To Write Or Not To Write

In the previous post, dearest Quilly yanked a few of the few remaining feathers from the top of my head because I haven’t written anything here lately.

Yes, I’m busy. And I’m going to get a lot busier. Busy enough to make me wonder whether I will have time to blog at all. Or even do any more of the Fiddler stuff. It’s not like the Fiddler stuff pays the bills. When I was in Berkeley, California a couple of years ago now, I became acquainted with a music store called The Starving Musician. Yep, it’s still there. In fact, there’s three of them. Glad to see somebody in the music business is making a crust. I think. It sure ain’t the musicians.

Or the writers.

As I’m sure everyone in the known universe and Iceland now knows, the professional writers are on strike. The ones in those parts of southern California that didn’t burn down to the ground last month, who are responsible for such lasting contributions to the cultural heritage of the English-speaking peoples as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, American Idol, and Dancing With The Stars.

Yeah, them.

You probably know better than I that the writers are in high dudgeon because their employers are increasing using the Internet to peddle their wares. The employers are doing this for several reasons, one of which is that, through a loophole in their previous collective-bargaining contract, writers make no money when their writings are peddled over the Internet.

Hey. Lower costs. Higher profits. The American way. Like how Halliburton can get a “buy” rating on the NYSE without actually having to supply electricity to Baghdad.

Anyway. The writers are trying to get that loophole closed through their negotiators (who are, as of this writing, getting nowhere), and by winning We the People over to their side. Among other things, they’re trying to win We the People over to their side by peddling their wares (where else?) over the Internet. The so-called “speechless” campaign. Which, this amoeba finds, is so smug and self-absorbed that, for those not already part of the Writer’s Guild chorus, it makes a better case for Management than for the scribblers. Not that America’s Got Talent doesn’t already do that.

Here. See for yourself.

Now, Amoeba’s Rule states that any intractable argument is usually over the wrong thing. (Don’t bother googling websearching that. I just made it up.) Like with the recent strikes at General Motors and Chrysler. Seems dumb to argue about how profits are to be divided instead of getting together to figure out how to make enough profits to divide.

In case you were thinking that Media Management types had all the money in the world and were churlishly hiding it from their writers. Think, if you will, about why (for instance) there aren’t any locally-owned or -operated TV or radio stations any more. Each and every one, at least in places I’ve lived, is part of some huge corporate conglomerate. Because the audience is shrinking, and no media outlet can survive without the backing of a Disney or a Time-Warner, which, thanks to economies of scale, can produce more stuff with less money. Including programs. Which have to capture a pretty fair chunk of the market that’s left in order to make a buck. Which means a whole bunch of things like America’s Got Talent. Because that’s what the remaining market will buy.

In case you were thinking that the writers were fat cats crying over milk that wasn’t spilt their way. It opened my eyes last week when I read what the average annual take for a Hollywood screenwriter is. $60,000. Sixty fricking thousand dollars. Before taxes. And health insurance. Which will likely cost double what it costs if you’re, say, a teacher, or one of those UAW assembly-line workers, instead of (as I think is usual) an independent contractor to the studios. Hell, at that rate of pay, I’d almost rather be a teacher. At least teachers don’t have frantic producers calling them for rewrites at three in the morning.

Sure, there will be a few writers who make lots more than sixty K a year. It takes real talent to be able to pander to the tastes of the mass market, what’s left of it, without actually doing hard-core porn. Try it sometime.

Wait a minute. We are trying it. Some two million of us just on our beloved WordPress alone. To say nothing of Blogger, or Typepad, or Youtube, or, well, you name ’em.

The writers are having a hard time making a dollar at their writing because so many of We the People are willing to do it for free.

Including Your Favorite Amoeba.

Ask yourself. How much of your entertainment time budget is spent blogging, or reading blogs, or otherwise browsing Internet content that is available for free, was put online for free, presumably by people who are able to produce and post that content for free because they’re subsidized by their jobs, or their benefits, or their, well, I won’t presume to guess. If I do, somebody might feel offended. Especially the people who are trying to make their living writing for media programs, or selling the advertising for media programs, or buying/selling stock in media corporations based on their ability to produce programs that will sell to advertisers who will make sure that We the People will watch them.

I’ve written, somewhere in the blogosphere, that the idea of a professional scientist was pretty much unknown before the twentieth century. It’s close to the same way with professional writers, or artists, or musicians. Of course, the electronic media (radio, television, movies, computer networks) that provided such a huge market for writers, artists, and musicians didn’t exist before the twentieth century.

Famous people like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote not for professional musicians, but for amateurs, people who could afford both the time to play and the outlay for their instruments and training. Such writers either had day jobs, or they spent huge amounts of time seeking contracts and patrons. And it didn’t always work. Mozart is recognized, even today, as one of the absolute goliaths of Western music. And he died penniless.

If we are not careful, we could wind up, once again, living out a time where all art is amateur. And scarce. Because fewer and fewer of us, as we all scrabble for life’s diminishing resources, will have the time or cash to invest in writing, or drawing, or making music.

Oh. Did I mention? The only people who could play Mozart’s music, the only ones for whom Mozart could afford to write, were rich noblemen?

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. Hi OC,

    Hope your weekend had been good, sorry about the feathers being yanked. Great article, as usual, and you raise many interesting points. So many people blog because they can, for free as you say and it’s more fun that watching television! I understand that writers need to make a living, but doesn’t anyone remember the studio days? Or the pulp fiction craze? No one has the right to be published just because they’re a professional writer and certainly not the right to make a living at it. How many networks are there? How many movie studios? How many traditional publishers? With nearly 100 million blogs worldwide, plus all the social networking sights; all for free! Who has time to watch anything else?

    I’ve never understood the desire to control and conceal content. The more exposure the better, but media these days are obsessed with copyright. But all our blogs are copyrighted too. I have content theft every day. So? I want my blog to be read and if I don’t paid for my work, that’s ok. That’s why I published my book on my own. I want a piece of the media pie, but no one owes me anything.

  2. Well I personally don’t know any professional writers. Musicians yes, writers no.
    I am glad you are writing for free right now, with
    all your intended cynicism and unintended brilliance.

    Heming who? No haven’t read him …I read
    O’Ceallaigh & The Quill. 😉

  3. As usual, Brian, where you stand depends on where you sit.

    When any profits are a windfall, you’re happy to give stuff away. But if you’ve committed your livelihood to the written word or the played/sung one, you’re not happy when some jive blogger’s written something that the Boss likes better than your stuff and that he can have for free.

    The problem that spawned the writer’s strike, I think, is the same one that’s had us in a kerfuffle over illegal immigration, or the migration of jobs to Asia. American pay levels for all jobs have depended, for the entire history of Europeans on this continent, on the scarcity of labor relative to opportunity. Mexicans, Chinese, and bloggers increase the supply of labor and lower its price. Not all are happy about this.

    Cooper (and Quilly), if I’m so brilliant, why ain’t I rich? No, wait, I just told Brian why. Duh. 😉 Hemingway? How could you have read my new OFP blog before I’d finished writing it?!?

  4. Excellent post OC and an excellent riposte to Quilly’s 2 previous posts about forgetfulness (good work keeping a strong male tradition going there) and lack of posting. I am a great believer in the adage that talent will out, hence I am a blogger not a writer!

  5. Welllllllll… I’m thinking living in a world of amateur artists might not be such a horrible thing! I haven’t found a television show in 15 years that could hold my attention. And have you SEEN some of the art hanging in the galleries and museums??? There is one … I think it’s at the Hirshorn in D.C. — it’s about a 30 foot square white canvas with a big red circle in the middle. Worth THOUSANDS… maybe a million. I’m pretty sure I could duplicate it! Now… musicians? That’s another story! Talent IS necessary!

  6. I’m starting to think that what you get paid to write is almost worth writing for free. It was good in the beginning, but well….I won’t go into it on your blog. Anyways, what I intended to say was that I came across a new site that must have been created when the writers went on strike. I won’t name it here, but it’s paying people…regular people for their scripts and such. I guess that throws another kink in things for the real writers.

    I can understand being busy. It’s been almost a week since I’ve updated my blog. People are going to start thinking I’ve dropped off the face of the earth again if I don’t update soon!

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