some acrid pickles about maybe tryna write a nonfiction book

I’m in a pickle but in order to explain the nature of the pickle I’ve gotta take us back a few years–then we’ll get to the point.

It’s mostly out of self-pity that I tell people I’ve never earned money off my writing because technically I have been paid for written work, stuff that was subsequently published under my name–and most of it, I often surprise myself by remembering, was done when I was nineteen and twenty, during the summers, when I’d leave the FIU campus (where I was incredibly fortunate to live during all four years of college) and go back to my parents’ house for three months of aimless reading and writing and moviegoing. 

I’d find writing assignments (gigs) from various platforms where, for usually one or two pennies a word, some enterprising editor of a content farm would post an article request.

The hardest assignment I ever tackled was a 700-word article about the different things you could do with your pet’s ashes. Urns were the obvious option–for amateurs. Real love, I was to argue, manifests in getting your pet’s ashes compressed into a crystal that you could wear as jewelry. Also there were tasteful decorative things that could be done with their hair if you were mindful enough to hang onto some.

I wrote about this with the syntactic equivalent of a straight face. 

These platforms were pretty abundant, and there was lots of work to be done, so I’d routinely spend two or three hours writing an article that paid me six dollars. Partly cuz I had nothing better to do, partly because that’s what a young writer is made to believe they’re worth. I’m not sure if anyone read my articles, including the people by whom they were commissioned, but I felt, for the first time, that the adult world was acknowledging my work as the output of a Talent. 

I was romantic about the drudgery.

This market would evolve during the year I spent on campus and when I finally came back for like the third consecutive summer I got a sense that the whole thing was destroyed by one particular platform called eWrite, or something like that, on which a person in need of a certain article, or of a term paper or pamphlet or brochure, would describe the project, describe the time frame in which they needed it done, and then authors, with their profile pages full of credentials and client testimony, would bid for the job.

But it was reverse bidding.

And, as in any industry, the lowest bidder invariably won. And there were always several writers willing to do it for free, no matter what it was. In the handful of years that I’ve worked at Miami Dade College as a tutor I think two entire parking garages have collapsed as a result of rewarding their construction jobs to the lowest-bidding contractor and, in the northern part of 8th street, a wonkily-made FIU bridge collapsed thousands of pounds of rubble into midday traffic and killed several people on either its first or second day in existence.


Anyway: the end of my career in this particular line of hackwork came from a site where I found some work writing history-based articles. I was never a good student of history but, figuring it was basically a long narrative, I thought I’d be better in writing about that than writing about finance or science or sports. 

So I took a few gigs. One, I remember, was an article about the Greek writer Herodotus, and another was about Pol Pot. 

I researched both pieces, assembled my facts, forged a narrative, submitted my work and was promptly paid. 

A few weeks after both articles had been accepted, however, I got form emails saying that inaccuracies had been found in my work (I don’t doubt it). After the third consecutive offense I was told that my account was being deactivated and I was no longer allowed the privilege of being exploited.

Though again that’s just business and that’s how it works.

In my first two years of college, trudging through the core curriculum of sciences and math, I was a resoundingly mediocre student, tossing my hair free of its bun and then chewing a pencil while explaining to a geologist that there simply must be some other way of passing this exam; but then, once my classes were pretty much all about books, I did OK.  

In high school on the other hand I was a terrible student from start to finish, albeit slightly better than I was in middle school, and part of what was so confounding is that, no matter how hard I studied in things like civics, or history, I ended up getting everything wrong whenever I wrote an essay about them. The first time I took the SAT, which was shortly after the incorporation of the writing segment, I remember deviating from the topic at hand (something to do with nature preservation) to write for several pages, I think somewhat eloquently, about how Nazism progressed in the eye of, say, your typical German baker.

I got a low score.

Failed at all my history papers too, the bulk of which came back with marginal notes about staying on topic.

Those experiences, compounded by the failure of my articles about Pol Pot and Herodotus, have made me doubt whether I understand things. Especially when I think about studying a certain subject and then writing about it. 

Let’s say…professionally.

And herein comes my problem.

I’m considering maybe writing a book of nonfiction–but I’d have to find a topic. I’d have to find some bigshots who are interested in fixing their name to the project and whose clout will help secure a book deal. 

Part of the reason I’m reluctant to even mention this is because, whenever somebody gets wind of my interest in writing a book, they tend to submit themselves as a subject, guaranteeing that their life is the subject of a bestseller. Or their dad’s or their grandmother’s.

Maybe that’s so. 

But I’d like to write something that takes maybe two years and holds my interest.

Except: what if I’ve got a natural inability to get the facts straight about anything? Why do they prove so constantly elusive? Even when it comes to subjects about which I feel pretty thoroughly versed–someone always pops up to point out, often with evidence backing them up, that I’m totally wrong. 

Maybe it’s something to do with the internet age: everybody’s got their own supply of facts and the Venn diagram of those sources has slender overlap.

But yeah: if you’ve got some ideas about something I could maybe write a book about, I’d be happy to hear em (unless it’s the life story of someone you know).

One comment

  • I had a writing teacher once tell me everyone he knew who stuck with writing found success with it. I’ve quoted that man for over 20 years now. In hindsight I wished I had asked him to define success.


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