26 thoughts on “Doing that one thing”

  1. Om, I admire you guys that can write for a leaving. I enjoy blogging because I enjoy learning the art of writing while sharing my own knowledge with others. I’ve tried the whole write for money thing and really didn’t enjoy the experience. It’s given me a whole level of respect for the guys you mentioned, most of whom I read. For the most part they churn out quality work while being able to make a living doing it.

  2. There is a line from the great comedy “Office Space” where the main character recalls career advice he received from a school counselor: “If you had a million dollars what would you do?” The question and the answer isn’t about the money, but about our inner passion, “that one thing.”

  3. I love to read your posts. With this one, you have my mind and heart….
    I know what it is to write when you are asleep, and to wake up to put it down on that piece of paper by your bedside. I lived through the 1980s India, and am an IT professional. Now, I obsess over poetry and creating word-art that will be greater than the words themselves.
    I blog at paintedpenguins.wordpress.com. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  4. Get Well Soon!
    Once again, it feels as if the societal changes taking place are killing honorable professions and narrowing peoples’ abilities to have and keep a stable profession. I think writers and writing will never entirely disappear. Technological gizmos are just that. They won’t outlast the written word. When the electricity goes out and power sources fail, so will people’s IPad, IPhones, tablets, Nooks and every other mechanical piece of junk we’ve invented. When that happens, writers, journalists and others can break out their supply of candles and sit at the kitchen table to do what they do best! Write with pen and paper! Never give up the gift!

  5. It’s more than just advertising. Advertising lubricated the means of production, but it’s really the ability to publish that’s the change driver here. As it turns out, lots and lots of people are capable of writing well. It was never that ability alone that defined success. In the age of the Internet, it is more That One Thing that drives those of us who write.

    I’m in my 50’s. I know a lot of people who used to earn a decent living by crafting words. Many of them can no longer do that. They fall into two schools. One rails against change and offers bitter complaints that they are unable to earn a living; the others reinvent themselves, they find new ways to do the One Thing. Generally they’re not earning as much as they were 15 years ago, but they’re getting by and seem generally happy.

    If using words to communicate is your One Thing, then all the changes we face are significant, but not central. If making big bucks from wordsmithing is your One Thing, then maybe it’s time to find new skills that offer better compensation.

    Thank you for a great post.

  6. Great, insightful article. Thank you.

    I’m much the same way, really. I have a passion for writing and for technology, and it is in these ventures that I spend my free time. I’ve been a paid part-time staff blogger for a few mobile sites, both of which I’ve left because it either evolved into, or was never really, a good fit for me. I’d ideally like to write for a larger site (perhaps like GigaOm) someday which will allow me the freedom to write about essentially whatever I want, and have fun while getting paid to do something that I love.

    Right now, I don’t really get paid to write, but I still write. I started my own site, and write anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 words per week. I’ve made maybe $30 on that venture thus far. Fortunately, I have a career which pays the bills, and until I can swing the full-time writing job that’s necessary to prosper in this economy, I’ll always be writing in what little spare time I have. I do it for free now because it is that one thing that if I won the lottery tomorrow and had enough money to pay the bills, writing is what I would do.

    I’ve been very fortunate along the way. I have an open freelance arrangement with Popular Mechanics, and have a few pending (paid) articles there. Even if those were unpaid, I’d do them just to get my name out there, but ultimately we’re all seeking that in, a way to get paid to do what we love, and I agree with your stance that all sites which are able should pay something, even if it’s just a little something, to recognize the work and effort that goes into putting words on a screen. Because really, even smaller sites are making some money on each story that’s published.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, Om.

  7. “One thing” is fine as a concept, as it gives direction to a career, for example. But I think a more useful word is “interest.” It’s more flexible, potentially more pervasive, more encompassing a word for that which makes for true happiness: “interest”, plain and simple.

    It doesn’t have to be limited to “one thing.” Whatever else you’re interested in adds to your joy of living. So why not simply be interested in many things?

    1. Because unlike the interest(s), that one thing is a something you think about everyday. You go to sleep with thinking about it. You wake up with thinking about it. It is like obsession. Like some form of craziness. Creativity is a gift, but it is also a curse.
      You can’t stop. Maybe pause, but it always returns back to you.

  8. I fully appreciate the endless piles of notes, papers, and text files that pile up over the years; I get such joy from writing even the smallest complete thought. I definitely have the curse/blessing.

    The hard part, for me, is to keep those straight when I don’t have an outlet for them. If I don’t take time to capture thoughts throughout the day I go crazy, and every week where I finish one simple thing makes me feel like I just finished a marathon.

    Even when we do other things, even when the notes pile up around us, even if we can’t seem to do anything except “make the clackity noise” in a dark room…somehow we are always driven back to that “one thing.” I often struggle with the motivation to wordsmith even though I know it’s like a shot of adrenaline into my day – do you ever struggle with the masochistic pull to stop writing notes?

    …it never works, I have to keep writing, but I thought I would ask. Thank you for your excellent work!

    1. @CKHicks…. How about starting your own blog? Even if 1 more person reads your words, why not. Better than losing those notes. My 2c. Keep trying….

  9. Excellent, Om, and I know well the feelings expressed here having just written about it this week myself. http://thepomoblog.com/index.php/the-artists-lament/ I do feel that the concept of “freelance” is about to be validated in a whole new way, while the ecosystem that used to be in place crumbles entirely. Working for yourself, especially as an artist, is the way it’s meant to be, for expression that is limited by external restraints feeds only the stomach, while artists’ need is the soul. What we haven’t yet discovered is an adequate quid pro quo for the free use of our creations. I have faith that we’ll figure it out. Meanwhile, all I know is that the nurture and growth of one’s personal brand is job one.

  10. I think journalist, the really good ones, loved the craft, and were paid well. Right now the ‘paid well” aspect, for whatever reason, is missing, and I think that has a way of fewer kids wanting to be journalist, and the profession being marginalized. Also it creates a void where media outlets have to worry about how to make money like never before, and that is a stress that undermines the craft. In the old days money poured in from advertising, there was ‘church and state” set up between editorial and advertising, journalists were paid well, and could do great reporting, it was a highly sought after profession. Now the very economics of the business has changed, great, throught-ful journalism is being marginalized. Less smart kids want to enter the field. So while there are a lot of pluses in this new world, there are also a lot of minuses. And I think hanging in the balance is the art of good writing, objectivity, gum-shoe reporting, keeping companies and organizations accountable, and fewer and fewer really great, thought provoking stories.

    1. Hi @benmerritt

      Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree with you more and also at the same time point out that we are experiencing what the travel agents and stock brokers saw in late 1990s. The downside of digital is also its upside. More competition, fewer dollars being spent. It is clearly challenging.

      The only thing I would disagree with you is that folks who are going to be around are going to be aces of their game.

  11. Nicely written Om. I’ve been a fan of yours since the Business 2.0 days. A couple ideas that may be relevant:

    1. there is an old article that suggests that if an artist can get 1000 true fans they can earn $100k/yr and live alright. Could this be a hint for how freelancers might survive? (http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php)

    2. The internet, via search engines, makes it possible for a freelancer to be found even before richer media outlets. This is true if they practice Inbound Marketing techniques (SEO) and specialize (i.e. choose keywords they can win on for their esoteric niche). Indeed, such specialization is the key to finding those 1000 fans that also share this esoteric interest and are willing to pay for the best written content on it.

  12. Om, I love your perspective from working in the industry for so many years. I come away impressed at your honesty and a bit discouraged that it’s so difficult to make a living writing. Then again, I don’t possess the skills to play baseball, paint or make movies for a living either.

    I too wake up thinking about topics to write about and certainly stay up much too late jotting down those thoughts that just won’t be put back in the box.

    Keep writing and we’ll keep reading.

  13. I don’t think I’d recommend House MD while recuperating — too much temptation to hypochondria. But thanks for your thoughts on “that one thing” and the changing economics of “The Writing Life”… and thanks for good links to others thoughts. Be well.

  14. There is that question I heard come up a few times now at different places. «Do you want to write badly enough, to take a job as waiter and write over night? Or would you only do it if you are employed by The New York Times?» I admire everyone who follows, or better hunts their dreams down and being happy in his life.

  15. Well said Om. The curse/calling of creativity is a human obsession. I myself have gone boom and bust pursuing my own vision. But in the end, the process (not the profit) is what brings the most joy to existence.

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