When writing doesn’t pay the bills


A few months ago, a high school girl told me she wanted to become a journalist when she got older and wanted my advice.

“Don’t,” I said, and immediately laughed.

I did give her some honest advice: get a great education. Intern. Get lots of experience. Learn the industry.

Also, be prepared to work a second job; journalism is undergoing a shaky transition from print to online, and many jobs do not pay well. (Try to freelance, and you will see exactly what I mean). And if you ever get married, I told her, make sure your husband makes a good living.

Even if you don’t work in journalism or have a paid writing job, you can still blog. And journal. And write down your thoughts on whatever issues tickle your fancy. Maybe you won’t be published today, this week or this year, but perhaps someday that can happen.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

What are YOUR day jobs, fellow writers?

For 11 years I have been a professional writer. I have one published short story to my credit along with countless news and feature stories and columns. Lots of sports, also. Once I even ghostwrote a column for a brigadier general. And then there are the finished-but-unpublished short stories sleeping on my hard drive, along with two novels I’m working on.

Last, but not least, my blogs.

My dream is to be a full-time fiction writer.

Like many writers out there, I can’t support myself and my kids on what I earn as a writer. So, I have day jobs.

Thirty hours a week I work at a weekly newspaper. Sometimes it feels more like 40, but I love this job immensely. Getting paid to write–how great is that?

Twenty-four hours a week (although, this week it will be 32), I work at a gas station. It also feels like I put more hours there, but whatever my unsaid opinion might be, I really can’t complain: this job pays my electric bill, auto insurance bill, internet bill, cell phone bill, and many other things.

Those are my two day jobs, and I’ve had others: (briefly) a factory worker, a bagel maker, a broadcaster, a telemarketer and a cashier.

I remember one novelist, who worked as a waitress, was asked what motivated her to write: “Because I absolutely hated my day job,” she replied.

So, fellow writers, what are YOUR day jobs?

Richard Zowie has been writing professionally since 2000. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

So, now I have my daily writer’s list…

I compiled it last night at work using my trusty slightly-larger-than-reporter-size notebook (my favorite kind–a firm cardboard back with a transparent plastic cover) and a Papermate Design pen. Ten items I intend to start tackling on a daily basis as a writer:

1) 2,000 words written on my novel(s)

2) 2,000 words written on my short story(ies)

3) Update my blogs (this one, From A to Zowie, Richard’s Two Shekels and Ponderings From Pluto); at the very least, this one and the Shekels one daily

4) Journal entry (at the end of the day)

5) 1-2 essays

6) Look for freelance writing work

7) Work on a screenplay

8 ) Read both fiction and non-fiction

9) Market my fiction

10) Write a poem or two if the mood strikes

A long list? Perhaps, but I need to be accomplishing these things on a daily basis. With sufficient time management, it can be done.

Richard Zowie is a writer who is working to get off his lazy butt. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Changing my blog’s appearance…again

With as much as I change my blog’s themes in an attempt to reinvent myself as a writer who won’t put people to sleep, some might look at the many formats I’ve used and wonder if Madonna is blogging under the name Richard Zowie.

Well, I am currently in Michigan–Madonna’s home state. That’s where the resemblance ends, although the management of this blog thanks Madonna for showing a sense of humor by giving her blessing for “Weird Al” Yankovic to do the song “Like A Surgeon”.

I have lost track of how many themes I have played with, but I like this new one: it’s bold, eye-opening with a style that stands out and refuses to play it safe. The experiment begins. We shall see how it goes.

By all means, feel free to tell me what you think of this format. Drop me a line at richardzowie@gmail.com or click the comment bubble.

Regarding celebrity blogs

I saw the movie Julie and Julia and have perused the blog of Julie Powell. It is a great read to motivate you to blog, and the movie is also fun to watch and to get the creative juices flowing. However, reading over the blog, I can definitely see why Julia Child reportedly did not like it: Lots of profanity–particularly f-bombs. Powell even uses one in a posting when Child died.

In defense of Powell, it is possible that since she did this blog toward the end of Child’s life when she was in declining health, perhaps Mrs. Child did not truly grasp what blogs were all about. If I’m still alive when I’m 90, I doubt I’ll be able to grasp the new advancements in technology.

I also like visiting the main blog of actor/writer Wil Wheaton as well as his backup blog. Another excellent motivating blog that gives you insight into his life and interests; Wheaton does an excellent job of keeping his private life private. If you need to get the creative juices flowing in your blog, visit Wheaton’s and even Powell’s (I have noticed that she does not keep her current blog updated).

Back in 2006, Richard Zowie had no idea what a blog was. That was then, this is now. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Writing when you’re tired

This past week I did very little writing in the realm I really like: fiction, blogging, journaling, essays. It wasn’t due to the usual procrastination culprit but rather, no energy. Three days in a row I had far too much to do between my two jobs (the newspaper and the gas station) and did not have the energy. In that trio of days I averaged four, maybe five hours of sleep.

What is Richard like after three days in a row of five hours of sleep?

By Tuesday night, when I usually get home from work at 11:30 p.m., I briefly considered calling my wife earlier and asking her to get a ride to Frankenmuth to drive me home. Despite drinking a lot of 7-11 Double Gulps (I prefer to mix Coke with either Cherry Coke or Diet Coke–don’t ask), I felt very tired. It was almost like Army basic training again, where I almost fell asleep during my graduation ceremony.

So, for the next two days, I slept close to 10 hours each day to try to catch up. I also felt a little under the weather and was worried, due to some discomfort when I breathed, I briefly worried I was coming down again with a viral infection in my lungs like I did in 1999, during another fun period of my life where I was consistently getting little sleep. Viral lung infections feel as if when you take a deep breath, someone is stabbing you in the chest.

And regarding sleep, that brings up the point of this blog posting: how do you write when you’re tired? 

For me, creative energy gets stifled when I have not been sleeping, or when I’m worn down and feel like doing little more than chatting with friends on Facebook.

The solution? Nope, not cocaine. I’ve never used cocaine but based on accounts I’ve read from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and from one person I know, the white stuff creates far more problem than it solves. I suppose it is to not allow yourself to get tired. Budget your time. Get sufficient sleep. If that doesn’t work, consume caffeine or make lifestyle choices that will give you more energy. An encouraging spouse or a writing accountability partner probably doesn’t hurt, either.

Suggestions, anyone?

Richard Zowie is a writer–or at least he tries to be. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

An Australian journalism student interviews me

It’s always exciting to receive e-mail from someone across the ocean, whether it’s in Europe or down under. Recently, I received questions over e-mail from Dianne Denisse Climent, a journalism student at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Dianne came across my Ponderings From Pluto satire blog and had questions about satire and blogging. Here are my answers.

1. What are your passions and credibility’s to date?
I’ve been a professional writer for 10 years. I’ve done news reporting, feature writing, sports writing, copy writing, copy editing, proofreading, columns, and, of course, blogging. My passions are journalism, column writing, blogging and fiction writing. I work 30 hours a week at a weekly newspaper, and in my spare time I like to blog.

I also hope someday to be a fiction writer.

When it comes to blogs, I have four: my writing career, my opinions, my life and thoughts as a Christian, and my satirical news blog.

Here is my most recent satirical blog posting.

2. What does satire mean to you?
To me, satire is the exaggeration or embellishment of news events. If done properly, it can make people laugh as well as think. One classic example is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, which he facetiously advocates cannibalism to draw attention to Ireland’s famine. I remember one girl at college was in tears after reading it, convinced that Swift was 100% serious. I got a good laugh out of that and thankfully, she didn’t organize her friends to lynch me. I think explaining to her that it was satire saved my life.

3. What are the different types of satire?
There are two basic types: one type favors humor while the other favors driving a point home. One example I love regarding humor is a United Way parody on Saturday Night Live where Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning spoofs his good-guy image by teaching kids unsavory habits.

I wonder how many anti-Peyton Manning football fans saw this ad and thought it was really true.

Regarding driving a point home, Swift’s essay has stood the test of time.

4. What does that satirical clip on Nintendo Wii fit demonstrate to you about satire?

It’s brilliant–serious enough to be completely convincing. This is an excellent piece of satire.

5. What do you believe are the ethical implications associated with the satire in this clip?
None. It is strictly a harmless parody. I see no problems with this video.

6. What do you believe are the legal implications associated with this clip?
Please see my answer to Number 5.

7. Do you think that satire is a legitimate commentary on society and life? or just ‘taking the piss’ out of everything?
Both. In my recent posting I try to draw attention to how the American media give Joe Biden a free pass of making a fool out of himself while crucifying Dan Quayle for mostly-apocryphal quotes of his. But yet, it is also fun to be satirical strictly to be funny. I still get angry comments from readers who think I’m an inaccurate reporter because of my satire of the American band Green Day releasing American Idiot II as a way of saying the band regrets voting for President Barack Obama.

8. Do you think satire is effectively used for social comment? Or because it draws on assumptions that people have knowledge on the set topic, it is easily misunderstood, or disregarded?
For those who grasp what satire is about, it can effectively be used for social comment. For those who read a satirical story and either believe it is true or believe it is a legitimate news story based on terrible research and reporting, it can easily be misunderstood and disregarded. Still, to me, when someone reads a satirical posting of mine and either believes it is 100% true or tells me what a great laugh they had, I am content I did my job well.

9. Is it correct for people to use humor in a derogatory manner? explain?
Excellent question, Dianne. I sometimes will do this in satire to make a point. One recent example is Fred Phelps, the Kansas “pastor” who believes American service members are dying because of the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality. In the post I “quoted” Phelps using very derogatory homosexual slurs, such as “fag”. For me, it was part of making a point. The trick is to make it relevant and try to keep in tasteful. I suppose if I did satire on African-American rappers some might expect to read a few “N-words”, but I feel very leery about doing this.

10. Online content is to be quick and eye-catching, as oppose to traditional formats which have more time to meet deadlines. As a blogger what does this mean for you and your blogs?
You have to keep things fresh, updated and remain aware of the times. Computers are constantly changing, and the Internet is changing. “In” is Facebook and Twitter: on its way “out” is Myspace.

When it comes to satire, I like to add images and videos to my posts to help with the visual appeal. Sometimes unflattering photos add to the humor.

11. The  Nintendo Wii fit video is online, therefore it is spread quickly, and is easily accessible- should this be a cause for concern, as traditional media would not have that same exposure?
I don’t see any problems except for those who might be genuinely disappointed when they realize this is false.

12. As a blogger, what are your thoughts on the perception that bloggers are less ‘ethical’ when it comes to their posts?
Bloggers aren’t held to the same type of accountability that newspaper or magazine journalists and columnists are–unless the blogger works for a client who reserves the right to review, edit and delete posts. But bloggers like Perez Hilton can pretty much post what they want as long as long as they are not false or grossly misleading (Hilton famously had to delete a post suggesting Michael Jackson was faking his illness after it was revealed Jackson had died). Other bloggers who have their own blogs on WordPress, Blogspot, Typepad or Live Journal answer to themselves and don’t have to worry about negative ramifications when their blogs are ignored. While there are reporters and columnists who are dirtbags, there are also many bloggers who believe everything they see, hear or read and will post accordingly. Try to write professionally like that, and you will soon be fired.

13. Do you think that the online format enhances the potential for an improvement in ethical or “best practice” publishing over traditional legacy media? explain.
Traditional legacy media will probably someday be a relic in a museum. I think that most–if not all–media sources someday will be online only. As for potential in ethical or “best practice”, I imagine the government in the future will start passing laws designed to hold bloggers more accountable for their actions when they write “news” that is inaccurate.

14. What are the legal and ethical challenges you encounter when posting online content?
If what you posted is factually incorrect and libelous, you face lawsuits. If it is just incorrect, you quickly remove or re-edit and, when necessary, issue a correction. If it is incorrect or misleading, you face a loss of respect for readers who sometimes will tell you in blunt language that your blog isn’t worthy for reading during time on the toilet.

15. Being a blogger, do you enjoy receiving comments, likes and or dislike on your work? What does this type of online interaction do for you?
I love reading comments–whether people agree or disagree with me. Hate mail doesn’t bother me as much anymore, and I seldom respond directly to it. Online interaction is a validation that someone out there is reading your blog. That is wonderful.

16. What do you hope the online world holds in future for bloggers like yourself?
More user-friendly, smaller computers. Perhaps blogs that you can write on or update through mental thought commands. Perhaps even ways for you to blog in ways that disguise you’re away from home.

Richard Zowie is an American writer based in Michigan. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

New look to my blog

True to my restless nature, I’ve changed the theme of my blog again. Didn’t like the previous one since it didn’t allow for tabs at the top. I like this one since it shows the full moon and one of my favorite themes, outer space.

No, I can’t promise never to change it again. I just like this design the best until the day comes when I can hire a web designer to customize a blog for me. (I’m a good writer, but web design is a whole different story).

What do you think, gracious reader? Drop me a line.

Richard Zowie, a professional writer, is an active blogger. Post comments below or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.