March 30, 2021

"Grumpy old white dude assholes frantically trying to pivot to Professional White Ally, on the theory that this will make them money, aren’t making money."

"Tweedy party-at-the-Verso-loft n+1 leftists aren’t making money. 33 year olds who follow Tik Tok trends for a living and communicate in slang that’s fifteen years too young for them aren’t making money. Arrogant white nerdoliberals with Warby Parkers and Moleskine collections aren’t making money. Sports bloggers who provide sports news and commentary but with attitude aren’t making money. Softening khaki dads struggling to understand Bitcoin and intersectionality in an effort to survive their next inevitable layoff aren’t making money. Talented and unfulfilled women writers who have learned too late that women’s media is a ghetto they will struggle to escape for the rest of their careers aren’t making money. Aspiring young data scientists who labor over their spreadsheets for hours only to see others copy and past[e] their R graphs without attribution and receive 40x the pageviews aren’t making money. And you won’t either." 

From "If You Want to Make It As a Writer, For God's Sakes, Be Weird/you're in a market, so sell something other people aren't" by Freddie DeBoer (Substack).

53 comments:

Yancey Ward said...

Why would I pay to read Freddy DeBoer when there are a 1000 others just like him who write for free?

eddie willers said...

I'm guessing this is a liberal writer since I kept scrolling down, down, down with seemly no end.

I'll come back later after someone boils this down to a manageable length.

Kate said...

He didn't grab me in the first two paragraphs.

I watch a woman on youtube, @survivallilly, who does the most mundane things, but I can't stop. She's so peaceful, so nice. My daughter watches a family raising a rescue dog. Again, just pleasant time spent.

Freddy's too angry.

Oso Negro said...

Sounds like a contemporary version of William Gass' "On Being Blue".

eddie willers said...

So I highlighted his name and right-clicked to go to Wikipedia. He DOESN'T have a Wikipedia page. Other than myself, who doesn't have a Wikipedia page?!

Ann's got one: Ann Althouse

Sebastian said...

"If You Want to Make It As a Writer, For God's Sakes, Be Weird/you're in a market, so sell something other people aren't"

Freddie DeBoer thinks there is a market, and people get paid if they do something that meets market demand? That is weird.

Of course, besides lack of originality etc. etc., the problem for aspiring writers, just like for aspiring porn stars, it that talented amateurs do it for free, or for a few bucks in ad or portal revenue.

Michael said...

Freddie nailed it on this one. Woke writing is a saturated market. Here's a sampling of what's currently trending on Medium:

• Recent Stand Your Ground Laws Are Rooted In White Fear of Black Masculinity
• Skiing Has A Racist Problem
• I'm Tired Of Having To Fight The Office Patriarchy


You get the drift.

DeBoer is correct, if you want a writing career stop following the Woke Herd and instead write something fresh

Paul Snively said...

"Data scientists" don't use Excel. But the writing was a valiant effort.

tim in vermont said...

Aspiring young data scientists who labor over their spreadsheets for hours only to see others copy and past[e] their R graphs without attribution and receive 40x the pageviews aren’t making money.

I once spent three days writing a blog post that required me to break out my old engineering texts, write matlab scripts, etc make it accessible to general readers and still accurate, and somebody cut and paste the whole thing from my baby blog to a higher traffic one without even a link to mine. That’s when I said no, no point blogging like that.

But if you want to make it as a writer, you better take the market into consideration. If you want somebody to pay you to write only what you feel like, you better be some kind of genius, or prepared to dive Uber when you are not writing.

themightypuck said...

The need for something different is why I pay Curtis Yarvin $10 a month. Politically he's off the reservation but I think he is the only current column style writer (puts up something meaty at least once a week) who is consistently interesting.

LordSomber said...

Twas ever thus.

Wince said...

Grumpy old white dude assholes frantically trying to pivot to Professional White Ally, on the theory that this will make them money, aren’t making money.

Is this yet another story about the Lincoln Project?

Skeptical Voter said...

If this is a sample of his writing, this dude ain't going to make it--ever.

tim in vermont said...

I started writing a novel, got a little ways into it, then discovered I had sort of written myself into a corner. So I read a couple books on plot, structure, etc, writing technique, and you know what? Writing is a very manipulative craft. The best writers recognize that the reader wants to be manipulated and takes the trust and responsibly seriously, but it’s still manipulation.

One of the best examples of manipulating the reader’s emotions and subverting his expectations time and time again is “The Knight’s Tale” by Chaucer. It’s twist after twist after twist and when it’s done, you almost feel that Chaucer has given you a good rogering from 500 years ago and maybe you want a cigarette. If you don’t get that’s what writing is about don’t expect to make money.

One Eye said...

I'm reading his "The Cult of Smart" and the man has some serious blind spots. On school reform:

Yet school reform types have worked to erode tenure, one of the most obvious and tangible benefits that teachers enjoy...

He doesn't consider that new teachers might not want to be surrounded by coworkers with tenure.

tim in vermont said...

My theory on what is wrong with schools is that the retirement plans are so sweet that people keep teaching long after they have burned out. Most people would change careers, but the cost of a career change in lost retirement benefits is way too high for teachers.

PM said...

He sounds like an older copywriter trying to sound like he isn't.

rehajm said...

On youtube I watch these guys in Canada that are golf club builders. They crank out content several times a week. I'd wager they make more money thru their channel than some 'respected' online journalist.

...and do we need to review what opinions are like?

tim in vermont said...

"Processed books are like processed food though... beware the empty calories.”

There is a genre called “upmarket fiction.” It’s like literary fiction, except with a bow to the demands of the mass market, things like love interests, certain plot types. If you think of them as like a frame house, and you can hang your own unique pictures on the walls, it’s a little of both. But yeah, there are formula novels whose only purpose is as a timesuck.

Temujin said...

Much of what Freddie DeBoer and the commenters above have said is true. But what is most obvious to me, as someone who is working on phasing out of my normal work life and spending more time writing-for pleasure-(crazy idea, huh?) is that there IS more writing and publishing going on now than at any time in history. And like the 200+ TV channels your cable or streaming source tries to sell you as a positive, the actual number of quality channels, or in this case, quality articles, blogs, books, plays, etc. are far and few between. Maybe it's the amount of stuff we have to sort through to find something that interests us. But that's just half the battle. Finding something that interests you and is well written- that gets trickier. There are so many choices that we're having to sift through piles and piles of shit to find really great stuff to read, or to watch. It gets tiring, boring.

I feel pretty good about who I've found to read on a regular basis when it comes to news, opinion, and blogs. Books, on the other hand, is still a crap shoot. Again, because there's so much crap to sort through (and you cannot believe any reviews any longer). Books take longer to sort through than picking and choosing blogs. Obviously.

All that to say this: I find your work, Ann, all the more remarkable. That you've done it every day since the time of the Aztecs is amazing in and of itself. But that you still, after all these years, manage to keep it interesting, and to keep us not only coming back, but actively looking for the next day's rollout of Things That Interest Ann Althouse either means that you're among the best at what you do, or we're all incredibly lame and needy. We like to think we're not lame.

Freddie DeBoer makes the case that you have to stake out your place, your piece of land in the avalanche of information coming at us. Pretty remarkably, you've done that. I'm not sure I could have.

daskol said...

FDB is talented. He's probably the foremost critic of charter school related education policy, at least that I've come across. He's not convinced me of his position, but he's pointed me multiple times to blind spots/questions I hadn't even thought to ask. And copywriter cracks aside, he does have a way with words, although he's no Matt Taibbi. Rarely agree with him, read him fairly often.

daskol said...

FDB gives me younger Mickey Kaus vibes.

Lem said...

Somebody at twitter suggested struggling journalists should #LearnToCode and some of them took it very personally. So much so, IF i remember correctly, they made twitter suspend some accounts over it. Of course that reaction only propelled the hashtag into the semi-permanent trend category.

stevew said...

He's not wrong, imo. The advice to do something productive to earn a living is age old and wise.

jeremyabrams said...

Writing should be done for pleasure, not money. Get a simple day job, and write with your spare time and energy. If you produce something of quality, that will be its own reward. Readers will find some of the writing produced this way, but not all of it, which is ok. There's simply too much talent around for all of it to be recognized.

Interested Bystander said...

Didn’t read the stupid article because I sensed I couldn’t stomach the clever language. It you want success as a writer be a good writer. Write something authentic that grabs the human soul. Hard to do.

JMW Turner said...

Hilarious! Man!

GingerBeer said...

If you don't speak up, you're a racist. If you do speak up, you're a greedy asshole. Nice to have all the bases covered.

Lem said...

Wait... let me re-write that...

Grumpy white dude assholes frantically trying to pivot to Conservative Ally, on the theory that this will make them money, are making money!?

Wade Phillips said...

I don't know anything about Freddie DeBoer, but I've read a few of his Substack rants and I find them immensely entertaining. I'm not even in the media/twitter/writer culture that he's skewering, but I get the feeling that he's not bullshitting me. The lack of bullshit is rare these days, and one reason I love Althouse.

Lem said...

Insta linked

Ryan said...

Best way to make $$ writing is by being a lawyer. $600/hr is not bad.

Lewis Wetzel said...

That was a fascinating bit of writing.
It is really hard to make money writing, the subtext is that there are too many people writing cliched crap, and there are too few readers to support them.
The economic chain of creative writer (I include non-fiction essays in this category), to publisher, to consumer, with all receiving sufficient value at each step to make a decent ROI, is broken. It has only really existed for about a century and a half.
I started to notice, in the 1980s, that the stereotype of the old hard-boiled pulp writer, making a living by banging out fiction for ten cents a word, was being replaced by people doing it as sideline, usually a sideline to a teaching career. And also housewives, supported in their hobby by a husband, making a few hundred or a few thousand dollars each year.
The purpose of a liberal education has never been to produce money. This used to be common knowledge, the person with a liberal education (unlike a brick layer) does not expect to produce goods that a person will pay for.
In the Old Days (older than two centuries ago), the sons of merchants would read law after graduating college because they needed to make a living.
In the US, tens or hundreds of thousands of people graduating from college with English degrees each year, and we can't produce a Shakespeare.
For almost all of them, writing to make a living is not the highest, best of their time, for themselves or for society.
Get a real job. Make some money. write on the side. Wallace Stevens is among the very best of modern poets, but he never fooled himself into believing that he could provide for a family by writing poetry. He went into insurance.

Lewis Wetzel said...

This reminds of a story I once heard, probably apocraphyl.
Middle class man, son in his late teens. Son says, "Dad, I don't want to go to college. I want to play guitar! I've been playing for years and I am good enough to go pro, I know that!"
Dad arranges for under age son to go to a bar notable for the excellence of its live music, and listen, and talk to the band members. On the drive back, the boy is silent. Dad asks son what he thought.
After a time, the boy says "That guy playing guitar was ten times better than I will ever be -- and he was playing for beer money!"

Kathryn51 said...

Freddie DeBoer makes the case that you have to stake out your place, your piece of land in the avalanche of information coming at us. Pretty remarkably, you've done that. I'm not sure I could have.

Yeah, what Temujin said...

Ken B said...

Obvious but sound advice.
We have some here who peddle same old same old, and some who stand out.

Hardin stands out. His misogyny, which I think is a schtick, aside he often makes very pithy and subtle observations, especially about language.

Crack stands out. You can experience a bad LSD trip in your browser.

Yancey Ward is same old: Let grandma die.

Achilles stands out for the moment, but less and less as more ignoramuses achieve blogging age.

Farmer is basically our Colbert, an anti American leftist posing as a conservative. Same old.

Big Mike is same old, another guy channeling Eric Cartman: “Respect ma authoritah”

Laslo used to stand out, but no longer. Hard to compete with Cardi B I concede.

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Not taking writing advice from a communist. He's anti-capitalist, and there's nothing more capitalist than writing for a living.

Lewis Wetzel said...

WCW? Really?
Contrast and compare:

Wallace Stevens, "Sunday Morning"


I

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

II

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.

autothreads said...

I've been writing professsionally about cars, the automotive industry, and the car hobby since 2007. Roger Simon suggested that I do it, and my first published piece was at PajamasMedia. The post went up right next to something by Victor Davis Hanson, which tickled me as I respect VDH a great deal. I currently get paid $300 a feature and my editor has been budgeted up to about 8 pieces a month for my work. I do have to pitch stories but my editor buys about 80% of what I pitch. It's not a huge amount of money, but for a side gig the hourly rate works out to be pretty good. Also, there are some perks involved with the gig.

Apparently, I have a feel for what people want to read as articles of mine have been the most popular posts on at least a couple of sites where I've worked. My real strength, however, is that I went to school before American education was destroyed, so I understand the basics of grammar and can write a proper sentence. I also know how to research a topic, find original sources, and can tell the difference between history and bullshit.

So much journalism today is poorly done, and that's outside of the biased "reporting." Unfounded premises are presented as fact, words like "racism" and "insurrection" are tossed around with little regard for those words' actual meanings, and any facts that are contrary to the narrative being peddled are ignored.

MikeD said...

Two worlds of tho't, the comments here and those on the substack essay. Pretty much defines the audience and, by inference, the performer.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Temujin.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Wade.

IamDevo said...

Shorter, better version: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Boswell said that. He probably knew from experience.

Tina Trent said...

Lewis Wetzel: Complacencies of the peignoir...

A good way to banish the noise. Stevens ran an insurance company, wrote on his commutes. But he worked hard on his poems and took the work seriously. His revisions sometimes took decades. He had studied literature and didn’t fall for the modern garbage all around him, though he took the best from modernism, with judgment shaped by pre-modernist standards.

We threw that baby out with the bath water sixty years ago. My students could not write more than a few sentences. They had been starved of real literature and could not even imagine what it would look like. All that was left for them was pre-literate navel-gazing.

I wonder if they ever teach his work anymore.

Tina Trent said...

Whoa. This guy is an eliminationist. He thinks right-wing writers are rolling in money while good little left-wingers are starving in garrets. He has a huge nut for the fact that the New York Times has one *conservative* columnist in David Brooks and thinks Frank Bruni is some sort of right-of-center creep. He insists that left-wingers had to make up lies about Putin’s influence and repeat those lies because that was the only way for the poor oppressed lefty writers to afford apartments in Brooklyn because the system was so against them. Sob.

He clearly knows nothing about the economics of political writing. He knows nothing about the markets he’s discussing. He knows nothing — or is lying — about the billions pouring into major news outlets and countless media platforms from the left.

I’ve never supported myself writing, but I have made some money doing it. 99 out of 100 people published today are getting paid by one or another politically partisan nonprofit or news agency. I write for people with whom I agree, and I have learned a lot from them that I didn’t learn in formal education. But none of that writing would have been published without a donor behind it. We live in an age of patronage that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to Alexander Pope.

lucid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lucid said...


And William Carlos Williams worked as a physician in New Jersey throughout his time writing poems. "This is just to say..."

Social media have tended to make writing an extreme form of other-directedness. Important writers tend to be more focused on their own inner responses rather than the clicks of an anonymous crowd of loonies.

Jason said...

I think Kurt Schlichter is making some decent money from writing.

Lurker21 said...

I do not know who this Freddie deBoer person is. The name sounds like an Anglo-South African diamond heir whose hobbies are yachting, polo, and cucumber sandwiches. And I didn't read the article, but this bit at the bottom is worth circulating:

Immense damage has been done to the public perception of many causes beloved by the social justice set by that set’s dogged insistence on associating those causes with totally frivolous ideas. When a writer says “I’m going to connect the trauma of segregation to the semiotics of breakfast cereal,” it doesn’t make people expand their thinking on the scope of racism. It makes the writer ridiculous and the issue seem trivial. Who is this helping? Why has no one in the profession said “maybe the prevalence of this type of piece is a mistake”?

That right there explains a lot of the Times lifestyle articles we have been seeing here lately. But that seems to be what people are taught to do by the universities nowadays. Race/Gender/Sexual identity is the focus for everything, the one tool left in the box, but all the big topics are taken by smart people who came to the party earlier. So what's left? The Trauma of Segregation and the Semiotics of Breakfast Cereal.

The market may be saturated with stuff like that, but there is still demand, because what else is there really? Maybe we are a society that is not only torn apart by its divisions and resentments but in a strange way held together by them. For what else attracts a large enough audience? Even if you hate and don't read such articles, you are still part of the conflicts that inspired them and the discussions they inspire.

Kirk Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk Parker said...

Ken B, you are a marvel of reading miscomprehension.

Ozymandias said...

DeBoer is right about the value of taking genuine positions contra the herd, but also right that doing so has real risks. Matt Taibbi’s TK Newsletter recently reported on the abuse Jesse Singal and Katie Herzog have had to suffer for straight reportorial pieces on trans issues. Not even criticism of the articles on their merits, but attempts to get each writer banned from platforms, and publication of lies about their personal lives. Both appear to have survived the Twitter rack, but, as Taibbi makes clear, the Inquisition is ever at hand.

Ken B said...

Kirk
*snort*