for a few dollars less

Few days ago my brother asked if one of his friends could hit me up for some writing help. I said yeah, cuz it’s fine and I do this a lot and it usually doesn’t take much time.

So the guy hits me up. Sends over two pieces of writing. I read them closely, make revisions and a ton of comments in the margins, send em back. He’s thankful, effusive. I wish him luck and tell him I was happy to help.

Cuz I was. I am.

I’m petsitting for my boss in Palmetto Bay. It’s Wednesday. Rent is due back at the apartment but I didn’t get the previous paycheck because of an unpayed gap between the semesters.

The ritual at my apartment is that my roommate drives out to our landlord’s place, an old friend of his, and pays the rent in full, then I reimburse him my half.

I send him a text tonight explaining that I didn’t get paid and I ask if he can give me a week to pay him back.

“No problem,” he says (this is through text). Then, a little later, “It’s just money.”

I sit with that last line for a bit. I just got back from work, it’s late, the pets are fed and there’s no food in the house. I check the cash in my wallet and then walk three blocks to Hole in the Wall for a PBR.

Few days later my brother’s friend gets in touch again. Says he’s got a longer piece of writing for me to look at and that he’s willing to pay me for my time.

This is good.

I don’t make a remark about the money off the bat, though, because I don’t know how much to charge for this sorta thing. Don’t know how much my time is worth vs what’s appropriate to charge a friend of my brother. A couple weeks ago I was trading messages with a prospective sponsor of the podcast and when I told him I wanted $100 a month to talk about his product on five episodes a month, he demurred, and a little research showed that I was asking too much.

So I just tell the guy sure, the arrangement sounds good, just send it over.

On my first day with the story I read the first half of it. I make a full page’s worth of comments in the margins and a bunch of in-text revisions. When I reach the halfway point I start losing focus and so I switch to the book proposal I’m working on.

Next day, my brother’s friend sends me a message. Asks if I’m done yet.

That I’m immediately annoyed feels inappropriate. I tell myself it’s fine, he’s anxious about it, I would be too. Yes, I’m busy, but I remember what it’s like to be starting out and hopeful.

 So I go to my desk and pour some wine and read through the second half of his story and return it with a pagelength email, along with a ton of new comments, a reading list, some in-text revisions, some banter.

Thousands of words.

He writes back immediately and expressed tons of gratitude and then said, “What’s your Venmo? I’d like to send you some money.”

 I tell him to just search my name and he’ll find me on Venmo but then, out of some misguided reflexive courtesy, I tell him that he doesn’t have to worry about sending me any money if he’s strapped at the moment.

The ensuing silence would suggest that he’s strapped.

This morning I’m listening to the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast. His guest is Jerry Stahl, another screenwriter, and together they talk about the frustrations of writing and submitting pilots and the fact that most of the work that they do, that they submit, will never see the light of day.

I’m listening to this on my way back from Arahi’s Bakery #2 and shaking my head cuz I’m thinking, Shit, they keep swinging for the fences, working hard, producing pages, and they never get a chance to make good money.

            Because my reflexive thought, given how I’ve been conditioned to think of writing, is that you do it for free. For everyone. That you leap at opportunities to do this for free because there’s a chance that it might someday get published, or just noticed, and then, when some powerful person notices your talent, she’ll set you up with a gig.

            As their conversation progresses, though, they start talking about compensation and I realize…they’re getting paid. Like, yeah, their shows don’t always make it to the screen but, more often than not, they’re being paid to write something by a producer or a network and then it belongs to that producer or network and they either develop it or they don’t.

They aren’t working for free.

Of course they’re not working for free. What the fuck was I thinking?

            I was back in my apartment at this point and I just sat quietly on the sofa with the remains of my coffee and thought, as like an undercurrent to what I was hearing and what I’d done for people over the past couple weeks: why has it literally NEVER occurred to me that I should be paid for this?

I’m thinking about it for the rest of the day: seriously, why has it never occurred to me to charge people?

I am busy. I’m doing the blog posts, scripting the podcast, recording and editing the podcast, watching the movies, preparing a book proposal, editing a novel, working for the ghost writer, commuting to my day job, trying to go on a date here and there. Tryna get some reading done.

But it almost feels like an opportunity everytime somebody reaches out and asks me to spend several hours editing their work.

Except…it doesn’t. Not really. I realize this over the course of the day. It doesn’t feel like an opportunity: it feels like validation. By asking for my help, the person is saying that they consider me something of an expert. Which is nice.

But why do I respond so much to that? Probably because I don’t really get feedback on my writing. There’s no real validation coming out of the blog except for the narrative I construct for myself by studying the analytics. Everything I submit to an agent or magazine is rejected without comment.

I listen to Gary Vaynerchuk’s podcast literally every day and he’s always talking about the importance of doing nice things for people because it’s the nice thing to do, you’re helping somebody, and what’s there to do in life if not help everyone else along. And I believe that and it’s part of the reason I’ll go on helping people with whatever they need.

But every night this week I’ve had brown rice with chickpeas or blackbeans for dinner and I had some Sutter House wine between Monday and Wednesday but it ran out and I had no more money and now that I’ve just gotten paid I’ve gotta put almost the whole thing toward rent and meanwhile I’m busy, my day’s packed with shit from morning to night, and I’ve got people asking me to help them with their writing, for free, and then getting impatient with me when I’m not dropping my shit and helping them right away—-

which is fine. It’s fine. I’m telling myself that I’m angry about it but I’m not angry about it. What I’m angry about is my general situation. But my situation isn’t anybody’s fault. Like Hyman Roth says in Part II: “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

And there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Being able to write all the time is the greatest thing in the world and, big picture-wise, I’ve never been happier. Every six or seven weeks, though, I get into a moneyslump like this, usually on account of something to do with the college’s schedule, or some dip in freelance work.

But there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Being able to write all the time is the greatest thing in the world and, big picture-wise, I’ve never been happier. Every six or seven weeks, though, I get into a moneyslump like this, usually on account of something to do with the college’s schedule, or some dip in freelance work.

What I need to do is doubledown on the podcast and the blog posts. Create a presence. Leverage that online presence against the Thousand Movie Project book proposal I’ll be sending out in the next couple weeks.

This is fine. Like I noticed a while ago, dealing with the breakup, I’m angry but the anger is just sadness in a hat. Just gotta funnel that thing that feels like anger into productivity.

This is all fine. Everything’s fine.

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