Knowing what you want

To finish that sentence, knowing what you want can be a lonely experience.

Lately I’ve been working much more towards how I want to build my life, in particular how I make money. Much of that learning curve is at a near vertical pitch. I research marketing, media, and content creation until my brain is cooked and all I want to do is nap. For the travel writing piece, a big requirement lately has been knowledge in platforms such as TikTok and YouTube. So I’m watching lots of videos to figure out how to do this, how I want to tackle this kind of thing and flounder as little as I can on it.

I’m still trying to scrounge up paid work when I can, but the agency I’ve been writing for over the last several years has been turning up next to nothing. I’m getting a little panicked on how I’m supposed to make money. The economy is in the shitter and my main debtors don’t really seem to acknowledge that. After all, the courts never experience an economic downturn. They just put more people in prison and hire more judges to compensate. It’s a growth industry.

I’m struggling and I know it.

So, lately I’ve cut out a lot of distractions however much I can. I’m not a lot of fun these days, as much as I crave distraction.

I’m not looking to date anyone. Hell, I couldn’t afford a social life right now if I tried. My resources are drained and I feel sooooo close to making everything come together. I’m at the point where I don’t really need a relationship either. I have a couple close friends. That helps.

I don’t want to date. I don’t want a FWB situationship either. Sometimes that makes me feel a little cold and heartless. As the song says, “don’t think I don’t get asked to dinner…” The thing is that I wouldn’t be able to dedicate any of my time to dating someone, much less have the funds to go anywhere or do anything with them. I don’t miss it so much. I miss individuals who used to be in my life. I don’t miss the role they played when they were there.

What I do need is goals. Though I can’t come anywhere near affording it, I was looking at motorcycles today. It helps to daydream a little bit when you are procrastinating writing content for bloodsucking lawyers. Sure, it pays, but it isn’t what I want to write anymore. My quality is reflecting that. So I looked at Triumph bobbers and dreamed of taking the turns on winding mountain roads on a summer morning.

I still think of places to travel, but the slump in work has curtailed that for the immediate future.

I’ve been writing down all sorts of pitch and query ideas, but sometimes it’s hard to balance the other work I need to do with that. I’m trying. That’s all I can do.

I’ve thought about giving it all up and applying for other jobs, but there is nothing nearby and job hunting is literally the same thing as pitching story ideas to magazines, with the exception of IF (that’s the big if) a company ever replied to an application, I would be giving up my autonomy. I love working for myself, though right now the pay sucks. Like I said, I feel so close to things coming together. Looking for an hourly job could take months to yield anything. It’s the same as pitching articles. At least they respond some of the time.

I’ve had a couple nibbles, so I am not entirely discouraged. But I’m nearly out of money. Last week I had four assignments for a couple new potential clients. One assignment was pulled as I was outlining it. The other three were rejected. That was a 5000 word day, whoosh. Evaporated. No money to show for it, and I can’t even recycle the content. It knocked the legs right out from under me. I even had to fight for those jobs. I’m not the only one writing for that agency having problems like those.

I just have to keep working at it, doing all I can, and hopefully something will give. I’m just about sick of this winter bullshit too, I might add. Only two more months of it to go.


The flow state

Yesterday, someone directed me to these “flow state” videos on YouTube. Right away, the description of what the flow state was resonated with something I have felt when I’ve really been in the groove when I am writing something. In that moment, everything just seems to fall away from me and I really can’t even feel any external sensation of sitting in my chair or typing. It actually feels like I am pulled out of my body. Getting there is so very very rare, but when it happens it is a feeling like no other. Almost like you are floating up to the ceiling. After a while, you come back and realize an hour is gone.

The first video I watched talked about that sensation and my ears perked up. It was neat to hear that it’s not just me who has had this experience when conditions are just right.

The video then went on to talk about how you can maintain this state of mind when you follow the narrow intersection of challenge vs. skill level. As long as you inch each one up a little bit at a time, your productivity takes the path of a wave, instead of jutting up into anxiety and shutdown or dropping down into boredom and apathy.

I think it was a good piece of information to get, especially now as I’m trying to start another podcast with a different topic and I am realizing that the learning curve is very steep and it just results in total shutdown. I bit off more than I could chew and expected everything to be perfect, with the metric of success being that people would download, comment, and love the content. When at the time, I didn’t even like doing the content. It felt forced.

The opposite end of that is when I have been writing copy for law firms, I am apathetic. I am bored. I know nobody but Google is reading it for SEO hits, and all I care about is the potential income. When they are slow to pay, I wonder why I’m even bothering. The money is the only joy I get out of writing that kind of stuff, and if they aren’t paying up, there is literally no motivation to continuing to write for them. Among other reasons I am sick of writing these kinds of posts is because I wrote 1,000 words about why dogs eat grass and got a rejection. The reason for the rejection was for “tone”. I listed a lot of biological reasons why dogs eat grass (having the experience of having had several dogs in my life) and was told “Dogs just like the taste.” Yeah, 1,000 words that would just sound like an Apple Jacks commercial. “We just do!”

Anyway, boredom. Ennui. Appathy. Sometimes the copywriting job feels like a French art film. Today I have a 2000 word post on trucking, which I hope is more fulfilling and actually pays. Later today I’m going to be working on improving my skillset and challenging myself. The goal for the evening is to record a podcast episode. Maybe work on my website too.

Monetization and the plan for shameless self-promotion

I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a YouTube channel lately for my travel writing as well as exploring my life as a full-time writer. There’s not a lot of information out there, other than the Hollywood movies which are just meta-fiction about how the main character is a writer or wants to be a writer.

There is always that part of the movie when the would-be writer has a friend read something they’ve written and they say, “This is good. You should show it to someone.” And BOOM! instant fame and success and living in a $6000 a month loft in Manhattan is the next act (and doing very little writing). That really doesn’t happen. Nothing close to that happens unless the niche is just so starved of talent or someone knew somebody who knew somebody. Like Anthony Bourdain and his success with the New Yorker.

Consider the urban legend of how JK Rowling (yes, I know everyone is supposed to hate her now, even though they grew up on her books) got 29 rejections before Scholastic took a chance on her. So, there are 29 publishers who turned down the goose that laid the $Billion (with a B) industry. And we are supposed to consider “making it” in publishing as a metric of good taste and what it takes to be successful.

Anyway, most books/movies/articles these days come with a fan base built in. That way the publisher/producer/etc. know that they aren’t taking much of a risk. They want to hedge their bets, because with an already established fan base, they don’t have egg on their face by being one of the 29 idiots who turned down Harry Potter. This is why Disney is going whole hog with cranking out Marvel and Star Wars shows. Both of those are “too big to fail.” Even if 75% of the fans hate the product, you still have a couple million people who watched it, bought the Lego sets, and are arguing about it on Twitter.

From what I’ve been learning about monetization of a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel, typically you are drawing attention to a product or a service. In some cases, you are being sponsored by a company. Big sponsors or affiliates are web-design companies, camera companies, or in my case I shilled Origin Boots on my other blog. (use code Harris10 to get 10% off). But if I want to diversify my income streams, I need to focus on what product or service I offer beyond being a shoe salesman.

Both podcasting and YouTube allow for sponsorship, but you have to hustle and make calls to find those. But it’s all part of diversifying your income stream. Hopefully my content will appeal to sponsors, but I’m not going to bet the farm on it. If you look at a lot of successful podcasts (like Joe Rogan’s) he brought in a fanbase of people who enjoyed watching him dare people to eat pig anuses. The draw wound up being him using his connections with interesting celebrities to have long format interviews. The rest just snowballed.

Really, my writing is the product I am offering, but there isn’t a lot to be gained from that on the surface. Blogs no longer get the kind of clicks they used to to make a decent paycheck from just telling a story. So, like Disney or any good publisher, what I’m doing is calling attention to my work and creating a fan base.

My product is the books I write and a podcast or YouTube channel would be the commercial. By interacting with subscribers, I am building a fan base for my books which I will be publishing myself. If you like the kinds of stories I’m publishing on my blogs, then you might buy the books that are coming soon too. It’s not what I would call instant gratification (unlike the boot money) but I’m hoping it leads to something. Otherwise, how the hell are you going to even know what I’m writing? How do you pick a book from a whole slew of others on the shelf at a store and commit your hard earned $15 and several nights of your time to reading it if you don’t know what it is about?

My services might even be “Hey, I can write stuff. Hire me to write stuff for you!” And give me a big travel expense budget while you are at it.

So, yeah. I think the podcast/YouTube/blogs are eventually going to be the commercial for the stories I am trying to sell. Maybe I’ve got it backwards, but really the books are the merch. It’s about all I can think of right now. I doubt I’ll have as many subscribers as a guy screaming at a video game or a kid opening a box of something they got in the mail. If you knew how much money people made on CPM (clicks per minute) these days, it would make you throw up. (Like 20ยข per 1000 clicks). I’m lucky to get A click on a post. Affiliate links are harder to come by. I got lucky with the boots, but not everybody is rushing out to buy a $400 pair of boots (no matter how cool they are). The old method of linking Amazon as an affiliate is next to impossible to make money from, much less get approved. Their code doesn’t play nice with WordPress anymore, especially when you self-host.

A lot of what I want to talk about in my podcast or YouTube channel is challenges such as these. These are the real questions facing a freelancer these days. Gone are the days where the “Chief” gives you an assignment and a nice expense fund and you can do those deep dives to get the story. Most of the time you are paying your own way and hoping to God and little green apples that the magazine doesn’t fold before they pay you for your story–if they accept your pitch, or even responded to it in the first place!

I want to promote an honest look at it, and I also don’t want to starve to death in the process.

More to come!!!