Friday, September 25, 2009

Red Line

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I love writing, yet loathe writing for others.

Even the clients that I like, I have a difficult time motivating myself to dig deep. The moment I open up a blank Word doc and scribble down my byline, it doesn't matter who is buying the piece or what the topic is for that matter. Any keystrokes that ensues is work. A job. And by definition, all jobs suck. It doesn't matter if I'm writing a bullshit report about a couple of social misfits and degenerate gamblers who played a pot worth over a half of a million dollars or if I'm hunched over a computer monitor and trying to cajole a know-it-all dentist from Tenafly, NJ to pick up 1,000 shares of some bullshit pharmaceutical stock (think 'Farrow Tech' from Boiler Room) that the overlords ordered me to dump onto my prospective clients, who were stupid enough to buy. Work is work.

I used to write solely for myself. Locked up in a dark room illuminated by a single candle. Loud music. Thick smoke. Without a net.

Most of the time, that's my goal, to write for myself. After a while, when I discovered a rapidly growing audience following my the words (with monetary ramifications around every corner) so I made an adjustment and wrote with the audience in mind. Over the long haul, that is a bad thing because you begin to pander to the lowest common denominator (e.g. the demise of network television or some newspapers). However, short term, it's an easy buck.

I vacillated back and forth between writing for myself and writing for an audience. There were mixed results and tons of inner conflict. Sometimes the words shined bright, sometimes they fizzled into the dark of night. That's the way it goes. But at least I was conscious of the two diverging paths and knew short cuts back and forth so I could jump on and off at different moments.

I no longer do that. I returned to the "writing for myself" mode because the bigger picture is more important to me than the short term consequences. That was a fancy way of saying, "I don't give a shit about money now. It's all about the art, man."

Which is not entirely true. But if I can get away with writing for me and still get paid for it, then I pulled off a successful coup. The guys with the guns usually have the power.

In the last month, I found my words at the mercy of two copy editors, which is a good thing. There are times that I have been catering the words towards their tastes instead of writing from the gut.

My recent goal has been -- not to get red-lined.

Long term, that will make me a stronger writer which is my ultimate goal. Short term? Sometimes I feel as though my pieces are too polished and lack a certain zest.

Balance. That's the most important word in all of life. Balance. It's essential in art. You need all the necessary components working in harmony in order to create a piece that impacts people. Sgt. Peppers. The Mona Lisa. The Road.

The editor in charge of Lost Vegas reminds of a German butcher.

Whack! Whack! Whack!

He's merciless and fierce, yet precise. Instead of tawdry piece of shit, were gonna have a sleeker volume of stories about Las Vegas. That's a good thing. No... it's an amazing thing and a sensational miracle. However, it's utterly brutal to see years of work flushed down the toilet like a foul turd.

The other copy editor is a respected journalism professor. When I hand in my work, it feels like being a Top Chef contestant and he's one of the celebrity judges about to critique my food. Since I already know that his expectations are much higher than the average copy editor, I know that I have to elevate my level of writing..

I used to be so spoiled and could get away with turning in a first draft. Not any more. I spend a significant time re-writing and re-writing. It used to be my least favorite thing about writing, but at this juncture, it's essential. The only good thing is that I'm so used to re-writing right now, so it's not as much as a chore as it used to be.

It's a daunting and near impossible task to write a flawless piece, but I like a challenge. In one way, these assignments are taking my mind off the fact that it's work. I'm welcoming the opportunity to have my pieces properly inspected by a professionals something that the poker industry rarely boasts.

Many of my clients allowed me to get lazy and I took advantage of their desperation. Easy money. I could turn in anything and some places would publish the pieces without even reading them. That massages the ego, but it makes me cringe when I see basic copy editing errors. In the end, we both look bad.

Sometimes, it feels good to write without worrying about the red line. But sometimes, it's good to know it's there.

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