven themselves to be a replacement for the service that used to be promised by advertising; promised and failed to deliver in most cases. This insight had never occurred to me until reading your paragraph about how they connect you, a creator, to the people who want what you create.

    …and if their existence can be reworked into something that will eventually eliminate advertising as we have known it, I will call that a good thing indeed.

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  38. I have become a Patreon subscriber. Just because. I love your work, and as an amateur writer myself, you inspire me on a number of levels. May you continue to do great work

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  39. I’m glad to be in a position where I can pay for good journalism and good writing. I still support NYT and WaPo. But also you and Beau and Heather and others. And if I’m not only supporting you, but also getting your words and ideas to fellow citizens who don’t have the spare cash that I have, that’s even better.

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  40. From Susan in Asheville, NC: longtime follower on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You’re one of two accounts I support on Patreon (the other is Angry Staffer). Thanks for all your essays and posts! And your beautiful pens and sewing implements.

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  41. I *think* I got my donation in under the wire (on Fri., April 29th). It's not much, but it's the best I can do until I win the lottery. :) Thank you, Jim, for your superlative writing, your incredible photography, your extraordinary wit and your candid wisdom. I sincerely appreciate everything you share with your followers.

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Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.