“Voice” in writing is one of those things that’s easy to define but hard to describe. It’s an amalgamation of vocabulary, style, tone, cadence, and rhythm. In other words, all the things used to describe someone’s speaking voice but translated to the page in a way that it comes across through silent letters. Read enough of one person’s work and you’ll start to detect their voice in new works, even if they change the subject matter, style, or context.
Since I’ve started writing books, I’ve had several people tell me they hear my voice in every word. They may not know me in person, or not heard my voice in ages if they do. It’s always the same though- “I really love your voice. Reading your book feels like I’m listening to you talk straight to me.”
That means a lot to me because it means that I’ve created something that accurately represents me and who I am. It means I’ll have left a bit of myself behind when I die.
If you grew up in the late 80s and 90s like I did (and probably before,) your parents warned you not to talk to strangers. Strangers were strangers. They could be anything or anyone. They could hurt you, or steal from you. They could follow you home.
Then we grew up, and we quickly found that strangers are friends you haven’t met yet. They can also lead you toward your next great steps in life.
If anyone was to ask me what I’ve noticed about my professional life in the last year, I would says “I’m working harder than I ever have in my life, but I’m minding it less.” There’s something to be said for getting yourself into a job that provides more eustress (the good kind of stress that comes from challenging yourself or doing something exciting) and distress (which is… well, distressing.)
Stress is still stress, though, and one of my issues is finding ways to “turn it off” and letting myself relax without the feeling of “Yes, I’m relaxing, but surely I could be relaxing more productively…” Sitting down with my therapist, he suggested a good mix of self-love and self-care. “Give yourself permission to not be firing on all cylinders,” “make time for rest,” etcetera. All good advice I need to keep in mind more often. Critical for today, though, was his last suggestion- “What activities inspire and restore you?”
Well… that’s what writing used to be. Baking too. Both still work now and again, but the cathartic aspect just doesn’t hit like it used to. THIS is what restores me now.
I am what you might call a “working man.” I’m also a bit of a workaholic, but that’s its own blog post. What I mean by “working man” is that I work to make a living. The term is usually used for those that do “blue collar” work, but I apply it to anyone who goes to some kind of effort to earn a wage whether it’s from someone else or working for themselves. In other words, they earn money by creating value in the world. Yes, that does include the arts.
Not too long ago, my social media feeds were positively beset by sponsored articles and boosted posts talking about “passive income” and “easy ways to make money.” If the bad car salesman lingo wasn’t enough to indicate the lack of value these articles offered, their suggestions surely did:
“Start a blog and run ads on it! You’ll make money for nothing!”
“Write a book and self-publish. You only have to write the book once!”
“Sign up for one of our apps/partners and earn money taking quizzes or being a secret shopper or telling us what you bought!”
I can’t speak to the efficacy of that last one, but I know the first two pretty well at this point. If you think writing books or a blog is the easy way to a life of wealth and leisure… this post is for you.
Is Passive Income a Thing?
Yes, but also no.
Passive income is popularly defined as money you earn without having to work for it, usually through things like royalties or investments. For example, if you invest in a stock and that stock increases in value, your wealth just increased without you having to do anything related to increasing the value of the stock (provided you then sell it before the value decreases.) Investing in real estate might also be considered “passive income” since, as a landlord, you might develop the land or collect rent on it.
It can be argued, however, that both of those things involve some form of labor. An artist earning royalties still needs to do something to promote themselves and keep earning. Investors need to stay on top of their investments because all investments involve risk and knowing when to get out is vital. Landlords are also usually responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the properties they rent out. Even if those things are handled by other people, someone needs to be creating the value that the person collecting “passive income” amasses. If it’s not them, then who? Think about that next time you negotiate with your boss for a raise.
“But surely Matt, compared to owning property or investing, having a blog or writing a book and selling copies isn’t THAT much work?!”
Super Awesome Blogging Secrets!
Until you get used to all the ins and outs of blogging- CMSs, SEO, scheduling, social media seeding and the like- running a blog is HARD. If you don’t write well,regularly, and material your audience wants, you’ll be waiting a long time before you even see a dime.
I’ve been writing this blog for over 9 years. I still don’t know everything about SEO (but I know a few tricks,) I’ve learned about a couple different CMSs, and I keep a pretty regular schedule. I also write very well and promote my blog regularly.
With all that in mind, some time ago I decided to try running ads on my blog just to see how much it would net me. Ads tend to earn based on the number of clicks, the number of views, or both. Surely with all the work I’ve done, it couldn’t be that hard.
When the ads appeared, I saw a drop in readership. The ads broke up my writing awkwardly and were peddling the same kind of spurious clickbait trash I mentioned above. Few things are more awkward than reading an excellent piece about the emotional toll culinary life takes just to have two paragraphs separated by and add that screams about how “DOCTORS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT THIS ONE WEIRD TRICK TO REMOVE HORNETS FROM YOUR ANUS WITH VINEGAR.”
After 8 months of suffering through this ridiculousness, I finally checked how much money the ads had rolled in.5 cents. For 8 months or making my reading experience miserable and losing a chunk of my audience, the path to easy riches this was certainly not.
I was considering making the work involved in “just write a book!” its own section on this post, but I realized I could easily sum it up in a couple of salient bullet points.
WRITING A BOOK IS HARD. Seriously. Writing a book alone is an accomplishment, and writing one that people actually want to read even more so. Even Amazon will spit your book back out if it thinks it’s completely worthless or contains hateful nonsense. Amazon loves its bottom line more than it loves you or your “freedom of speech.”
SELF-PUBLISHING MEANS SELF-EVERYTHING.Need to advertise your book? That’s on you. Arrange a book tour? Also you. Distribution? Anywhere beyond to folks publishing the book is YOU. The business and financial responsibilities involved in selling books? Hey guess what IT’S YOU.
KEEP WRITING. The best way to to sell your book is through your next book.You have to keep producing. If you want to retire from writing, you better have some other ways of making money or have done a LOT of work that means you can live of of royalities… and keeping your name alive in peoples minds so they buy copies.
Ad Astra Per Alia Porci
John Steinbeck used this Latin phrase as his motto- “To the stars on the wings of a pig”- to describe himself as “a lumbering soul trying to fly.”
We’ve been short-handed for a few months now, and a COVID scare has the whole cafe on a staggered schedule until everyone on staff gets a negative test. In practical terms, that means that I need to bake fresh pies for the case and the entirety of the next days wholesale in under five hours.
I’m dashing around the empty kitchen, checking three ovens and answering texts from my boss and fielding questions about the schedule from staff… until it clicks. I stop trying to do the work and do the work, the Ancient Baking Wisdom flowing for heart, to muscle, to fingers. I clock out and leave the next shift instructions about what’s available and when the wholesale will be done. I was in The Zone, and doing what I loved paid off.