Reader questions

Reader Questions vol 2: How to be a writer & should I start a business

By February 6, 2016 No Comments

Viktor asks:

I humbly request your career advice. I have a BA in Software Engineering. I was fed up with IT as a profession in general, right now I’m working in journalism but i want to switch back as the money to time ratio is just way better. Now my question: Should i pursue a stable 20h/week freelance gig to invest the other time into a startup (my own, not working for free) or should i go full corporate and try to climb the established ladder? thanks!

Entrepreneurship is awesome, but it’s fucking HARD. If you’re thinking about it, make VERY sure you know what you’re getting yourself into… it’s WAY harder than working for someone else. If you don’t believe me, ask any small business owner.

Some wise words from a former (successful) startup founder on the realities of “entrepreneurshit:”

I like to speak about this topic with first-time wantrapreneurs because if you read the tech press every day you’d get the impression that it all glamor. It’s not.

You’d imagine that every founder was getting rich. Actually, positive outcomes for founders are quite rare. You probably follow some high-profile entrepreneurs on Instagram and Twitter and see conference pictures of them in Davos, Mexico, Monaco or wherever. You might be psyched out into thinking you’re doing something wrong for being in your shitty little windowless office. Clicking on their glam party pictures. You’re not. You’re where you should be.

Without a doubt, the hardest I’ve ever worked was when I was self-employed, working on Flo Multizine and freelance design projects. I oftentimes worked 16-18 hours a day, 6-7 days a week and was probably making like $25k a year. It was super rewarding and I leveled up my creative skills A LOT in a really short period of time, but it took a big toll on me physically and mentally. I also got dumped by my girlfriend at the time, largely because I was working so much.

Success in business usually comes at a steep price, and that price is often your physical, mental and emotional health.

An option you should consider is to find/create a job where you can act like an entrepreneur without actually being one. You get the best of both worlds: the stability of working for an existing company, and the fun/intellectual stimulation of entrepreneurship. An agency role could be a good fit– maybe get a junior role on the account or creative team at a firm and work your way up from there?

It won’t be easy to find that job, but it will definitely be easier than starting your own business and building it to the point where you’re making a decent living from it.


Adam asks:

I’ve been writing album reviews for a site in the Blastbeat Network for a few years and do interviews for a zine, but I’d like to write for one of the bigger publications as well (Lambgoat, Metalsucks, Substream, etc.). I’m a fan of your writing, I was wondering if you have any tips on approaching/writing for different publications. Thanks.

A unique and interesting point of view (POV) is the key to being a writer in a world in which literally anyone can create “content.”

I have a degree in marketing– I’m one of the “uncreative business dorks” according to the art school kids. But I am a more successful “writer” than the vast majority of people with masters degrees in creative writing. Why? It’s not because I’m a great writer from a technical perspective. There are zillions of people who can put together a sentence much better than I can, using clever turns of phrase that would never dawn on me.

The reason I have been successful as a writer is because I have a POV that apparently resonates with people. And the reason I have a POV is because I’ve had a lot of interesting/atypical experiences (where “interesting” usually = I did something stupid and learned a painful lesson along the way).

“In order to write about life, first you must live it”
– Ernest Hemmingway

The reality is that nobody cares about “good writing,” they care about good ideas. The world is full of people who know how to write, but have nothing to say– like all those shred guitarists who can play the craziest shit but have no good songs. That’s what (most) creative writing MFAs are to me.

Think about it from the perspective of one of the publications you mentioned: they don’t need people who can will yet another generic review, interview, or “news piece” (aka paraphrased press release). They need fresh, original, writing that will cut through the noise— they need people with a POV.

In general, I think there are 4 basic POVs that work on the internet:

  1. Challenging: Go against the conventional wisdom– “people think that it’s X, but it’s actually Y.” Note that you need to be able to back up your POV with facts, personal experience, etc so be careful here or you’ll just end up looking dumb.
  2. Funny: Making people laugh is always a good thing, but if comedy is ALL you have that can be a problem because you’ll struggle to get traction for anything that’s “serious.”
  3. Explanatory: Tell people how a thing works and/or how to do it themselves. Again, credibility is mission-critical here so you need to be able to back your shit up with facts/experience if you go this route.
  4. Talking shit: This is an easy path to getting attention for your writing, but don’t do it. It’s a good way to make people hate you and won’t pay off in the long run.

Note that you can combine these. PRMBA is basically a combination of Challenging + Explaining, for example.

If you’re not sure what your POV is, put down the computer and go get some “offline” life experience. Life experience (not the classroom) is the best way to level up your writing.

Got a career, school, or business question for us? Ask it here!

Leave a Reply