The Integrity of a Writer

I’ve let this blog fade out, but it’s done everything but die off completely. It stands as a nagging, almost taunting, reminder each time I glance at the WordPress bookmark in my browser of what I once aspired to be. Maybe it’s still something I aspire to, but the context has changed.

Too many people have been asking if I’m still writing and I have to brush off the feeling of embarrassment and failure each time I tell them “No.” I still get writing job listings emailed to me from a college professor whom I haven’t had the heart to tell I’ve closed that chapter of my life. Friends who work with great publications wonder why I never write for them. My former editor continues to toss stories my way. What was at first an irritating topic of discussion has recently gotten me thinking that I was too quick to jump the writing ship. I’m still wary — I studied alongside an impeccable group of writers, many of whom have already clocked time at some of the most prestigious publications. A handful of them have even published books. I was a good writer, but I didn’t see myself as great as them. I didn’t expect the world to notice my fade out.

It’s been months since I’ve sat down to write anything of substance, but these bugs of ideas crawling around in my head have been growing and are getting harder to ignore. I blame my lack of prose on not having enough time, or not feeling inspired enough. Not good enough. “No one even reads it.” “Who cares what you think, anyway?”

The other night I got the small push I guess I needed. A kind note that encouraged me to just start writing, not for anyone but myself. So here we are.

They say to never work for free and maybe that was my biggest mistake when I moved to Los Angeles. I kicked my ass writing for one of the coolest, most badass, all-encompassing music/culture magazine — without pay — for almost a year. I had graduated, wasn’t receiving college credit, but hey! I was going to free shows and brushing shoulders with some of my favorite musicians in the green rooms at the most iconic rock and roll venues in the city. I wasn’t making money, but I figured I was putting in the necessary time to get to where I really wanted to be: a music magazine editor (with a salary).

I may have been wrong.

The magazine did eventually start paying me, but it was peanuts. I quickly realized that working three jobs half-heartedly could not support my LA life, so I chose the one that would give me the highest monetary turnover and I put the magazine job on the back-burner. I was so resentful. Having to turn down covering shows and writing reviews to work the closing shift at a retail store I hardly cared about was infuriating. I was frustrated that my life had dwindled down to the decision to do what I love or what will pay my bills. It was easier for me to alter my perspective on being a writer and to consider it as more of a hobby that I’d do in my free time (none of which I actually had anymore).

Maybe it was because of my horrible inability to let things go, or because I dabble in the art of masochism, or maybe a bit of both, but I kept trying to write, god dammit. I still volunteered to cover shows and to write up album reviews. I worked full-time, sat in LA traffic for nearly four hours every day, lived off ramen and oatmeal, but I stayed up through the night to get my shit written down. I wasn’t even getting paid for it at this point, but I was still doing it. I was exhausted, ill, and so very hungry, but I was proud of myself.

As a journalist, I’m familiar with the editing process. My words are rephrased and tweaked to find the best flow. I tend to use too many descriptive words, so those are often nixed. Sometimes my vocabulary is lacking and more impressive words are thrown into the mix. While I can’t say I enjoy reading the edits on my work as I feel so adamant that I perfectly expressed everything I wanted to say in the first draft, I’ve learned to bite my tongue and take the “criticism” with a grain of salt. Fresh and unbiased eyes make for a much better read. My words can morph, but my message always seemed to stay the same. The integrity of my story was still intact.

Writing reviews is a bit of a gray area for a writer’s integrity. No artist wants a bad review and I was focused on being a fair and objective journalist when writing them. There will always be an assignment that I can’t quite get on board with, but I aimed to present an album as what it was; highlighting the highs and referencing the lows.

I won’t get into the politics behind a publication’s motives and its relationships with record labels and PR agencies, but it makes the work of a journalist marginally more bias. Picture me: happy-ish journalist listening to mediocre album by a good artist while writing a mediocrely scored review on said artist. How was I to know that I had early access and exclusive reviewing rights to an album that the magazine was planning on promoting out the wahzoo? Picture me, again: totally clueless, but still happy-ish sending in my album review feeling very proud to have knocked another one out.

They didn’t agree with my review (!!!). They wanted to change my wording to fit their score of the record (!!!). I stood firm in my scoring and they suggested I use a pen name (i.e. a false identity that is not my name/me) (also: !!!). Caring less about the review and more about getting published, I backed down and let them change it to their liking.

And then it happened again. My (free) time spent listening to an album on repeat and creating a write-up that fit the magazine’s format, and they wanted to change my scoring. I think this is probably one of the more humiliating instances to occur in the world of a journalist. I couldn’t figure out if they just weren’t liking my writing or if I had grown a bad ear for knowing good music. Whatever the case, I felt my integrity as a writer had been compromised. I was turned-off to the thought of writing another review, fearful that I wouldn’t reach the standards expected of me.

So I stopped writing reviews. I stopped writing altogether.

I think that true writers use words as a sort of catharsis. A sweet release from the structured world and the freedom to say whatever you want in your own personalized style and format. Writing has always been a personal thing for me. I like to think my emotions show through my articles and stories. I used to be hyper aware of this and had to pare down my work so as not to sound so damn emotional. But, fuck that.

Do I want to be a writer? I don’t know. I’m so inspired by my friends working their asses off and writing every day, for work and for themselves. I’d love to find that same motivation to get it done, to create an extensive portfolio of published work. I’d love to commit to posting regularly to this blog and to dissect some of these bugs in my head. Maybe this is a step in the process of finding myself as a writer again. Or maybe this was the last thing I needed to share before cutting myself free from the journalism world.

Oh, the suspense…

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One thought on “The Integrity of a Writer

  1. I would say that I don’t think you should ever stop writing, but I don’t think I need to because I don’t think you ever will.

    There’s a little part of you that needs it, a part of who you are — or at least a part of who you want to be — that will starve without it. I’ve known you for a quarter of your life, and you’ve never *not* written.

    It doesn’t have to be for us or them or anyone. Really, it doesn’t even have to be for you, despite what I just wrote. Just needs to be true.

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