A Loss For Words

 A few weeks ago, a reader sent me an interesting message. Working as a sales representative in a local publishing house she asked one of the company’s writers why they didn’t have/start a blog. The response has been playing in my head for some time: “because I’m not going to write anything I’m not getting paid for.”

Besides the fact that blogs do have the ability these days to actually make money through advertising, I suppose it’s not as easy as a consistent paycheck. But, in any case, those words have been turning over in my head for a while now.

A metaphor: people have sex for various reasons, one more prevalent than the rest. But when one insists on having sex strictly if they’re getting paid for it, well, then, there’s usually a word for that. And this is usually what we have littered in the Jordanian media industry. Now I’m not saying that writers or journalists who don’t have blogs are, well, you know. But to limit one’s aspirations as a writer to the production of words in exchange for money, well, you know.

Writing isn’t merely a job. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be categorized that way.

For me, it’s a passion. It’s a way to communicate the zillion thoughts that run through my head everyday. It feeds in to various other passions and it becomes automatic. When I read an interesting piece of news, I want to articulate my thoughts on it digitally. When I see an interesting movie, I’m already writing a review in my head. And we are all exactly the same. We all do it. Except usually, the writing takes place mentally and not digitally. So really, blogging at its purest, is merely a transfer of thoughts in to a digital format.

The goals of such an exercise vary widely and every blogger has one or several. Mine are simple enough: channel that passion – start a conversation. Whatever side-effects are derived from both these elements working together in this maddening crucible I call a blog, are simply sub-goals, and they come and go as they please; evolving.

And that is what I’m getting at. It’s not about blogging, it’s about writing.

If people write strictly for money (and there’s nothing strictly wrong about that) and leave passion out of the equation, then there’s something wrong with the media sector. Heck, there’s something wrong with this particular skillset found in this particular country. And I think the environment itself is highly reflective of that.

I’ve been to press conferences just to observe other writers. In most cases, they have absolutely no interest in investigation. At one conference that revolved around USAID-funding of projects, a journalist actually asked the subject to give him a nice, warm story of a beneficiary to write about. “Maybe a farmer,” he said.

On the other hand, I know a Jordanian author who has had several books banned. Can you imagine the amount of time one invests in writing a book, only to have it banned by officials? Can you imagine the amount of time and energy spent on visiting the authorities everyday as you watch them tare your book apart; black bars across the words you spent hours writing and mulling over? Can you imagine the kind of passion it must take to want to write again and again and again even after all that time and energy is stolen from you by a single decision.

If you don’t have that kind of passion, that kind of drive, can you really call yourself a writer?

Even if you get paid for it?

In the industry of writing there have always been rewards. In the movies, the journalist character is always after the hard-hitting story. Sometimes they’re looking for a Pulitzer, at other times, just a promotion. And sometimes, it’s the story itself that drives them. The telling of it. And movies don’t lie. They’re written by writers.

And so I wonder to myself, what is the impact?

Is this why we have so little “great writers” of our time? Why the industry is so limited? Why we assume people don’t read anymore? Why we constantly quote that statistic of: more books are translated to Spanish every year than are even produced in the whole Arab world? Where is our Pulitzer? Our greats? Do we mourn the passing of Darwish, Mahfouz and Sa’ed, because they were our greats, or because they are part of a rare and dying breed? Is it out of fear that no new names will fill the voids they’ve left behind?

A metaphor: I’ve met many artists in my life, and very few of them were wealthy. Even fewer had aspirations for wealth. In my mind, the ability to write anything at any time simply to fulfill a passion, is what distinguishes an artist from just another house painter.

18 thoughts on “A Loss For Words

  1. I understand your concern and you made some good points, but I actually don’t blame the writers for their response since writing is what they do for a living. As someone who will probably go into the business world I believe that you set your worth. I know I’m good at what I do and I’m not doing it for free, or for cheap (volunteering and community service aside-they have their own special payback). As a former staff news writer for my undergrad student paper I didn’t mind doing it for free, because I’m not a writer for a living.

    A litte off topic but this post reminds me of a practice management meeting I went to last Thursday where a recent grad ended his very informative presentation with a quote from Ludacris:

    “if it doesn’t make dollars it doesn’t make sense”

  2. That’s well written and I’m personally with anything & everything done for the passion of it… not for dollars as Asoom is quoting!
    I also can sense when something is done out of passion not out of mere Job/ Money or responsibility… it makes a big difference and the difference is obvious to anyone….
    Your Sex Metaphor made me laugh out loud!! Hahaha… how do you get your thoughts??!!

  3. Mais, doing something out of passion AND for a paycheck don’t contradict each other. I absolutely LOVE what I do, I chose my field for a reason. I’m also good at what I do and I’m going to get paid like I’m good at what I do because in the real world there are inevitable realities. I want to have the latest and greatest in technology, I want to have enough staff, and yes I want a certain lifestyle such as being able to afford to work normal hours. All of that doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about what I do. I’m using my field for example because it’s what I’m familiar with.

    I didn’t say I agree with the writers responses, I said I don’t blame them for thinking the way that they do. There’s a difference between doing things because you love to do them and then doing those same things as your living because like I said-we have inevitable realities.

  4. Asoom: I totally respect that you follow your passion through your job… its amazing… i was just talking about this quote “if it doesn’t make dollars it doesn’t make sense”! and not talking about you personally….
    I totally agree if we can follow our passion and get paid for that… that’s ideal and its perfect… why not get paid and enjoy what we do… that’s what i’m doing now… but not writing! :p

  5. if the passion is there, it will manifest itself with or without a paycheck!

    I totally second tambi! So just DON’T go disappearing on us like you’ve done during Eid break; we didn’t have an Eid break over here.. and to wake up without a daily update from the black-iris was kinda disappointing!

  6. Mais, sorry I didn’t mean to be all on the defensive there 🙂 ….but ya3ni can you say someone like Luda whose clearly motivated by money doesn’t produce with passion? Anyway, although I can see their side it would definitely suck for us and the societies we live in if all the writers by profession shared that philosophy.

  7. “On the other hand, I know a Jordanian author who has had several books banned. Can you imagine the amount of time one invests in writing a book, only to have it banned by officials? Can you imagine the amount of time and energy spent on visiting the authorities everyday as you watch them tare your book apart; black bars across the words you spent hours writing and mulling over? Can you imagine the kind of passion it must take to want to write again and again and again even after all that time and energy is stolen from you by a single decision.”
    Nassem,,you have touched on very crucial and taboo subject,as you know ,there are excellent writers in every corner of Jordan but as you all know all the current and previous government we have had ,never allowed any writer,author or journalist to publish any literature that criticise the dominate paradigm .we have humongous problem in our hands and i tribute that to government scare tactics and it’s tools to suppress and forbids any desent human being to write and publish ….

  8. Mabrook, you are a real writer. It is all about passion, not dollar signs. How many novels have been written and never published? That doesn’t make the author less of a writer. The act of writing makes a person a writer. Writers write because they have to, they have a story to tell. Money is just a fringe benefit. From one writer to another. And no I am not published, yet. God willing.

  9. Dear alleged writer person in publishing house,

    If you have not yet seen proof of how enormous wealth is being derived from the alchemy of passion, then you might want to get out more – go ahead, google it! Hopefully though, you do have a passion for something, just not writing. If you don’t, hmmmm, it may be worth finding something to stand up for, and GET A LIFE while you’re at it!

  10. Secratea called it, MommaBean and I said the same thing…don’t leave us post-less for so long again!! I hope having a passionate readership is an added bonus helps makes up for not being paid for blogging.

    Maybe JB should pay you for all the readers you bring them from your blog. 🙂

  11. ok this turned into Nas. voting post I vote for you as well , but going back to the original post ,
    I really have touched the time where accuratley done very hard work , by an author got rejected just because the person sitting behind the desk, wearing an old suit with bad childhood memories thought it was not appropriate for the community.
    The point from this post was shared by Nas to initiate a revelutionary step .Thoughts are for everybody , they have always been in the air our heads only processed them like a high tech radio antene. And since that thought was brought to reality it must be shared and distributed for free.
    People have stopped reading man , I konw that for a fact , TV has taken over that informative need , of course now the author of the Show , movie or anything else on TV is in control , so they made it easeir on the human brain to recieve the picture(killing your imagination) the Sound effects(Killing your imagination) the voices ( killing your imagination) this is where the problem is , yes BLAME THE TV.
    taking this subject further , I think keeping our children from watching too much TV will allow them to use the books for mind expansion.
    Writing must be take us to levels of information sharing on a wide scale, this is how we can prosper.

    ” a good thought will bring you more than dollars if you could only know”

  12. If no passion, no drive.
    No drive and may get somewhere,
    would probably want to be elsewhere,
    dominant enough to reject everywhere.

  13. Do it for the love of the game! You ask, where’s the money in that?
    Where’s the money in remaining a sitting duck, sulking over why the usual suspects won’t publish you?….year, after year, after year, after year, after year, after year….

    If someone has something to publish, it’s possible to do these days. Yes generally the local publishers, distributors, National Library, etc are fumbling and usually frustrating to deal with – they’re under decades of dust and forgot to upgrade – but that’s not the only way to get published. The system/gov/legislation/attitudes have a long way to catch up – they don’t get it, while anyone today has an incredible opportunity to charge forward without them.

    There are new people/orgs able to help get material published – they are genuinely interested and understand the importance of content creation. There are also sponsors, grants, donors who value good content and they’re looking for their next project just like you’re looking for support.

    You can also look into pub houses in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and many other places in the world. You can go online and find a publisher or self publish.

    Heck, if what you’ve written is good, get it out as an ebook under Creative Commons. Get everyone, anywhere to read it. If it is really good, it’s your best portfolio/ad/marketing/calling card ever. On your next project, you won’t need to wait, nor get frustrated, nor spend money in wasteful ways trying to get attention to your work. Your ebook will speak for your ability. It’s proof. Toss the traditional publishing model out the front door, say something in ways that touch people. If you’re good and people want it/care, then what you will have accomplished can be remarkable. You win. So does the parched landscape of content across Arabia. And so does your reader. And then…. you’re going to want to blog it 🙂

    For the first time in our lifetime there’s a lot of doable choice. No one is forced into the doom nor trap of the spectator sport anymore, there are so many interesting, exciting, scary possibilities. We really have no excuse. But the big question is, given this opportunity, what will the Arabs choose?

  14. Nas, well said. I once read a quote by some famous author who said, I don’t write because I want to, I write because I HAVE to. I respect novelists greatly because the writing process takes so long. Man, a short story is sometimes beyond me :). The funny thing is that if you only write words you get paid for, you’re much like any other drudge in the work world. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it limits you.

    I’m not a professional writer (although I have been published and a paid copy editor in the past), but in my real job, I have a great deal of passion. As a result, it spills over. I volunteer in the professional organization for my industry. I don’t get paid. What I do get is widely varied. I get a place to develop new skills without being in the spotlight of a client or boss. I get to help others who may have more limited experience. And, get to spend time doing something I’m passionate about. I’ve had many jobs I wasn’t the least bit passionate about. And, yes, I certainly wouldn’t do anything with them when the coin wasn’t coming…

    I’m not a professional writer because I don’t HAVE to write. I enjoy it. As you said, I write my posts in my head long before they make it onto “paper”. So, I’m glad there are folks like you (in any country) who write because you want to verbalize your internal conversation. Personally, I gain a great deal by hearing it and joining in. And, it keeps you from being that crazy guy who talks to himself, teehee. Oh, and next time you’re taking a break, tell us!

  15. I love writing as well and have my own modest blog for a cicle of friends, BUT the truth is, for someone who writes to pay their rent – the bills are unforgiving and impatient and doing what you do for a living, for free, does seem like a waste in that one scenario.

    In all other scenarios, and if it’s truly a hobby that doesn’t have to feed you, it should strictly a passion. Writing to “digitize your thoughts” as you implied.

    I loved this entry – good job.

  16. I don’t know how to respond to so many different opinions on the subject of the authentic Bible but I did write a book which outlines my experience teaching the Books of Moses to a mixed class of Christians and Muslims (Memoirs of an American Teacher:From Iran to Sudan: XulonPress.com , or Amazon), if anyone wishes to compare our scriptures. It was a cost saving measure and religion students could elect to follow it with courses in their own religion. I was to teach the exact words of the Bible in such a way as to prepare teachers to teach the facts to young students in stories which the young people could understand at their level. There were so many questions and agreements and disagreements that I learned as much as the students.

Your Two Piasters: