Greetings from your friendly internet writer.
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 modest living this way.
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 small 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.
And I do that. I write various stories for various publishers and they give money. Not much, but enough to call myself a professional and enough to get invited to various writing conventions to talk about it. If you were at WorldCon in Chicago this year, or MisCon in Missoula where I was a guest of honor, it was great to see you there, thanks for coming and saying hi.
Which is, you know, pretty cool -- at least to me.
See, I wanted to be a writer since I was kid.
Other kids wanted to be fire fighters or astronauts or dentists. Not me. I wanted to be writer.
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 anyone would read the blather on the screen. No matter how upbeat and confident you are, and I am often very upbeat and probably too confident in myself for my own good, writing is fraught with self doubt and black depression mixed with mania. In that way, it's sort of like my previous military profession which is best described as "long periods of tedious boredom punctuated with moments of furious insanity."
I know exactly when I caught it, this sickness.
As a kid of maybe nine or so, my grandmother gave me a Hardy Boys book (#8; The Mystery of Cabin Island) for Christmas one year. I’d been an indifferent reader up to that point, but that book captivated me and my lifelong obsession with words began right there. It was long before I discovered the local library, and then Robert Anson Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. 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 monkeys to fly spaceships, so I imagine political pundit wouldn’t be that difficult).
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, 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 somewhere 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.
Ten years ago, I would never have guessed that social media would become my primary platform for day to day short form.
Social media is horrible.
Social media is horrible in all the ways it's possible for human interaction to be horrible. No matter the platform, or the owner, social media is howling a bastard cross between an opinion column and a 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. As a general rule, and again no matter the particular platform, the interface, timeline management, and display are one of the single most infuriatingly horrible experiences in an age of limitless customization. Universally, social media is subject to every kind of cyber-abuse from bullying to trolling to sexual assault.
And if there's one thing that is the terrible same across every single social media platform, it is this: You will never get any kind of help from the operators and AI is only going to make that worse by orders of magnitude. You can't argue with a machine, and you'll never get any human sympathy from software. Ever.
If Facebook is your dysfunctional community, then Twitter is Monkey Island in that community’s monstrous 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 seething road rage and they don’t care if they die so long as they can take everybody else with them. I left Twitter a few months back due to the owner's increasing bigotry and unhinged madness, and moved my microblogging to Threads, which is basically just more Facebook but with the single redeeming quality of not be subject to the random capricious machinations of Elon Musk. I'm active on a dozen other platforms, including my own here, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
As a platform for writing, social media, whatever the flavor, stinks.
And yet – and yet – these platforms do one thing very, very well.
They do the one thing that traditional publishing venues cannot do.
Social media connects 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 curmudgeons 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.
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.
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’m not particularly put out by that 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 substack, 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.
And every day, every single damn day, you'll get hate mail and death threats and DMs filled with gibbering insanity that you can't decipher (even if, like me, you were once trained as a code breaker). That can be pretty depressing unless you have a very, very thick skin.
I’ve been invited to a number of writer’s conventions to talk about this with other writers and those who are interested in such things. 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.
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.
No, I really don’t like this. I don’t like asking for money. I feel bad about it. It gives me endless anxiety. 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 ass of himself. But ideally, I write something and if you like it enough, you’ll kick in, or you buy my artwork which I very much appreciate it. And thankfully, you do so often enough that I can mostly survive on that part.
But I still feel guilty about it.
So, when I began this I found a way to assuage my conscience.
Thus: Any subscriber who donates any amount via the donation button or as a new Patreon for the next 30 days, will be put in the running for a giveaway.
Every few days over the next month, I’ll give away loot. It's the end of the year and 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 since I've recently started making calendars with my photography, I'll print and sign a selection of each version and give those away too.
Winners will be announced here 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.
PayPal is here
If you want to become a monthly supporter 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.
Note: 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. Last time I did this, 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 -- and if you come find me at a convention, I'll give one to you, whatever your profession. 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 I create and I’m using this opportunity to give something back other than just my usual blog essays and social media posts.
As always, thank you for your support // Jim