He did not understand that if he waited and listened and observed, another idea of some kind would probably occur to him someday.
November 15, 2012 12:10 AM   Subscribe

Being a content creator is a wonderful job: "It's 2pm. Don't you think it's time you put on some pants?"

Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web: A rather lengthy comic by The Oatmeal.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (88 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I never.





have to walk into an office if I don't want to.

That's worth it. I wrote that into my "what do you want to be after graduation" blurb. I never, ever, ever want to be inside an office in a professional capacity.
posted by The Whelk at 12:14 AM on November 15, 2012 [19 favorites]

yes, one of his better, if self-indulgent efforts... worth it for the line at the end...

"Art is not born in a vacuum... but it's not born inside a tornado full of shrieking trolls either"
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:21 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

Saw this earlier today. It's actually really really good. I gained a lot of respect for Mr. Oatmeal, who I've had pretty mixed feelings about in the past.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:39 AM on November 15, 2012

I like my office. When it's quittin' time on Thursday night I leave all my work there to not bother me until Monday morning.

These days I've got a very hands-off, live-and-let-live kind of boss. That definitely helps. (I've definitely had nightmare office scenarios as well.)

Home is for relaxing, never, ever work.

De gustibus yadda yadda yadda.
posted by bardic at 12:55 AM on November 15, 2012 [20 favorites]

Damnit, not only was that quite good, he nailed me on the hipster thing.
posted by Mezentian at 1:00 AM on November 15, 2012

I wonder if next he'll tackle "what is it like being a sleazy SEO monger?"
posted by ShawnStruck at 1:10 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

"what is it like being a sleazy SEO monger?"

posted by DarlingBri at 1:16 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed that.

The 'horrible degradation of social skills' bit in this one has just had me weeping and sobbing with I-can-identify-with-that laughter.
posted by dowcrag at 1:16 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Oatmeal was involved in SEO about a million Internet years ago. Reddit gave him a really hard time about it in 2009 or so.

As someone who's publishing a book I feel exactly the same way he does about running into a doctor or social worker and listening to them talk about their jobs. It doesn't matter whether it's for the Internet or not, being a writer is all about producing an end product that people care about and get excited by, and until you have that end product you are just a guy sitting in his room every day when everyone else is going out and doing real work.
posted by shii at 1:30 AM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

He's definitely right about comments on creative sites. Unless you want to let random idiots plant themselves in front of your art and yell "look at me!" forever, just turn comments off and let people focus on your work.
posted by pracowity at 2:13 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

As I just was catapulted out of bed by anxiety at the prospect of oversleeping and failing to be awake and alert to drive twenty-two miles to Baltimore to meet an elevator repairman at an absurd hour, this hits me on a few levels. I'm a "content creator" of sorts, having written online in various forums for, well, forever, but as the last two men with whom I had complicated interludes only marginally to be described as relationships spew at me like tough love bukkake, I'm not a towering success because I don't "monetize" my work.

"You give your best work away, Joe. Why aren't you sending that to The New Yorker?"

I will protest that The New Yorker doesn't publish the work of unknown schlubs from some Maryland nowhere town famous only for the George Wallace assassination attempt in '72 and hosting the 9/11 terrorists at the run-down motel where my high school girlfriend used to take her johns, but this, I'm told, is me standing in the way of my own success. I will protest that I'm not sure how the world of periodicals would take a piece I've been writing recently, which I've dubbed "Unmolested," about my youthful frustration about not being molested, no matter how funny and poignant I think it is.

In reality, I write well, but "monetizing" seems out of reach. I want to write, not market, and so I either spend my life in a field of cubicles, which is good, because that kind of boredom makes me prone to flights of private fancy, which I write out as my way of staying sane, or I work for bizarre urban landmarks, being catapulted out of bed at 3 AM by anxiety at the prospect of oversleeping, which is bad, because the line of work into which I've insinuated myself expands to fill every free moment.

I had a chance, though. In 2004, I left a job in a twenty-year career that I'd inherited from my father, and man, it was inspiring. I wrote frothy allusions to stepping off a cliff and discovering my golden bird wings and other such inspirational nonsense (all mortifyingly still active in the dark recesses of my online journal), cashed out my savings and 401K, signed up for unemployment, opened up the file for my book-length collection of essays, Scaggsville, and made a strong pot of tea.

Within a year, I was broke and increasingly broken, too. I edited my book from a breezy assemblage of funny/sad/insightful stories into a chaotic mess that constant exposure and repetition had turned to a mumbling stream of deadness, I flopped around the house eating compulsively while wearing underwear and bedhead, and alternated between obsessively watching Arthur reruns on PBS and sex chatting online with overseas perverts.

When I found myself paying the phone bill only because I'd been paid, via paypal, a modest sum of money by a Portuguese businessman asking me to drink a half gallon of milk shirtless while on a webcam, it occurred to me that my experiment in self-reliance had completely and utterly failed, but I still had a year left to go at it.

If you read the roughly one million guides to being a self-employed, freelance, or other kind of writer, you may come to believe that the writing is the hard part. Those books spend an inordinate time on little lessons on how to get motivated to write, how to get ideas to write about, how to stay hopeful about writing, how to deal with not having motivation, ideas, or hope about writing and surprisingly little time pointing out that (a) if you can't think of something to write about, you probably aren't really cut out to be a writer and (b) selling your work is the hardest part, particularly if you're an oaf in the business department and pathological about shying away from self-promotion.

I will be chastised for writing a rambling narrative on MetaFilter by one or both of my "monetization" advocates, who will once again tell me that I'm a communist for giving my writing away for free on such sites and shake his head about the fact that I'm not writing such things privately and mailing them to some sub-sub-sub-editor at The New Yorker, despite the obvious reasons why that's just a waste of stamps and concise and clever cover letters.

I may be a good writer, but the number of people who know that is small. On MetaFilter, it's a number that's small, but statistically skewed in favor of smart, literate people, which is why I keep a little file of nice things people have said about me here as a sort of palliative for those moments when I see that 50 Shades of Grey is a bazillion seller or that Augusten Burroughs has written a self-help book or that Mike Birbiglia has a movie produced by Ira Glass about a subject I was writing (and performing) about a decade prior.

Why can't I fucking monetize my work?

Man, is there an uglier word than "monetize?"

Maybe "signage."

"So, Joe, are you editing Scaggsville again?"

"Yeah, kinda. Well, no. But I did just write something pretty good about how much I hate the word 'signage.' Well, that and chimpanzees."

"You're writing about 'signage' and chimpanzees?"

"Yep," I say, and I recall a particularly well-turned phrase I'd written that passed one of my key tests—does it make me laugh, or just make me feel like I've said something funny? I have to laugh, but I'm not monetizing.

I print these things out and file them in a little cardboard box marked "Emily Dickinson" in the hopes that if I'm ever hit by a bus, my mother will seek out the ghost of Walker Percy and get them read, but that's just a flight of fancy, and one that makes me feel the shame that's omnipresent in those of us for whom self-promotion, even when it's not undeserved, is just beyond the pale.

Maybe I need to make little drawings to go with what I'm writing. People like webcomics, right? How hard can it be? I mean—xkcd, for pete's sake!

I daydream about offices a lot lately, about the boredom, the fluorescent lights, and the ranks of computers and social nothingness, and I daydream of being a daydreamer again—a Walter Mitty lost in the phalanx, waiting for the clock to let me go so I can rush home and write it all down.

Creating content is easy. Making a go of it?

Not so much.

posted by sonascope at 2:19 AM on November 15, 2012 [111 favorites]

/Sad about having kids and day job.
/Secretly suspects that leads to getting more done in the limited time available.
posted by Artw at 2:44 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

Saw this posted earlier today on my Facebook feed and fucking loved it. Yay!
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:52 AM on November 15, 2012

Sonascope, it was heartbreaking to read through that and wonder, halfway through, if it was by the Mefite I thought it was, only for it to turn out that it was. Because if anyone here deserves to have his writing more widely known, it's you.
posted by rory at 2:54 AM on November 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

I wonder if next he'll tackle "what is it like being a sleazy SEO monger?"

The SEOMoz toolset is very, very good, and makes it possible for smaller businesses to compete, via niches, with larger businesses. Which is good in a lot of different ways. While I don't particularly like the Oatmeal, the guy is a genius.

Besides, the SEO you are thinking of doesn't exist anymore, and hasn't for quite some time.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:55 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sonascope, trust me when I say that webcomics are not exempt from that need for promotion.

I've been experimenting with having a set time to stop working. It's kinda nice to be forced to put the art down and slack, instead of letting it linger every hour of my life.
posted by egypturnash at 3:02 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: Tough love bukkake
posted by Renoroc at 3:03 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

NEVER READ THE COMMENTS is like taking the red pill, people can give you that advice but until you've been through the millyou won't completly understand how true it is.

/Frequently does not heed this advice, suffers psychic consequences as depicted.
posted by Artw at 3:08 AM on November 15, 2012

Art is not born in a vacuum... but it's not born inside a tornado full of shrieking trolls either

Mine is sometimes.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:16 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

/Secretly suspects that leads to getting more done in the limited time available.

I not so secretly suspect the same thing. Not just suspect - know for a fact. I need something external to structure my time or will get not a damn thing done.

Also, having health insurance doesn't suck.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:21 AM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am a content creator who has the rigor and structure of going to an office everyday. Best of both worlds? I sure think so.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 3:35 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

GRAR I have to make a slideshow on actionable insights about subsistence farmers to inspire a bunch of agriculture value chain development guys and I am fed up of alternating between staring at the screen, thinking I suck and playing spider solitaire. GRAR!! well at least I put red floral shorts on at 2pm...
posted by infini at 3:41 AM on November 15, 2012

well at least I put red floral shorts on at 2pm...

So, I take it while I was sleeping y'all got past that awkward "ASL" point and are edging dangerously into "and, what are you wearing (/wink)" territory here....

That said...today I will go to the walk the dog for an hour, stop at the bakery, come home, have coffee while I watch the rest of the sunrise over the lake, then I'll work on that damn spreadsheet for the Board meeting tomorrow. Working at home is the best thing that ever happened to me....
posted by HuronBob at 4:03 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Am I just not catching on to your ironic smirks when you call yourselves "content creators"? How can you do this? When I, as a carpenter, called myself a "nail banger", what I meant was, "I'm a helluva craftsman". Is that how you guys are talking when you seem to seriously say "I provide content"? Please don't go along with this regrettable trend toward...whatever it is. You write or you draw and you put it up on the internet. You don't provide "content", you are artists. Own it!
Love, Retired Nail Banger
posted by Hobgoblin at 4:24 AM on November 15, 2012 [14 favorites]

I actually really like being in the office most of the time. I'd find working from home to be stultifying and lonely. I really like being able to work closely with a team and bounce stuff off other creative people. I know that people can do that when working from home but I just can't; I really need the co-location of collaborators to keep me motivated and sane.
posted by octothorpe at 4:39 AM on November 15, 2012

what is it like being a sleazy SEO monger

I make $13 an hour. I tell myself that churning out bullshit is a good exercise in writing disciple, and yesterday I produced 10 typo free, coherent 500+ word articles. I replaced three freelancers and my company threatens our jobs regularly. It is not pleasant. So that's what it's like.

Am I just not catching on to your ironic smirks when you call yourselves "content creators"?

Actually that's what I do for a living right now. I'm an artist only in the sense that working three unrelated keywords into some sort of sane sounding 'article' is a weird sort of art form, but it is also a sort of humbleness to indicate you're just as much churning something out by the yardage to fit into a space.
posted by Phalene at 4:52 AM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's not all-or-nothing. You don't need to quit your job and live in a drafty garret and not be able to afford food stamps to submit stories to the New Yorker.
posted by headnsouth at 4:53 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's the knowing that I *will* get up at 2am with a story that keeps me out of the 9 to 5 = produce now within this set duration straitjacket. It's recognizing the fact that I work best in intense bursts and then play dead for a month rather than a sustained output over time. It totally depends on *what* it is you're working on.
posted by infini at 4:54 AM on November 15, 2012

I make my living as a "content creator", but not by creating art, but by creating content for websites that is actually useful (this is measured by impressions and clicks). On one hand it sucks because it's a treadmill, and I don't have time to write that novel. On the other hand, it pays the bills, and allows me to work anywhere in the world. My MIL in Japan had a stroke a few years ago, so my job allows me to bring the family over to visit her for a couple of months each year.

The interesting thing about SEO content is that straight-up "optimization" isn't going to cut it anymore with Google. Google's signals now measure actual engagement on a website, whether or not visitors click on the link in the search result, and then click on another link on the page (rather than hitting the back button). So quality is definitely a thing now.

Still, it's sad that I have to compete with elancers and odeskers. Last month a client asked us to write content for an entire website using an odesker, to "save money." The odesker must have been on crack or something because, while the first bit of content was okay, the rest of it was garbage. I rewrote what had taken that schmuck one month in one day.

I need another job.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:00 AM on November 15, 2012

I love the Oatmeal, and agree with a decent percentage of what he writes, but this "lets pitty/mock the office guys because they are drones" thing is getting kinda droll.

I work in an office environment and I am challenged to be creative EVERY single day. While my primary function is support my companies stores, we have a myriad of other awesome things we are given free reign on. And I'm still in a relative "grunt" position, but it certainly doesn't feel like it.

It helps that my boss is fantastic and trusts us to have free reign, but that has been the case with all my bosses here.
posted by Twain Device at 5:09 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

God damn right, Draper.
posted by victory_laser at 5:13 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Don't ask me what my kitchen looks like.

Office work: God, I have worked with some really lovely people in offices, and I would never point and laugh and call them drones. I do miss having people around during the workday, and I kind of envy the way a lot of office work can be just Left Behind once you step out the door, but a day job in most environments is a lousy, lousy fit for me. Freelancing can be kind of scary (ask me about earning the equivalent of minimum wage for the first few months of this year), but it fits me just fine. Unlike these pants.
posted by maudlin at 5:27 AM on November 15, 2012

Now I regret getting only 500 words done on my NaNo yesterday.

I really agree with the "it's easier to write what you're told" panel. I've found that I write best for an audience. Previous attempts at just sitting down and writing a book have been met with failure. So this time, I'm writing for my wife. This means I'm writing something (a Twilight-ish story) that I wouldn't want to read, but it also means I don't get all lost in my own imagination and end up dithering endlessly*. I just think What Would Jen Want? and move on.

* Oh Flashman-esque fantasy story told from the perspective of an enchanted dagger, someday.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:33 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

It sounds like there are two conversations going on here at once – the one about how strange it is to have creativity relegated to "content" status, to treat things which ought to be free-flowing and spontaneous like they're a ritualistic behavior. But that's not actually a new thing, is it? The Beatles got their start playing 8-hour shows in dive bars where they were entirely at the mercy of the crowd who decided what they wanted to hear and for how long. Is there an art to delivering bullshit on demand? You might say that. Does it develop a skill you can use elsewhere, in other creative endeavors? Well, maybe – but some content production slogs are so controlled, so monotonous, that all they'll teach you is to hate your own capacity for creation.

The other conversation, however, the one about how the hell do you find readers?, how the hell do you share what's in your head with the world?, that one I find a bit upsetting. Because for me, that's never been a question. You share it by forcing other people to look at it, and if they don't want to, well, tough.

Art is a part of who you are. It's part of your package. Whatever parts of the world you dwell in, whether digital or physical, put your shit out there, arrogantly, vainly, and with a strong sense of entitlement.

I don't think I'm capable of writing anything without finding a way to share it. In sixth grade, when I wrote my first humorous essay, a copy of it found its way onto every single kid's desk, because fuck it, being the obnoxious funny guy would be better than being the friendless nerd. In high school I showed all my crushes my stories about young men suffering nobly over their inability to tell a girl they liked her. When I started going online it was settled: if the Internet has two billion users, then all of them are fucking reading what I fucking have to say, no matter what they think of it afterwards.

Matthew Inman/The Oatmeal got shit for this, and admittedly some of his tactics were scummy. But at the end of the day, he has an audience. He has people who read every comic he goddamn scribbles. Nobody remembers the vague irritation they felt when he was shoving his comic into every nook and cranny on the Internet. (Well, some people do, but nobody cares about them.)

Marketing, at its most simple, is: find an audience and show them your shit, and if they complain, try something different and see if they complain less. People like to complain: when you let them complain about you, tell them they're welcome, because you're doing them a favor. And when you figure out how to stop the complaints, tell them they're welcome again, because now they'll learn to depend on you and your voice and your personality. People will miss you when you're gone. Ask Allie Brosh. Ask why the lucky stiff.

There are no important rules about what people like. Sure, there are rules, but fuck 'em: mixed in with the true ones will be all sorts of ones about what people don't think they like, and people won't think they like a thing up till they decide to like it. If you like yourself, or even if you just like to do things, then there's a way of making other people like your things too, and the best way to find that way is to fuck up, fuck up, fuck up. The less appealing you think you are, the more people will go batshit crazy about you once they've decided you're appealing.

The Internet makes this unfairly easy. Between forums and blogs and things like Kickstarter, it is (relatively) absurdly simple to find an audience and start squeezing money out of their soft, porous flesh. (Fleshes? Plural?) The more you force yourself on other crowds of people, the faster some of those crowds will start wanting more. All it takes is your belief that you're worth a damn, damn it, no matter what those assholes on the Internet say.

- - - - - - - - -

There ought to be a collective of people who work on helping each other force their work upon others: writers, designers, illustrators, musicians, all finding ways of helping other creative sorts get their shit out to people. There are such collectives, in fact; I mean, they work. But there should be a collective for MetaFilter users specifically, because people here are smart and amazing and entirely deserving of success and what-have-you. That, combined with MeFites' frequent weary cynicism/belief that there's nothing to be done, no such thing as a happy end, should make for an interesting enough story that we'll be able to sell the movie rights by 2016. Who's in?
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:53 AM on November 15, 2012 [38 favorites]

Rory, I was in the middle of typing my Memail to you saying GOD YES ME ME ME I WANT IN before I even finished reading that last paragraph.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:00 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Geez, the "Your Career + Internet = Sad" part really hurt. I realize that without the net, the opportunities for people like me to have their efforts seen by more than their family would be close to zero. But that shouldn't mean our efforts are crap simply because of where they are.

But it does.
posted by tommasz at 6:00 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Reading Rory Marinich's lovely comment brought home the generation gap. And you are welcome on my lawn, dear
posted by infini at 6:03 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am finding this thread more depressing than I expected.
posted by Mezentian at 6:04 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

this "lets pitty/mock the office guys because they are drones" thing is getting kinda droll

If you're in a decent office, that's awesome. but many of us work in shitty offices and kind of appreciate the pity.

Also, that bit about inspiration coming at the wrong times? Spot on. I only seem to feel like working on photography when I have to actually go to work; when I finally get some time, I'm so beat down and depressed I just want to watch crappy TV on the couch.

Anyway, yay, Oatmeal!
posted by JoanArkham at 6:14 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Oatmeal does like his poop.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:19 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

To respond to Rory and second Sonascope -

The one single thing that I need to know most from any of the writing classes I've taken, and the one single thing that they skp over the most, is -- exactly how to market yourself. Rory, you say that marketing is "find an audience for your shit," but that is not as easy as it sounds - I've tried Writers' Market countless times, but then looked from the neat categorized boxes each of the magazines are, but then looked at my own work and thought, "So, um...I guess this particular essay fits that description, kinda?" Again and again I run up in to a wall of "there's a market for X and a market for Y, but my work is sort of a hybrid of both X and Y and then some Q and maybe a little K so I'm not sure what to do here". Another set of eyes to walk me through that problem would be invaluable.

And then the blog approach - you're typically trying to build a market from zero, and if you don't like talking about yourself it's cringingly terrifying anyway. And if you do suck it up and remind everyone whenever you have a new post up on your blog, you run into some of your friends thinking you're talking about it too much and wishing you'd shut up.

I'm far from the only writer/artist/musician/actor with this problem, I think. Rory's idea of a support system targeted to THIS issue is brilliant and I want in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:28 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

"this is good but it's not Teen Dairy Goat Weekly good"
posted by The Whelk at 6:36 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I love the Oatmeal, and agree with a decent percentage of what he writes, but this "lets pitty/mock the office guys because they are drones" thing is getting kinda droll.

I've basically never worked in a non-office environment. In high school I was a telemarketer, in college, I worked in the library, but in a officey sort of way, and now I'm a lawyer. The thing about offices is that they aren't one thing. They're just buildings and like all buildings how much you like going to them is totally a function of the people who are there.

My current office has some things cutting against it (the boss isn't anyone's favorite and we fired 2/3 of the staff so it's kind of like being in an abandoned office), but I like enough of the people that I genuinely have some good times here. We chat, we have lunch together, we get drunk in the office after 5. It's not where I'd spend my time if didn't have to work, but nobody says that about pretty much any work place outside the home.

I've worked in some hellish offices(ask me about high school telemarketing), but offices are just collections of people; some of them are good, some of them are bad. I don't really get the hate, it's like hating bars. I've been in bars that were terrible, full of the worst people in the world that made you wonder why you'd ever leave the house. I've also been in bars full of cool interesting people that made me really happy to be there. People matters. Buildings? Less so.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:38 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

It also occurs to me that I need to have a real job because I will not wear pants unless somebody makes me.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:39 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you Oatmeal, I now have a new rule: I stop reading after the third poop joke. Fuck you and the beaver poop you rode in on.
posted by jph at 6:43 AM on November 15, 2012

I am now monetizing my talent for nagging people for their own good. Reach me by MeMail and once we agree on an appropriate rate, I can arrange to send you a carefully escalated series of reminders, pleas, and threats that will help make you a creative, productive and panted member of society. HST may apply.
posted by maudlin at 6:46 AM on November 15, 2012

I guess my issue isn't with the "office jobs suck" because I do understand that is the rule not the exception. My main beef (and I am not accusing the Oatmeal of this in particular) is with the, "Oh you work in an office? Clearly you are a tool and aren't improving the world in anyway" crowd.

I was projecting my problem with that onto The Oatmeal and that isn't fair to The Oatmeal.

But enough of my Derail, I really did enjoy this comic. There are some really good messages in there with all the poop jokes.
posted by Twain Device at 6:47 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The people who work in the offices that finance, distribute and market the films I work on have my unabashed affection and respect. If they didn't do their jobs, I wouldn't have mine which I love.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:51 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thank you Oatmeal, I now have a new rule: I stop reading after the third poop joke. Fuck you and the beaver poop you rode in on.

I came in to make a snarky comment about all the poop jokes, too. But then I read sonascope's comment. And suddenly the poop jokes didn't matter anymore.
posted by Kevtaro at 6:58 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Twain Device: “I love the Oatmeal, and agree with a decent percentage of what he writes, but this ‘lets pitty/mock the office guys because they are drones’ thing is getting kinda droll.”

I can't stand the Oatmeal, but if it's getting kinda droll, doesn't that mean he's succeeding at his job?
posted by koeselitz at 7:09 AM on November 15, 2012

I have the soul sucking office job. I try to cram the creative bits in at the end of the day. Maybe if I drew bears shitting on each other and combine a bunch of superlatives I'd get a better hit rate.
posted by hellojed at 7:18 AM on November 15, 2012

Self-promotion and "finding your audience" is definitely the hard part of the equation for me. I have a fairly niche skill that I could probably turn into extra revenue with just a little bit of targeted marketing to living history events/museums/historical societies, but the thought of that hustle is such a turn-off that I haven't pursued it. I blame it on my reticent yankee nature, with a little bit of impostor syndrome on the side.
posted by usonian at 7:18 AM on November 15, 2012

One of the shocking lessons I learned from my stretch as an attempted freelance writer and gentleman craftsman was that the freedom I always dreamed about when I was grousing about having to get up at a certain time and drive the same damn route over and over and sit in the same chair in the same cubicle in the same office in the same old grey industrial park really wasn't quite what it seems.

Working in the same place as your kitchen leads to compulsive eating. Working in the same room as your bed leads to napping, which leads to late night alertness that isn't always welcome. Working near the bathroom leads to excessive bathing in lush, scalding hot tubs with a book unrelated to your work. Working near the TV...oy vey—particularly before I had satellite and was doomed to all-day childrens' programming on PBS. If you're not disciplined by nature, working at home is a dream that very soon reveals a darker side.

I am not disciplined by nature, at least when it comes to time management.

Granted, I've learned my lessons, and it only cost me about forty thousand dollars in blown savings, 401K, and debt-free status. Lately, I have the thought that maybe, just maybe, I should try again, but I still feel burned and smack-shy from the first try, not to mention that I'm still paying off the debts of self-employment six years after returning to more traditional work.

Right now, I'm in a deep blue funk. It'll pass, but for the moment, I'm full of inertia.

When I'm not in a funk, I daydream about an existence in which I am producing some fraction of my income from my writing and performance work (the stage work is more the PR end of the writing than an end in itself).

This time around, I would not be working from my bedroom in my apartment, but rather from an 8x8x8 foot shed in the back yard engineered specifically for the task of writing, sound design, and music. Shedworking appeals to me, which is why I got more workshop projects completed when I moved my entire woodshop from my basement to a hidey hole in the back of the Love Barn at the museum where I worked. There's something to having an away-place in which to work, so the end of work can occasion the closing of a door and the return to a space that's not for work.

At the same time, as much as I think I'm a well-adjusted solitary person, too much solitude sucks. It sucks at home, and it sucks if, like me, you work alone in a little room in a deserted twenty-two story novelty clock tower. You get spooky and isolated and all your social interaction comes from the internet. I used to be a snob about offices, silently lamenting the irritating qualities of coworkers who only want to talk about sports and television, but away from that, I'd find that I spend far, far too much time honing the comical southern accent that I use when I speak as the proxy voice for my dog. Too much Bill Clinton—needs more Strom Thurmond.

I like to think maybe I'd work in my little proposed shed each day, but go out and be a waiter a couple nights a week, or work at a fabric store so I could get an employee discount, or do some gigs as an embarrassing novelty stripper here and there.

This is all daydream fuel, of course, but I'm a believer in the notion that you have to imagine yourself in the existence you want to have in order to give yourself the energy to chase after it. When I'm in a funk, it's a very mechanical, rote pursuit, but I keep on, and try to stay positive and focused. When I'm in a mood, I have to dismiss the resistance I have to the ugly, mercenary side of being a working [whatever], grit my teeth, and come up with salable "product."

It's notable that at the end of every Oatmeal piece, there's a block of promo boilerplate that comes up, reading "PSST! I have a new book!" like a perfect little commercial coda. I can be cynical and roll my eyes and be holier-than-thou because on some perverse subconscious level I may well believe I'm an undiscovered prodigy of the esoteric observation who should be above such trivialities, but that just guarantees that I will always be unhappy with my lot in life.

In a secret room near the top of the giant clock tower where I work, I have stored the collected writings, papers, tapes, and other ephemera of the late poet, David Franks, who was a mentor and a friend. Working with him was exhausting and frustrating beyond measure, partly because he was a genuine towering genius that I would place right alongside any number of other notables in the field, and partly because every single decision he made in life seemed almost perfectly chosen to suppress any possibility of him being recognized for his brilliance and compensated for his work.

I worked with him on a website. My goal was to make it as clear and straightforward as possible. His goal was to make it difficult, complicated, and beautiful like an exotic flower that would live just a week or so, and I was forever trying to chase some delicate swirl of code to make his histrionic wishes come true, until we'd have a blowout and stop speaking for a few months. Hot and cold, hot and cold.

He worked alone, as a content creator of sorts, though he would have laughed at the whole notion of the "content creator," and from the outside, his life looked like a kind of beatnik heaven. He lived in an old barber shop in Fells Point, still set up partly as a barber shop, surrounded by artifacts of his strange, complicated life and his associates. Here, a photo of him with his shirt open, having his heart signed by Jorge Luis Borges in a stunt that would relieve him of his position in academia at the time. There, a book of photos of him rolling on a bed with Edith Massey in the performance series they did together way back when. Holding up a stack of signed first editions from poets, the top volumes of which were cat-shredded nests, were a few copies of the films he did with Paul Sharits on U-Matic videocassettes. It was, in its way, a treasure trove.

He believed in the grand manner, and greeted me at the door in either impeccable suits with fresh flowers in the buttonholes or red silk pyjamas and monogrammed matching dressing gowns. On the street, he was a noble character, half in the manner of the courtly elites and and half in the guise of some insane loner, wandering the alleys. I loved and hated him, often at the same time, and modeled my fantasies of life outside the loop on his deranged promenade through the world. Everywhere he went, a trail of glitter fell, as well as a coterie of women loved and left. I was left to sweep up, but you follow genius this way. Brilliance is an attribute of a great many rogues and charlatans.

David regarded commerce as crass, but he seemed to make it all work.

When he was diagnosed with cancer, though, and particularly when the chemo caused his already-iffy relationship to reality to drift sideways, I ended up having to manage his medical care and occasionally deal with some of his finances, which was an eye-opener, largely because he'd been kept afloat much of the time by a trust fund and some inheritance money doled out by a parsimonious and disapproving family member and not, as I'd rather romantically believed, by occasional sales, awards, and commissions.

Well, fuck.

I am going to die alone and unpublished, except for some little arts journal pieces, the internet, and some mortifying contract work for cable channels that shall go unnamed until after I'm dead if I'm lucky.

There's that funk, alas. It'll pass.

I'm actually still working on the leads generated through a sheepish AskMeFi post I made recently, though it's an uphill battle, and the notion of being a "content creator" is just icky, but just as I had to give in and call my online journal a "blog" (eww, eww) so people would know what the hell I was talking about, maybe you just have to surrender to the moronic zeitgeist in the digital world and play the game their way. It's just that writing is easy because I have always been a blathering raconteur of dimwittery on a celestial scale, but salesmanship? Shit.

If you want to make money, though, you need product. It's ugly, it's stupid, and in an evolved, civilized society, it wouldn't be this way, but at least where I live, it's Fifty Shades of Grey at the top of the bestseller list, not my lopsided tales of french cars, microfilm, and how I learned that tesla coils and the penis don't mix.

As frustrated as I am, though, I think the opportunities are probably better than they've ever been. The old order of the blockbuster vs. the slim volume of artistic etchings doesn't hold any more, and if you can generate enough sales to bring in $30-$50k, you can live off that, at least in my area. I don't know for a fact how the Oatmeal guy's model works, but it looks like he goes the self-publishing/online retailer distribution route. If you can sell thirty thousand books in a year and make a buck or two per, there's an income. That's the big if, of course, and I'm a wuss on the sidelines so far, but...hmmm.

Not long ago, I rediscovered a brisk, lurid, and relatively pervy bad sex memoir of sorts that I wrote by accident, and upon rereading, I was surprised to find that it's awfully close to being something I could sell. It would, of course, kill my mother, alienate the Southern Baptist wing of the family, and set up expectations that the remainder of my output was also going to be brisk, lurid, and relatively pervy. It's astonishingly easy to get completely lost in neurotic self-doubt in these situations, and here I am. Agh.

Still, the biggest part of success is showing up. It's harder than it seems, but showing up and being persistent is pretty essential. Sometimes, the best you can do is to regularly ramble on at length in a collective blog penned by smart people, and that is at least a foothold. From there, there are miles to go and there is so much room for self-doubt, even when you're convinced on some intellectual level that you're pretty good at what you're doing, but it's either up or out.

In a funk, I have to hold onto that little shed out there, just beyond the old Christmas tree that I planted in '89 and which is now forty feet tall, and a persistent belief that I have something to offer to the world. I can't surrender to artistic jealousy, or to doubt, or to a sense of righteous indignation because I think I somehow should be noticed because I write well, the way VWs reputedly sold by word-of-mouth in their early years in the US.

Next time, I can only hope I'll get it right. Sitting in my basement, there are the four concrete pier blocks for my future shed, and I'll build it when I can sell enough writing to buy the lumber. Until then, there is this matter of a funk and a day job that's ended up taking far, far too much energy, but this, too, can change.
posted by sonascope at 7:20 AM on November 15, 2012 [21 favorites]

Rory is right to an extent, but marketing is not monetization. This year I've given away about 20,000 copies of my novel. That's a hell of a market. But in spite of that market, and plenty of very positive reviews/ratings, I've actually sold less than a thousand copies of the book.

And when I set up a Kickstarter for my next novel & related hand-bound books, I got a total of 59 backers, and all but a handful were established friends. If it weren't for the fact that several of said friends are well-off financially, the Kickstarter would not have succeeded.

So, while in theory there are 20,000 readers out there, I haven't sold nearly enough copies of the book to live on this year, nor to even set aside other freelance writing and concentrate on the next novel.

It's a damned good thing I'm a skilled craftsman and rely on that.
posted by Shadan7 at 7:21 AM on November 15, 2012

posted by infini at 7:23 AM on November 15, 2012

The Metafilter content collective already exists, I thought?

It's MeFi Magazine.
posted by notyou at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2012

I wish I could wholeheartedly like The Oatmeal, but so many of his strips assume all the readers are men and presents women as this "other" populace that jokes are bounced off of. Makes me feel alienated.
posted by gentian at 7:32 AM on November 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I laughed out loud at parts and then did not think of it again. Success for both the creator and the consumer from my point of view.
posted by josher71 at 7:48 AM on November 15, 2012

If you want to make money, though, you need product. It's ugly, it's stupid, and in an evolved, civilized society, it wouldn't be this way

I respectfully disagree. "Product" has come about because suddenly there's too much stuff for anybody to possibly digest, so people are developing filters and businesses/marketers are following suit. Those filters are very primitive and the businesses that accordingly leech off those filters are equally useless, but "product" itself is the result of a somewhat noble state of human society: there are now more creators out there than can be neatly assembled into a little package.

Which takes us to:

The Metafilter content collective already exists, I thought? It's MeFi Magazine.

By design, the magazine's audience is pretty much limited to the MetaFilter community. I like that, because it makes MetaFilter a more awesome place to be, but it's "of, by, and for" MeFites, rather than "of and by" MeFites but "for" whatever audience each individual person is trying to reach. Sometimes multiple people are trying to reach for the same thing, in which case a collective production makes sense; but the really neat thing about creative collectives is when one person can say, "I'm making this movie (say) and I don't know who to show it to, and other people help them figure out what to do with that film and how to market it or at least make it look more like a product.

The idea is not to create a product that creative people then filter themselves into. It's to give creative people a freedom from worrying about "product", because there are other people helping them figure that aspect out. Free them from the "ugly, stupid" aspect of product that sonascope talks about, or at least free them from the stress of figuring that out for themselves.

As for Shadan7's excellent point:

Rory is right to an extent, but marketing is not monetization. This year I've given away about 20,000 copies of my novel. That's a hell of a market. But in spite of that market, and plenty of very positive reviews/ratings, I've actually sold less than a thousand copies of the book.

There's a correlation between marketing and monetization, but the ratio of market to money is very, very skewed in favor of "market". It's a cliche among Silicon Valley start-ups to start off with a free product, assuming they can find a way to make money off it once they have a million users, only to realize, shit!, people only liked us because we're free! And sometimes the monetization process actively ruins the original thing you were selling, which is an issue that even Twitter's been running into this year.

The value of marketing isn't the audience it brings you, it's the feedback that audience can give you. If you believe, as I do, that art is to some extent a dialogue between an artist and the rest of the world, then hearing the world speak directly to you is enormously valuable. Knowing, not the nice things your friends have to say, but the cruel things that an apathetic population will toss in your direction... that helps you see yourself and your work in a perpetually new light. Not that you should entirely trust that apathy, but certainly having it in the room with you gives you perspective.

The point of people collecting together should not be to put out a product, snap!, just like that. That's collaboration on the surface-est of levels. Collaboration should involve talking about the creative process, the revision process, and, yes, the marketing process, but marketing is so much more than just the final "product". It's one of the most fascinating and nebulous aspects of creating anything, because it exists at the intersection between your creative work and the rest of the world, and as such it should be treated as something thought-provoking and fascinating than merely an ugly necessity.

Obviously different people care about different aspects of this process. Some people love editing. Others love marketing. Some people just want to make shit. Many are interested in two of the three, or all three together. A good collective frees each person to just do the thing they want to do, because there are other people who're interested in helping them figure out all the rest. Or if they don't even want to figure the rest out, then they don't have to – after all, they get to share their work with other interesting people, and that's a reward unto itself.

As I wrote my first thing, it struck me that a coop of MetaFilter people would actually be an amazing thing. Anybody else who thinks so too, shoot me a MeMail (as a few of you already have)! This thread probably isn't the place to keep talking about that, though, so sorry about the derail, the rest of y'all. :-)
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:58 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

a coop of MetaFilter people

Nobody here but us chickens.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:51 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Sounds like a soul sucking chore that does not challenge my creative abilities whatsoever. I'll have it done in an hour."

If only it worked like that for me.
posted by philipy at 9:01 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: What did I just read? I think I need go to shower and possibly weep for mankind.
posted by spock at 9:14 AM on November 15, 2012

In a recent profile which I can't locate but I think was in a Seattle alternative, Inman estimated that he makes about $500,00/year from The Oatmeal. I think that number speaks to some of the snark in this thread and also the high poop quotient as well. He writes stuff that sells, which makes him a target.

Oh, and he raised $212k for charity too. I'd say that effectively erases his early-career SEO hijinks. I personally wish he wrote more stuff that I could share with my kids.
posted by craniac at 9:54 AM on November 15, 2012

When I was working from home I wrote a cron job to remind me to put on pants before Mrs Poe got home.
posted by poe at 10:58 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

For the last 4-5 years I have made my living (such as it is) as an online content creator. And I can testify that every single thing in that comic is true. Working as a self-employed artist means freedom. Horrible, horrible freedom.

So many thoughts, reading this thread. On feedback, I am reminded of a Neil Gaiman anecdote. (I'm sure I could find the original on his blog if I went looking for it, but I can't be bothered. Apologies if I get some of the details wrong.)

Regarding one of the Sandman TPB volumes, Gaiman received truckloads of feedback over the years from people complaining that it cost too much. They wanted to buy it, but it was too expensive. Too expensive, too expensive, too expensive.

After years of this, Gaiman finally convinced his publisher to drop the price by some huge amount (like half). And... it didn't affect the sales one bit.

The insight I gained from this anecdote is that people will either buy your stuff or they won't, and if they won't, there's no point trying to change to please them.

People rarely understand why they don't like something. Someone sees something and doesn't like it, and they just latch onto the most convenient explanation as to why. If you have ever been in charge of (or beholden to) a focus group in a corporate setting, you are familiar with this problem.

Maybe someone thinks they ought to like Sandman, but they don't really, but they can't quite fumble for this explanation so instead the grab the easiest reason: "I would buy it, but t's too expensive."

The high-level lesson here being that people are idiots, and 99% of the time their criticisms are both wrong and ill-informed.

(Successful freelancers and artists have learned that this lesson also applies to yourself and your own excuses for not doing work.)
posted by ErikaB at 11:02 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an artist. I work from home.

I almost never wear pants. This is because I'm a lady, who wears skirts and dresses. I do however put on clothes every day. It helps that my apartment is on the ground floor, and my studio has large windows facing the street.

My current game to try and convince my brain to Get Work Done involves (1) a rotating set of boss encounter screens from Radiant Silvergun ("BE ATTITUDE FOR GAINS") as my misc web/mail/whatnot desktop's background, (2) a promise to myself that I quit working at 5pm, and (3) driving videogame soundtracks. It's working better than other things I've tried. It'll probably quit working after a while.

Also ye gods I am still appalled by everything about the presentation of The Oatmeal. His art continues to be not merely ugly and crude, but aggressively ugly and crude. Never mind the fact that this strip is like 75% poop jokes.
posted by egypturnash at 11:14 AM on November 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was working from home I wrote a cron job to remind me to put on pants before Mrs Poe got home

Yeah, but did you do that because it was actually useful, or as a displacement activity to avoid your real work, huh?
posted by philipy at 11:44 AM on November 15, 2012

MetaFilter: A Displacement Activity to Avoid Your Real Work.
posted by Mister_A at 11:58 AM on November 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

Online marketing:

I try to balance my attempts to publicize my work with respect for the people I want to have see it. This is why I don't relentlessly spam Metafilter (that and the fact that I'd lose my $5), BoingBoing, etc. You people are my target demographic; you're smart, witty and sweet. You faithfully click on every link I DO post and that makes me happy as I obsessively refresh the stats from my website

It is my maketing plan to one day have the people who come back every day to see the new image outnumber the attack probes and spambots.

On motivation/discipline:

I can see where it might be difficult to make yourself work when you're creating something (writing, mostly) that takes months or years to complete. I draw and paint and I rarely spend more than a few hours on a drawing or more than a few days on a painting. When the drawing/painting is done, I want another one - I only stop when I have to eat, sleep, rest or go to work.

Soul-sucking cube job:

I count myself lucky that I love computers and programming and I'm good at it. There are times when I am writing code that are almost as good as painting. It pays the bills and the people are nice.

But it's not painting.

posted by mmrtnt at 1:13 PM on November 15, 2012

MetaFilter: A Displacement Activity to Avoid Your Real Work.

Nah, it's cool. I'm rendering.
posted by RobotHero at 1:29 PM on November 15, 2012

Am I the only one who actually enjoys wearing pants?
posted by trip and a half at 2:04 PM on November 15, 2012

posted by Rory Marinich at 2:06 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't go so far as to say I enjoy it. I don't sit around thinking "Hey, great! Pants!"

But I do wonder:

What the hell else does everyone wear then? Doesn't it get cold? And where do you keep stuff that you would like to have at hand all day if not in pockets?
posted by philipy at 2:37 PM on November 15, 2012

How to get a buttcrapload of people to read what you write. The Oatmeal speaking at Webstock eariler this year. Kinda how he got to where he is.
posted by maupuia at 3:20 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have to --

Metafilter: hey, great! Pants!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:57 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Really good essay about staying with it, if you're a writer: Michael Ventura, The Talent Of The Room
posted by dancestoblue at 4:02 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

What the hell else does everyone wear then?

When I'm working at home? Probably my undies. Or those cheap 2/3 length sweatpants sold at rite-aid, made from the really thin shirt material, with a super low rise. I think they're supposed to be for the ladies, but w/e.

Doesn't it get cold?

Not very, at least where I am. Plus, t-shirt.

And where do you keep stuff that you would like to have at hand all day if not in pockets?

Where you'd usually put it when you empty your pockets at the end of the day. You're at home. Your stuff is wherever you keep it. If it's your phone you have in mind, probably on your desk, same as you would do if you worked in an office.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:18 PM on November 15, 2012

What the hell else does everyone wear then? Doesn't it get cold?

PJs. Yoga pants. In the summer, boxers.

And where do you keep stuff that you would like to have at hand all day if not in pockets?

My shit goes my desk. I'm a woman, I don't keep anything in my pockets anyway. When I had an office job, it went in my handbag/laptop bag.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:30 PM on November 15, 2012

My desk has drawers.
posted by infini at 7:25 PM on November 15, 2012

Hmm. Guess I am the only one. But pants are awesome. I like to wear them.*
posted by trip and a half at 1:10 AM on November 16, 2012

*I don't wear them when I'm sleeping or showering or anything weird like that, but: Yeah pants!
posted by trip and a half at 1:14 AM on November 16, 2012

For me its not about the pants. Its the bra.
posted by infini at 7:56 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Starfleet uniform robes are basically the only things you need to wear.
posted by The Whelk at 7:57 AM on November 16, 2012

Hmmm the Oatmeal.

See I have a lot of problems with the oatmeal, because a lot of people whom I like and reseepect often read it and link to it, but when he produced this comic : "Five Super neat Ways to Use A Hooker", and then had the gall to try an defend it successful satirical humour, well I lost any shred of goodwill towards him.

Does he often create insightful and amusing comics? Yes, but sometimes, when someone consistently acts like a douche, then you've got to figure that maybe they just like being a douche. being creative or insightful doesn't
posted by Faintdreams at 8:33 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

dagnabbit! I missed the edit window again! .. Begin creative or insightful doesn't let you off the hook for consistently being an unrepentant douchebag.. is what I wanted to finish on ::sigh::
posted by Faintdreams at 8:39 AM on November 16, 2012

Even if I'm at home, I move around a fair bit, and there are a bunch of things I like to have on my person at all times. For example a small notebook and a pen, to jot down such things as occur to me or that people tell me, and I don't want to forget. (Same idea as a GTD capture tool, though I don't use GTD per se.)

Anything comfortable with reasonable sized pockets will do, and wearing jeans is not actually a hardship. Also it'd be chilly most of the year wearing less, and overkill and not very environmentally friendly to heat the house for the sake of not putting on a pair of jeans.
posted by philipy at 9:28 AM on November 16, 2012

Starfleet uniform robes are basically the only things you need to wear.

From the Star Trek convention in London this year.:

Back on stage, the captains are asked what one thing they would change about their series.

"To be renewed for another three years," joke Shatner and Bakula. Both their shows - the original Star Trek and prequel spin-off Enterprise - were cancelled after their third and fourth seasons respectively.

But it is Avery Brooks (aka Benjamin Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who gives the night its biggest laugh.

It comes when he names the one thing missing from his Starfleet jumpsuit: "Pockets."

posted by philipy at 9:34 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

On inspiration:

Since I started working more consistently on my artwork back in February '12, I've been thinking about this quite a bit.

I always just assumed I was pretty creative and the ideas would just be there when I needed them.


Now I keep a "words" file and constantly add words and phrases to it that might be fun to illustrate.

I'd say about 25% of the entries in this file turn out useable.

Nevertheless, as I go back through the word file, I sometimes think of new things, or I suddenly think of ways to illustrate things there that I thought I couldn't.

So, Inman's pretty spot-on with this.

posted by mmrtnt at 10:59 AM on November 16, 2012

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