New LA Times Article, Plus Thoughts on Essays

First, and in case you missed me talking about it on Twitter yesterday, I have a piece up at the LA Times site (a version of it is also in the Sunday newspaper) about getting creative work done in the Trump years — some advice about how to keep focus when it’s likely to be a challenging time for the creative class. Note that this advice generally probably also works for people working in professions generally considered “non-creative” as well, but I’m working with what I know here. Also, of course, if you’re neutral or positive on the idea of the incoming Trump administration, then this particular piece is probably unnecessary for you. Carry on, then.

Second, when I had the idea I originally thought to post it here, but then remembered a) that the LA Times books section has a freelance deal for me to be a “critic-at-large,” an appellation with actually a fairly wide remit, under which an article like this would probably fall, b) The LA Times has a pretty wide reach and the piece would probably be seen by more people there than here, both online and in print, c) also I could get paid, which is always nice. So I queried, and it was accepted, and it went there.

This reminded me that one of the things I did want to do this year is to place more essays/columns in newspapers and magazines and online sites, partly to purely strategic reasons — like, getting my name out to people who might not have otherwise heard of me, and to keep a healthy sideline in a form that I was writing in long before I became a novelist — and also for the fact that I like seeing my byline in lots of places. Once you’ve been a jobbing freelancer I don’t think this impulse ever leaves you.

So basically here is a thing this means: When I think of something I want to write about in essay form, I’ll probably ask myself the following questions:

  1. Is it something I could actually sell to someone else?
  2. Do I want it out immediately, or can I wait?
  3. How lazy am I feeling?

If the answers are “yes,” “I can wait” and “I’m feeling reasonably industrious, actually,” then it’s possible I’ll try to place it elsewhere. Because that would be neat!

That said, knowing me like I do, the answers to the latter two questions are generally “I want it out immediately” and “I’m feeling lazy as hell,” so I don’t know if there’s actually going to be any impact to what gets put up here. Plus, you know. I like writing here. So there’s that, too.

I guess basically what I’m saying is perhaps I’ll be writing even more this year! I mean, aside from two novels, one non-fiction book, a video game, occasional LAT columns and of course what I put up here (oh, and Twitter, let’s not forget Twitter). The funny thing is I consider myself a very lazy person.

Anyway, enjoy the LA Times piece. I think it’s pretty good, and useful.

40 Comments on “New LA Times Article, Plus Thoughts on Essays”

  1. I’d think twice about the Twitter thing. From the home page of the Washington Post site right now –

    “WikiLeaks proposes tracking verified Twitter users’ homes, families, finances
    The disclosure organization said such a database would be used as a “metric to understand influence networks based on proximity graphs.” The proposal faced a sharp and swift backlash slamming the idea as a “sinister” abuse of power.”

  2. So I turned off my ad blocker and reloaded the page, but i still won’t let me read it (or see the ads)

  3. Bad times make for great art, or do we just pay more attention to art then? engage with art/artists more (livelier feedback, more community)? alliances to get through the times spill over into larger audiences living a larger fraction of their lives in art and other disengage-from-the-bad-times activities?  Inquiring mimes want to know.

  4. I keep thinking of the woman my wife worked for before we were married. She was the secretary to a prominent doctor – this was 1969-70. She hated Nixon so much that her husband had to go through the New York Times every morning and cut out any reference to Nixon. Since he was the President at the time, that left a lot of holes and not much newspaper.

    These days I think of that woman a lot.

  5. @Meh, yeah, I don’t think the LATimes wants me to read it either, so I won’t. If I could trust a website to never ever let through an ad that installs malware, I might consider turning off my adblocker. I’m not risking my computer so the LAtimes can make a few cents.

    “You’re blocking ads, subscribe or turn off adblocker!” is not a good way to get me to subscribe (or turn off adblock).

  6. I’m sure you’ll have read the story, in Heinlein’s ‘Time Enough for Love’, about the man who was too lazy to fail? It’s apt!

  7. Guys, griping about not being able to access the page because you don’t want to turn off ad blockers is not really on topic (and there’s nothing I can do about it besides, so griping here will not do you any good). Further gripes on the topic will be snipped out.

  8. Click on the “reading” icon that pops up on the top right of the link location bar quickly enough, and it bypasses the ad blocker check.

    It’s not bad advice, thank you for writing!

  9. susan5660: Our host has indeed expressed his liking of “The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail.”

  10. I don’t think the article is necessarily restricted to advice for creative people distressed by Trump. It looks like decent advice for creative people in general. Which will give it more “shelf life” in the long run.

  11. “They will inspire you creative.” Did you mean “your creativity”?

    Anyway, I like the article a lot. It’s good solid advice. And I think that creativity is important to everyone. More jobs involve creativity than you might think. Even people stuck in the most humdrum work have hobbies and interests that sustain them.

  12. For the record: I had no problem reading the article. One banner came up asking it I wanted to subscribe to headlines from the paper. One click; it was gone. Saw no other ads. I do not run adblockers.

    Great article Scalzi.

  13. I have a two-step plan to get through the trump presidency: (1) stop reading/watching any news whatsoever. (2) drink heavily.

    And if the planet hasn’t been nuked into glass by 2020, vote for whatever Democrat is running for President and hope to HELL Trump loses.

  14. John,

    Good essay. I didn’t have any problem accessing the story. I think what previous posters were talking about was turning off their ad-blocker and STILL not getting to the story. I sometimes have that with Forbes, or maybe Fortune.

    Greg, I agree, less major news media, more drinking. Except my Dr told me to cut back on that, which I have done without any problem, dammit.

    Carry on John. I enjoy your blog almost as much as your fiction.

  15. Also, I might have to put down that “the arc of history is long” quote. I can’t hold onto it right now…

  16. John,
    Just finished ready your LA Times article. My first thought was that you were being funny, but then realized you were serious. What I found funny was your statement that due to Trump’s election creative people are put into a creative tailspin. This comment has once again validated to me that many folks in the “creative industry” fancy themselves as so important and that their views are more important than the worker struggling to financially survive. Here is a note – the average American who works for a living does not care about creative types.

    I am concerned about Trump as our President because he has no history of government work or knowledge. But it is clear that Americans (the working American) wanted a change. They were tired of the Clinton crime family and fools within the Republican Party. I still have trouble believing that our real choices were Hillary and Donald. But America will survive just like we did with other presidents who were not landslide victors and who were a clear American divide. Remember Mr. Lincoln?

    But my main message is to you, the Hollywood types and other creative folks who think that because of your profession you and your view is so damn important and that you are so righteous and correct. You are no better, or worse, than any other American. Get over yourself. And hopefully someday your head will fit through the door frame again.

  17. Mitche, as an average American who works for a living, your comments don’t make any sense to me. Please explain. What is the “creative industry”? If I don’t work in it, does that mean I can’t be creative? Where exactly in Scalzi’s writing did he say that he is more important than you and me? For that matter, why would a worker, who is struggling financially to survive, vote for someone who is well known to cheat his contractors out of the pay that they earned? What crimes have the Clintons been convicted of? Since you are comparing Mr. Trump to Mr. Lincoln, why is Trump’s base of support strongest in the states of the former Confederacy? Finally, what is this about Scalzi’s head not fitting through the door frame? How large is Scalzi’s head? Have you measured it? Or is that just a thing you made up? Are you sure you are not being creative?

  18. Good article, John, and I like how they tied it into a whole series they have up, though yours seems more general than the rest, which are mostly about Hollywood (yawn).

    Mitche’s reading comprehension bites. Suggestion: Read John’s article again, this time as written.

  19. I feel like it’s worth pointing out to Mitche the delicious irony in them telling another American they have a big head when Americans have a not entirely undeserved international reputation for arrogance and myopia. It would be very amusing that America elected the most quintessentially ‘awful American’ of Americans to be their leader if it wasn’t so very very sad.

  20. “[T]he average American who works for a living does not care about creative types.”

    Here’s another note. This is a fantastic example of the “false dichotomy” logical fallacy – the implication that those who work for a living, and those who create, are mutually exclusive groups. Side note: while I enjoyed the LA Times article and the above post, I have a small quibble with Our Host’s reference to a “creative class,” with its suggestion that people doing creative activity are all on the same socioeconomic footing.

    Working Americans use and consume – every single day – products of other people’s creativity. Narrowing this down to entertainment alone, it’s a destitute worker indeed who lacks access to television, music, periodical publications, smartphones, and books. One can enjoy these things unthinkingly, giving zero fucks about the labor that makes them possible. How many of us sit through the credits at the end of the movie?

    But what if those cultural products weren’t there to distract us? What sorts of mischief might people get up to? It doesn’t bear thinking about. The numbers thrown out of work would be the least of it. ^_^

  21. [This part deleted. Greg, a reminder that your tendency to go from zero to asshole in 3.2 seconds is something you need to deal with, or I will deal with it for you here, and you won’t like it — JS]

    ” folks in the “creative industry” fancy themselves as so important and that their views are more important than the worker ”

    Ah, trump supports complaining about elitist voters. So hypocritical. Your idiot president Trump only won the election because the Electoral College holds the views and votes of slave owning states as more important than Northern/urban states, so feel free to fuck off with your faux concern of vote elitism.

    “it is clear that Americans (the working American) wanted a change.”

    It’s clear that more americans wanted Clinton over a know-nothing Luddite, but as pointed out, the EC holds some votes and views as more important than others.

    “But America will survive just like we did with other presidents who were not landslide victors and who were a clear American divide. Remember Mr. Lincoln?”

    Remember George W Bush? Lost the popular vote. became president because the EC encodes voter elitism right into the constitution? He disregarded intel briefings of an eminent al queda attack. So, he’s reading “The Pet Goat” on 9/11. And then invaded the wrong country costing America trillions of dollars? Tortured prisoners of war, destroying Americas moral high ground? Destroyed rights of every American by implementing nationwide warrantless surveillance? Remember that knuckleheaded luddite? Sure, we survived George W. Bush, but the man did massive damage to this country that we’re still trying to fix.

    Trump is on track to be George W Bush, turbo version. He wants to bring back torture and then some. Wants to destroy Americas freedom of religion. Loves dictators. Has to be told over and over why he can’t use nuclear weapons. The man is lethally stupid.

    Lincoln? Lincoln fought to unite the country when the South tried to secede. Trump isn’t even president yet, but has done his best to divide the nation along lines of race, religion, and class. Lincoln appealed to the higher principles of equality and unity. Trump has appealed to the lowest common denominator of bigotry.

    America will most likely survive Trump. But like W, America will be far worse off after a Trump presidency.

    Oh, and complain about elitist again while the Electoral College gave Trump voters more weight. The hypocrisy is so yummy.

  22. Mitchie:

    “the average American who works for a living does not care about creative types.”

    Leaving aside the implicit — and incorrect — argument here that creative types don’t “work for a living” and therefore are not part of the sample group from which this imaginary “average American” of yours is derived: Citations, please. Otherwise I’ll have to assume that you have taken your own opinion and decided that everyone in the class you choose to speak for agrees with you.

    Which is manifestly not in evidence, by the way, especially considering the vast economy that revolves around celebrating creative types and their work; also, the slightly smaller economy consisting of the people who rail against creative types when they have the temerity to offer an opinion. Indeed, the evidence against your assertion is so mountainous that it can — and should! — be discarded as nothing more than what it is, which is a sneering attempt to put creative people in what you assume is their place.

    However, even if you were correct and the “average American” didn’t care: So what? The article was rather evidently written for people who work in creative fields and feel dispirited by the incoming Trump administration, not “the average American” (although in fact, since Americans on average did not vote for Trump, and on average do not view him favorably, the average American might find the piece useful as well). But inasmuch as it was written for a specific audience, your assertion about what the “average American who works for a living” thinks about creative types, aside from being manifestly wrong, is not remotely on point. Again, it appears that your only reason for “contributing” this opinion of yours is to tell people you apparently have contempt for to shut up.

    Which is a strange way to go about life, Mitchie. Do you usually do this? If, say, you had an animus against dentists, would you seek out comments about and pertaining to those in that field and leave poopy little notes in their comment threads about how the average American doesn’t care about dentists, and they should just get over whatever thing it is you think they should get over? What about plumbers? Or waiters? And if you say “yes” to this question, well, what kind of person does that make you? And if you say “no,” then what does that say?

    In sum: You’re wrong, and even if you weren’t your assertion is not even remotely on point; also, if this comment of yours is any indication, you appear, at least, mildly unpleasant.

    Everyone else:

    We do appear to be drifting into off-topic territory thanks to Mitchie’s trollish comment, so let’s tighten things back up, please.

    Shrinking Violet:

    To be clear, “creative class” here simply means the group of people who do creative work; it should not be assumed that we in it are all on the same rung of the economic ladder.

    (I’ll further note that although I and I think most people assume that the politics of the creative class tend toward the liberal, there are many creative people who would probably characterize themselves as conservative and/or libertarian; however, I would not assume that all of them are hugely thrilled with a Trump administration, either. A number of conservatives and libertarians I know consider Trump a cuckoo in the right’s nest.)

  23. The advice is, I think, helpful for a broad group of people for whom 2016 sucked, and who do not anticipate 2017 being an improvement. Somewhat perversely, having spent the last 12 days in hospital being treated for pneumonia, with little access to the media in any form, I have cheered up, which is distinctly counter-intuitive.

    I don’t recommend such an extreme route to reduced media intake but I do think it’s worth doing…

  24. Your L.A. Times piece was shared far and wide by many of my Facebook friend who, I’m fairly certain, have not read your books before, so it definitely had more impact than if you’d just posted on the blog. Plus, since we don’t live in a Star Trek universe economic utopia, a bit of money, at its current value, is always nice.

  25. I shared the Times article to Facebook already, but, I just linked this again specifically to memorialize the troll takedown. I have seen far too many people very recently tell creative sorts that they should just shut up and stay quiet on politics, and so I may have found your standing up for creatives as also people who work hard and also people who may have opinions refreshing.
    Not just a nice glass of water refreshing, but, tall icy glass of lovingly made lemonade after mowing the lawn refreshing, just to be specific.
    Thank you !

  26. I was having my morning coffee and, desiring something to read, I opened a cookbook from the Cheese Board, a wonderful cheese shop and bakery and pizzeria. It turns out they have a lot to say about process and creativity:

    The history of the Cheese Board is one of creativity, investigation, trial, and change. Someone gets an idea and throws it out there. Then we pool our knowledge, the idea grows and changes, profiting from the group’s participation and experience.

    The shop is coming up on its 50th anniversary. Through good times and bad, they have not just persevered, but thrived. When times got tough, they came up with creative ideas to cope, and some of those ideas turned into huge successes, like the pizzeria.

    I feel that John’s advice is broadly applicable because everyone has creativity they can tap into. It just takes different forms and they express it in different ways. Don’t let the oncoming tough times get you down.

  27. Hey John–speaking of “getting yourself out there” in more places– when you have a book OR article announcement, why not link it in Goodreads? I’ m “following” you there, you haven’t been using that. Just a thought.

  28. At one point in time it was a bad move to insult a bard. What do you suppose happens when you take away the bard’s health care?

  29. Thank you, John. I read Whatever almost daily via my RSS feed, but almost never comment. But you know, I’m one of the creatives this essay was aimed at. I’ve used most of the coping skills you listed over the last two months, but I found a couple of new things too.

    I consider myself a fairly well informed voter. I read widely, I collect information from different sources. I have (in one case I should say “had”) conservative friends who I respect, and who I discuss issues with. I had a really good idea what both candidates were about when I voted.

    Waking up November 9th and finding out Trump had won was, frankly, devastating. I’ve voted in every Presidential election since I was 18. While I’ve been disappointed at the outcome before, I’ve never been terrified, and I’ve never spent hours crying in the aftermath.

    Both of those things happened when faced with the reality of four years with Trump. I lost most of November being unable to concentrate enough to write. Clawing your way out of terror and toward action, and anger, isn’t easy.

    Watching friends deal with their fear made it all worse. They were afraid for their children’s futures, afraid of losing their health insurance and having to close their freelance business, or that without insurance their chronic illness would kill them sooner rather than later. These aren’t unrealistic fears. This is the reality millions of people woke up to November 9th.

    I know there are people who view all creative people as pampered, shrinking violets living a life of ease. The gentleman in your comments is probably one of them. This shrinking violet works 40+ hours a week on her feet in lower level retail management. My cheap activity tracker says I average walking 3.5-5.25 miles a day at work. It doesn’t track how many pounds I lift and haul around, and it doesn’t measure how many times I’m up and down a ladder daily.

    And after doing all that, I come home and write until I can’t stay awake. I use all my days off to write, and most of my vacation days. Writing isn’t a burden or a sacrifice for me, it’s what I want to do. The dayjob is the burden, but the job pays the rent and it provides semi-decent health insurance.

    This is how a lot of writers, artists, and designers live. We all have to be stubborn as hell, and find a balance between keeping our feet in the real world, and our heads in the worlds we create.

    Trump’s election was a major threat to that balance. Putting this article in The L.A.Times was a good thing. I’m willing to bet that a lot of creatives think they’re the only ones having a hard time dealing. Now they’ll know they’re not alone.

  30. One of the few bright spots in this campaign season was the fact that I realized that my husband and I are, according to the Trumpeters, members of the liberal elite. I thought we were just blue collar kids who’d worked our way through college and who still voted Democrat just like our working class parents did. Now, because I write, I’m a member of the creative class and don’t have to work for a living? Even better than being a liberal elite!
    Truly, though, thanks for the words of encouragement. I’m one of those who spent the last weeks of November walking into walls and wondering how a middle-aged lady could find a good drug dealer. That has passed, thank goodness, so now I’m looking for positivity and inspiration! Thank you!

  31. There are millions of people who make their living being creative who voted for Trump, myself included.

    This unreasonable fear and horror over his election is just silly.

  32. Mine Host, I appreciate your taking the time to clarify the point. I agree that those who do creative work are by no means a monolith. Some are fortunate enough to support themselves doing what they love; others like Friday’s Child above (hello, fellow violet :) ) need the day job, but can’t *not* create, every spare moment they get.

    And certainly there’s a spectrum of political opinion represented, including “millions” (except really? Please point to the raw data) of creative Trump supporters for whom “this particular piece is probably unnecessary.” To them: Good luck to you. However, going out of your way to dismiss as “silly” the concerns of those who don’t share your view? Is unlikely to convince or reassure them.

  33. Regarding your line about being lazy: I guess you’re too lazy to be sloppy :-)
    I’m not lazy enough to be orderly :-(
    While I don’t know the story from Heinlein (don’t read much he wrote), it reminded me of a book by Pratchett, where he describes a person so lazy that he regularly exercises, so he wouldn’t have to lug around useless weight.
    *THIS* is lazyness we all should aspire to.

  34. Some of the most resilient people I know are creatives, especially given all the rejection that they must power through to get their art or music out there. Whoever happens to be in the White House at any given time is just simply not going to mess up their game.

  35. Just keep on doing what you’re doing, John. Most of us appreciate you, and everybody else can just read another blog.

  36. This unreasonable fear and horror over his election is just silly.

    People who comment on liberal political blogs have mostly encountered Trump supporters in the form of literal Hitler-heiling Nazis, who troll on their comment boards, and are now crowing about the impending extermination of the blacks, the Muslims and the Jews.

    I know, most Republicans will tell us that these are just trolls who are yanking our cranks, are not representative of how Trump will govern, and should be ignored.

    But it’s concerning, I think, that Trump has emboldened them in a way that George W. Bush did not, that Reagan or the other Bush did not. It’s become socially acceptable to be a Nazi and openly celebrate a coming supra-Hitlerian Holocaust, in a way that it wasn’t before. People who complain about these Nazis have started getting the complaints about the Nazis yanked from Facebook for violating community standards, since the Nazis have discovered how to game the offensive-post-flagging mechanism.

    To say that it’s silly to regard these people as a threat to life and limb is tone-deaf, to say the least.

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