9.24.2003

What would a Good Writing Rate Be?

Professionally, I have worked with several high level executives (many ivy league grads, advanced degrees, the whole nine yards) who were told by writers fearful of their jobs that they were incapable of writing without a ghost or "real writer" -- my response to this type of nonsense has always been to encourage them & their writing, to get them enthusiastic about writing, even -- since it is supervising the rewriting, editing, and publishing that one wants to do, and where the skill is involved, IMO. But I am interested in familiarizing my co-workers with the process -- that everything is revised, that almost every word is changed, etc., that I don't get a little tape from a Dictaphone some jerk has carried into the men's room with him (yup, real and telling detail) and then magically transform it into a publishable book -- I believe a technical writer who is not a technologist is utterly worthless, for example. That said, while I have long been at the point where I can sit down and just key in publishable documentation (incl. online help, layout, graphics, step by step end user manuals, installation) for a client server system, i.e., I don't need to outline or interview or anything, that speed has been expected -- the "surely we can have the 200 page book with the 35 man hours and $1500 we've allotted" argument.

This is the root of my insistence that my students can write and publish and that they must stay on the accredited side of workshops. A great many local authors -- you know who some of them are -- rely on private workshops for their income. They tell their students, perhaps after a year of these classes, during which they dole out writing exercises without explaining key information like WHY the exercise is supposed to yield something interesting IN WHAT WAY and generally studiously avoid commenting on punctuation and grammar (I get a lot of former private workshop students in my workshops) that they might be ready for a master class, and that they teach a master class (somehow, miraculously). That after a few years of this apprenticeship, they might be ready to prepare a chapbook for self publication that the poet can book doctor for $1000 - 2500. That, if that person becomes *a follower,* he might be introduced to other *famous poets* who can help him (*for more money*), because *a class or two with someone else might be good.* (I think, aside from recommender cultivation and thesis reviewers, NO THREE arts workshops attended should be by the same person, and NO TWO at the same level.)

Research, interviewing and reviewing, of course, is unpaid -- although at my paying market -- I think I keep getting assigned since I don't take the full pay, I take partial payment and copies -- full pay's 10 cents a word. For the [nameless] review, I assume fiction reviews are $1500 - 2500., since friends have been paid that for fiction reviews, while I receive $150-250 for a poetry omnibus of the same length.

I started a conversation on WOMPO -- creepy men have been querying me for "private writing instruction" and ghostwriting since I published my book -- exactly, oddly, the types of people who undermined my authority in class -- author / authority -- very interesting -- I would love to show them what constraint based writing really is! Just kidding. I actually don't like constraint-based writing that's not self assigned, even preferring the obsessive, because I think if a post grad, adult writer isn't self-driven, there's a problem.

Running the overnight help desk at Goldman Sachs during a mainframe windows conversion at the dawn of the .com revolution: $150/hr., 12 hour 4 pm - 4 am shifts required. Singlehandedly developing the intranet for the space shuttle orbiter maintenance engineers, including the systems which electronically stored the "greyback" documentation for fixes (a shelf of two sided paper), the templates for writing the documentation, and the "greyback" for the system itself: $75. / hr., 40 hour on premises work week required (though, truthfully, I believe NASA *paid* $250. / hr.). While I generally quote in the $150 - 250 / hr range, I've never gotten close to that, and I'm set up as a small business, etc.

I was very much tied to the idea of being paid what I was worth, since I work for money. I don't buy that self-actualization through your work / do what you want, money will follow tactic -- which, frankly, I have only seen used by people who were 1) trying to profit from me, 2) students who want to hear they can be a poet and survive by teaching, 3) those who love me --

I will say that some of my friends do demand high rates (book doctoring, etc.), and I am not impressed at the service they provide. I will also say that because I was paid (and will be paid, when I start working again), in general, 2/3 *or less* of what a man in my role makes and because my career plateaued (it actually did that several times, and I was able to worm around it eventually) (it will be the same in academia), I don't have as much money to spend on book publication, article writing, conference attendance, general hubris, etc. The guy who took the investment bank *entire intranet* *I developed* away from me now has TENURE at UCLA as a new media artist. He doesn't write or draw, and he no longer codes. He might do some 4gl work -- probably animation of "found" electronica (I think he postmodernly uses some old Atari computer game characters).