Writing — for Love or Money? (My Takeaways From NMX 2013)
Last Sunday, I made my way over to the Rio for New Media Expo (NMX) 2013. While most of the time, I attend trade shows for my job, I did this of my own volition — on a weekend, even. So yes, I do want a cookie.
Unable to afford a trip to Boston in March for AWP, this was the closest (and most inexpensive) way to get my personal educational conference fix, and I was not disappointed. Perhaps because this whole “new media” thing is so, well, new to me (from a business perspective, anyway), I feel like I learned a lot.
Two sessions in particular, though, really got me thinking, probably because they were contradictory, at least in their in spiritual tone. I’ll start with David Risley’s session about how to monetize blogs, which had tons of great information that has already been summed up by others (such as this blogger here) if you’d like to know more about that.
For me, the following part was the most interesting tidbit of all he said (and I recorded) during his NMX session:
“Most bloggers do not treat their blog as a business whatsoever. … In the regular world, you don’t think about going and setting up an office somewhere, then try to figure out what to do with it. … A lot of people, they don’t put a lot of thought into whether it (their blog) really is considered to be exchangeable or valuable to other people; they just kind of do it because they think it’s interesting. This is where the ‘blogging about your passion’ thing often misguides people, because they don’t really verify if it’s valuable or exchangeable.”
I have to admit, my immediate response to this was to cringe on the inside. It’s the poet in me who’s doing so — the one who knows very much how, when it comes to creative writing, that’s actually exactly what you do to create a product (be it fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever) you will eventually, with any luck, publish and sell: You set up an office somewhere (aka start writing), then figure out what to do with it (aka find the vision, the project, or simply what point you’re trying to make through the act of writing, more writing, examination, and revision of what you’d created). Sometimes you have a general idea — “I want to write about Ireland” — but you don’t know what that really means or how it will flesh itself out until you write a bunch.
Then there’s the theme of “passion doesn’t count” that I will argue against until my big yappin’ mouth has been silenced by the Grim Reaper himself. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, albeit mostly in workshops: Passionless writing is dead writing. And yes, it probably is the majority of what gets published anywhere — even in lit mags (and I hope I’m not speaking for my work that’s been picked up by such publications) — but it still sucks. Writing without passion, without risk, is simply a waste of words.
That being said, I will admit that there is a certain amount of passion and creativity that usually must be squelched in the service of being informative, and this is the kind of writing most publications require of their staff writers, journalists, and editors like myself. I still try to keep it engaging, of course, but there’s a reality to it, and devices can’t be distracting. I do this kind of writing (that is, professional) too, but only because I get paid to. It wouldn’t be sustainable otherwise, because I’m simply not passionate about certain subjects.
Which brings me to this blog, Just Call Me Raegen. I don’t make money with it yet, and I may never; that was never my goal, though it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world that could ever happen. But this blog sustains itself because I write about things I’m passionate about (and when others care about those topics too, it’s very much appreciated, of course). If I was writing about something I could give two s***s about, it wouldn’t last very long, and this is why I think most blogs fail; it’s generally accepted as fact that a blog has to grow and carry on in order for it to start and continue to make money. Now, maybe that’s just me — perhaps others can write about inane things they care nothing for without the promise of money first — but if I’m writing something I’m not getting paid for upfront, it’s because I care about it, and for no other reason.
But Risley’s talking about making money off a personal blog, and perhaps I’m talking about something else. Perhaps.
Let me tell you about the other presenter of note: Bill Belew. Very different perspective coming from Mr. Bill (I just wanted to say that; he doesn’t actually go by that moniker). His points are covered more in depth at the link I posted above as well (looks like me and Eleanor Prior have a lot in common as far as what we think is relevant), but here’s the summation of what he had to say about how to get a million visitors to a blog:
- Write a lot (quantity)
- Write good stuff (quality)
- Be consistent
- Write frequently
It’s pretty simple. And while Mr. Bill’s subject wasn’t monetizing blogging, I think it’s important to note that Mr. Bill does in fact financially support himself and his family entirely off his blogs.
And again, while the main points of his session were good, the more interesting message to me was the following, which I also recorded:
“Do not let people tell you what you cannot do. Don’t go there. The bumblebee doesn’t know what he can’t do, and he does it. … If you think you can do it, do it. It works if you work it. It’s that simple. … Write until your idea catches on. … The No. 1 reason for failure is … because people give up.”
Mr. Bill was all about passion. Hard work, yes — his eight different blogs have more than a thousand posts on them total — but passion too. He later gave an example of another successful blogger who followed his passion as well: “The guy writes about Chinese idioms. Who cares?” Mr. Bill said. Yet he went on to say that this blogger eventually found his audience and became a hit.
The blogging world — just like any other — is competitive. Perhaps if one is looking for instant money, one should ignore passion and pursue whatever it is one believes will sell or win a contest. But Mr. Bill’s story is proof that anything will sell, if given the proper amount of time, effort, and attention. And perhaps I’m simply inferring it from everything he said, but I believe I agree with him that there’s room for everyone and every passion in this space (and many others).
I suppose in an ideal world, every writer would be paid to write about the subjects he or she is passionate about, because everyone is passionate about something (which I do think is key to maintaining long-term interest in writing about that subject) and there is an audience for every subject — at least one more person out there in the world who finds wonder in those topics the writer is fascinated by.
And what of Just Call Me Raegen? If I can say anything about this blog — which I deliberately began nearly a year ago without a set subject, fully intending to write my way toward finding it — it’s that my personal passions are very much present in it. If Judge Judy wrote a blog, it would probably look a lot like this, because she doesn’t have time for nonsense, and she loves justice. I also hate stupid, and I too love justice — especially poetic justice, because it’s poetic, of course.
I find myself examining life, exploring my opinions (no matter how many words it takes), arguing (mostly in my head), and trying to help others who are or one day might be in my shoes with a little advice to get through the dark times. If it doesn’t “sell,” so be it. Herein, what’s left of my humanity — of infinite value — resides.