5 Ways Writing is Like Dealing Drugs
If I had a dollar for every time some writer described writing as an addiction, I wouldn’t be a writer. Because I’d be retired. I think it’s a fair comparison, mind you, but I would respectfully suggest that we’re less like the users, and more like the pushers.
I am not suggesting writing is just like drug dealing, but writing is like dealing drugs. I mean, sure, both can get you killed or imprisoned in many parts of the world, but it’s much more socially acceptable for drug dealers to kill clients who don’t pay their bills. And we don’t break bad. We break badly.
1. No one actually needs what we sell.
No one’s ever died from not trying drugs. No group of sad folks has ever gathered in a black-clad crowd around a mahogany coffin, and said, “Poor Jack, he was so young, so full of life–if only he’d tried cocaine, he’d be here with us today!”
Now, I am not saying everyone can write at the same quality as a professional writer. It’s a skill, and like any other skill talent helps, but practice it what takes you the distance. The thing is, freelance writers don’t spend a lot of time channeling Shakespeare or Steinbeck. Mostly, we write fairly generic content for assorted websites, small publications, periodicals, and so on. In this country–theoretically–anyone who graduates high school can and should be able to string a few sentences together.
How do we overcome this? Drug dealers give out free samples to get you hooked, and so do we. We convince our customers that, whatever life was without us, it’s better now, and for a low price we can continue keeping it that way. They can tell themselves they’re just extra busy this week, and next week they’ll have time to write it themselves, but they know, next week, they’ll be calling us up, jonesing for a little content.
2. Most of our income arrives as small bundles of cash.
The cash hand-off is an indelible part of the drug dealer persona. Writers of police procedurals know that if they show you some guy handing another guy a wad of cash, you’ll think “Ahh, that there’s a drug deal.”
That’s a fair assumption, maybe, but before you handcuff that guy and threaten to run him in if he doesn’t spill what he knows, ask him if he’s a writer. I imagine this changes as time goes on, and it all shifts over to checks, and presumably suitcases of bundled hundreds. Someday, I hope to conduct a high-profile book deal in a darkened parking garage. Right now, a significant minority of my income arrives as fives, tens, and twenties hurriedly shoved into my hand in a coffee shop by busy people who need a small job done.
3. We use aggressive word-of-mouth advertising.
If you grew up in a city and walked through a park or two after dark, odds are ten-to-one some sketchy fellow has asked you something like, “Hey, man, you looking to buy? Need something good?”
And, unless you were in a very special sort of neighborhood where the gay prostitutes hang out, or, I dunno, some sort of black market candy store is being run, they meant drugs. If you said no, they’d keep right on: “This will get you so high. My shit’s the purest shit. Shit’s so pure it’s like. . . pure. Want a sample? On the house man, repeat customers are my bread. . . and butter.”
(Note: The above is an actual conversation. Drug dealers tend to be more Jesse than Walt, in my limited experience.)
I casually mention that I am a writer nearly every time I meet someone new. I don’t do that because I’m super-excited about being a writer. I am super excited about being a writer, but I mention it because part of being a writer (who gets paid for writing) is never, ever, missing a chance to recruit a new client.
4. Frequent changes of address.
Drug dealers move around to stay one step ahead of the law. Everyone knows if you do something illegal in the same place long enough, someone will notice. Eventually, somebody the dealer sells to is going to get collared, and, not wanting to go to jail, he’s going to give the police an address. So the life of the dealer is a mobile one.
When you have a job you drive to, it sort of ties you to a circle of, at most, fifty miles around your place of employment. I guess you could move around, but only within that circle. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you that I’ve written content for clients on three different continents, and I could have written it anywhere with internet access and electricity.
If I decided to move tomorrow, to Portland, Paris, Tokyo or Tahiti, it wouldn’t really change my ability to do my job. I’m like a dog on a chain that’s finally dug up the stake in the ground. Yes, that’s awesome, but the stresses involved in living a mobile existence don’t disappear just because you’re not being followed by a hard-bitten detective with a heart of gold.
5. We’re okay with the idea that our stuff might be slightly viral.
Reaching the widest possible client base is important to both drug dealers and writers. Not only is there a practical cap on individual demand, but there’s an inevitable minimum level of turnover. Let’s face it, drugs and the paraphernalia surrounding them aren’t known for their sterile nature. There are some differences. With a few exceptions, drug dealers don’t actively try to create viral content.
Writers on the other hand. . . well, just look at all these sharing buttons. Nothing would make me happier than seeing this post go viral.