Year In Review
In 2015, I met almost all of my goals related to the finances of my writing life and almost none of the ones related to actually writing.
That’s not to say that I didn’t write. I did. Quite a lot, publishing somewhere north of 200,000 words in various publications. Some stories made a difference, some went viral, some earned me many new Twitter followers. A few felt like possible glimpses into the future.
But none accomplished the goals I set out for myself 12 months ago. I failed to achieve the moonshots — the New Yorker feature, etc.; goal-making Noah can be an ambitious chap. — but also the simpler stuff like figuring out a book topic, writing x number of features over y length, working with a specific editor who‘s a genius. These were all achievable, but they require a slight shift in focus, one that I was unwilling or unable to make.
Part of it is a financial matter. I’m not greedy, but it’s nice to make a decent living. When an editor offers $1,500 for a few pieces, I say yes. Why not? It’s a sure thing, the conversations are interesting, the lessons amusing. But while I’m trying to track down Andy in Togo, I’m not tracking down the feature story that’s eventually going to get David Remnick knocking on my door. (I assume this is how it works?)
It’s more than money, though. I’m increasingly unsure of what job I want, or whether that job will continue to exist. The media world continues to fall apart, perhaps not quite as rapidly as The Awl Boys would have you believe, but doe-eyed optimism feels out of place as well. I stopped subscribing to my last three print magazines a couple months ago because I found them unreadable, a mish-mash of internet-influenced graphics, short pieces, and other blather. (Not to pick on Esquire, but a recent issue featured a QR code that readers could scan with their Shazam app, which would bring them to classic.esquire.com where they could pay $4.99 a month to read Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.) Some of the feature writing is exceptional, but my once-positive view of print’s future grows more negative by the month.
The outlook is better online, but only marginally. It’s kind of a shitshow out there, and I wonder whether business models will develop fast enough to compete with the Facebookification of media. (Spoiler alert: No.) There’s too much garbage, and I’ve contributed my fair share. The garbage, unfortunately but not surprisingly, pays better.
There’s an issue of talent, too. I’ve watched friends and acquaintances start lower and zoom past me on the imaginary ladder everyone in the writing world keeps in their head. I’m happy for them. They are Platonic ideals of magazine-style feature writers, people with encyclopedic knowledge of early Harper’s, an ever-changing list of all-time top 10 New Yorker issues, the type who would work behind the counter of the magazine store in High Fidelity 2. I am not. I never wanted to be. Maybe I’m not good enough to join them. This is a thing I think about when I’m staring at the ceiling late at night.
Was the year a success? Sure, I guess. I keep showing up, which is something. I’m good at freelancing; not great, but good enough. Some percentage of the time (Two-thirds? Three-quarters?), I like the job. That’s a solid amount. It’s not perfect, but an existential crisis about a more or less successful freelance writing career deserves only the tiniest of violins.
Still, in 2015, and for the first decade of my so-called career, I mostly said yes. In 2016, I think I’ll try to say no more.