So I confess. I was ambushed by the green-eyed Facebook monster over the Memorial Day weekend. I spent most of mine sitting at the dining table, gazing longingly out at our backyard, grading papers. Welcome to my life at the end of the quarter.
So you can guess that all those posts and pix from FB friends at picnics and barbeques and baseball games, spending time with friends and family, left me just a little bit deflated. Lusting after that greener grass. Because surely, all those happy faces and cheery posts mean those folks were doing it better, enjoying more life, and having more fun. Right?
And then (okay, procrastination is good for the soul), I ran into a blog post that, in a small way, reminded me that the thing that we daydream about when we wish we were doing something else, that thing that from the outside looks like heaven here on earth — usually isn’t.
Case in point. The glamorous life of a travel writer. If you love to travel and, you know, you write for a living (or think you should) well, what could be better? Sigh. If only. But, as Pam (AKA “Nerd’s Eye View) writes in a post entitled “Why I’m not a full-time Travel Writer”, once you’re on the inside, you realize that the reality is quite different from the fantasy. She’s a travel writer, who pays the bills as a technical writer, and she provides a dose of reality as to what that dream career is really like. The whole post is great, but here’s the nut:
Next month is the Travelblog Exchange (TBEX), a conference for travel bloggers. I had dearly wanted there to be some kind of reality check discussion, not because I want to depress hopeful writers, but because I wanted to blow away some of that fiction around what it really means to be a travel writer by profession. X1, who writes for a prestigious publication and travels a lot has told me, “Yeah, it’s great. I love the work. But I’m poor. I live in a tiny apartment.” X2 admitted to winning big in the technology lottery and living off those funds. X3 has a full time day job and a spouse with a full time day job. X4 admits to churning out fluffy, uninteresting stories for custom publication markets.
The folks I know who are full time freelance travel writers are in a continuous cycle of pitch, write, edit, research, travel, repeat. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not clear to me that money is that good. I know a few staffers, too, and you know what? They’re just like your friends with day jobs. They have meetings and process and office politics and frustrations. Sure, they get to go some places, but so does the outside sales guy, and he doesn’t have to see his story eviscerated before it goes to press.
What I wanted at TBEX was a session that presented the reality of writing as a profession, not as a quixotic pursuit or a weekend hobby or gap year boondoggle. Admittedly, I wanted this for myself as much as anything. Because I struggle with what I do (what is that, anyways?) all the time. I wanted to hear people who I think of as grown up, professional travel writers speak honestly about how they juggle all this stuff, how they manage to make it work. I’m always grateful for time with writers who will share, honestly, how they get by — a recent conversation revealed a writer’s need to sell multiple stories about one destination with every trip in order to make the travel pay off. “I can’t go just because I want to. I need to sell that story five times over to have it be worth my while.”
There are those who have made the jump to an itinerant lifestyle, bugging out to places where the low pay is enough, effectively outsourcing this work to places where 30 dollars goes much further than it does in my chosen home. That’s not something I’m willing to do. And keep in mind some basic math — even were I to make 1000/month blogging, I could not live on my annual income. There are also some who manage to generate a decent income, but they have a highly targeted market, they have a sophisticated understanding of what the web likes, they are backing up all their words with the sale of a product or service that people want to buy. Having none of those things, I don’t expect to live off the first person scribblings of this blog.
You should also read the comments to this post that, at this point, number 101. All of which is to say that, when we’re toiling away in a cubicle (or the dining room table) dreaming of that killer job that involves only a backpack and a laptop — we’re probably blinded by the rose-colored glasses.
The travel writing gig — it’s just a small example. But there are other dreams out there just like them. (Insert yours) Which is absolutely not to say we shouldn’t follow our dreams. (Ack. Double negative. Sorry!) Or that we shouldn’t do what we can to make them happen. Not at all.
The lesson is this. Life is complicated. Messy. Rarely is it perfect. There are always trade-offs. And that grass? Usually not as green as it looks from the other side of the fence.
And oh, by the way. Memorial Day? Just about the time my second red pen ran out of ink, got an invite for a last minute barbeque at a friend’s house. It was goddamn delicious. In every possible way.