Great question. The funny thing about non-fiction writing (and any writing really, and possibly even anything) is that the more you do of it, the more critical you become of other people’s attempts. So while something like, say, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth inspired me to want to write a mainstream feminist book, when I returned to it after writing most of said book, all I could think was, “Naomi, your analysis of power is all wrong.”
Anyway, books that have shaped my thinking in writing my own include (listed in order of most to least accessible) Leonore Tiefer’s Sex Is Not a Natural Act (very readable), Gail Hawkes’sA Sociology of Sex and Sexuality (a bit dense and academic), and Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, which took me three attempts over as many years to understand, but when I finally did, I was like, “Awesome. So you’re basically arguing the same things I am.” I also liked Annie Pott’s The Science/Fiction of Sex which, while a bit academic and from a different perspective to my own, is a fun and smart read.
For non-sex related books, Brigid Delaney’s This Restless Life felt like life wrapped up in a(n admittedly complicated) bow to me when I first read it, and I have recommended it to countless people since. It is smart and ambitious, but very readable and not at all academic. Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption makes climate change so compelling and easy to understand that I texted my friends in excitement as I read it. Hazel Rowley’s biography of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre is an inspiration, and while I wouldn’t say it has particularly influenced my philosophy per se, Catherine Mayer’s Amortality is an excellent piece of non-fiction work.
Finally, on the fiction side of the fence, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin (much better than the film, IMO), and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach are all outstanding. If you haven’t yet read them, you are very lucky, because it means you still have the chance to enjoy them for the first time!
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks tearing my hair out over my manuscript as I prepared to send it to my editor this week, picking apart the holes and despairing over how I would ever fill them.
But last night, as I moved all the chapters out of their separate files and into one big one, I experienced a moment of awe.
I did it! I wrote a book! Sure, it’s not perfect and there are about a hundred things I’d like to change about it. But there are 70,000 words on the page, and they are mostly smart and interesting. And just as importantly, they reflect the vision I had when I began working on this project five years ago.
And in that moment at 3am that seemed pretty amazing. Hell, even now, 20 minutes after I sent it off, it seems pretty amazing.
One step closer.
Now for the months of edits and revisions.
- Having weekends again.
- Meeting new people and exploring new neighbourhoods of London.
- Reading other people’s books.
- Getting started on new projects.
- My hair no longer (literally) turning grey from stress.
- Actually, you know, HAVING WRITTEN A BOOK.
Meanwhile, Marco Arment’s The Magazine has just 25,000 subscribers who pay $1.99 a month, allowing him to pay writers $800 per article.
Is it telling that my first response to this post was, “$125,000 for six articles? Sign me up for that gig!”
I hadn’t realised they paid quite that well.
For the record, as someone who contributes to TheAtlantic.com, they pay me more than $100 per article. They also pay me a less than anyone else I write for, and if I lived on TheAtlantic.com stories alone, I would not be a full-time writer. I would be a hobbyist.
It is also true that they provide great “exposure,” in the sense that their audience responds to my articles better than most other audiences I write for, and I get loads of interesting people following me on Twitter whenever I have a story published with them. I like their audience, and I feel at home there stylistically.
But ultimately, for a professional writer, the purpose of “exposure” is to get bigger and better paying gigs. Basically, I write for them in the hope that in a few years I’ll be one of those people on a retainer (if not a $125,000 one, but that would be nice) to write smart, well-researched articles, whether for The Atlantic or someone else.
More than the decline of the media industry (those sweet gigs still exist, after all), Nate’s post highlights for me the huge gap between the senior and contributing editors at the top of any given publication, and the masses trying to break in at the bottom: many of them sans higher paying gigs to pay their bills.