The Shortest Writing Gig Of My Life

© Cracked Magazine


Note: A dear friend of mine, Sarah Watts, who writes killer shit over at http://wifeytini.com/, sent me a note that a "comedy website" was offering paid gigs to write "comedy articles." Intrigued, and possessing minor skills in both comedy and articling (allegedly), I went to said Web site and quickly discovered that, in fact, I did NOT possess the skills to write comedy articles for Cracked.com. As I tried to process if I was even CAPABLE of writing the type of articles they were looking for (I didn't), I decided to write up a pitch anyway, to set fire to the rain or whatever. Below is what was birthed and, unfortunately, pitched to the editors of the site. Apologies all around.


Have you ever gone to a Web site and thought, "Jesus Christ, what is this place?" That happened to me, today, when a friend suggested I should come to CRACKED to write comedy articles. I will admit that I was not familiar with CRACKED, other than thinking it was MAD (which, theoretically, it is, in the same way that a birch and an evergreen are both trees), but I was wholly unprepared for the sheer volume of content gracing that Frankenstein's monster of a front page.

Through minutes of painstaking research on Wikipedia, which should not be used as a source, mind you, it turns out that I wasn't far off the track! CRACKED, at least the ol' paper magazine version of it, was a direct ripoff of MAD. I remember reading MAD as a kid, mostly because my parents didn't want me to, and also so I could try the foldy-thing in the back. You know what I'm talking about. Sadly for most of us writers, print journalism has gone the way of the fanny pack (and presumably, foldy-things, too), and so CRACKED.COM was respawned as a bizarre comedy site dedicated solely to listacles, which are, I believe, the literary version of titty tassles.

But I digress.

The pitch seemed easy enough. Write what you want! Be yourself! We'll give you real PayPal money for your time and effort that you won't be able to get out of your PayPal account except via eBay purchases that you then have to hawk on Craigslist for cash! I thought, "Hey, I can do that!" -- be myself, not hawk shit on Craigslist -- and so I headed over to register for a shiny, new CRACKED account.

But after reading the pitch protocols, I found my confidence waning. When someone says, "Be yourself!" "Write like you want to write, about what you want to write!" I tend to take that at face value. I started to imagine that I could write about whatever struck my fancy with the mad hitz of CRACKED. I should've known better. I have labored away as a freelancer in the past, pumping out pitches faster than the editors could reject them ("We're looking for something more pop-culture-y, can you try to pitch some stuff about that?"), finishing 5,000-word articles only to have an editor reject it for being too ... something. I have written very serious articles where an editor asked me to "add more Halloween puns,"  because the article was coming out on October 31st, and now, I have read pitch protocols asking for a minimum of six "things" per article.

Just when you think you've seen it all!

Six Things:

1) Student loans do actually need to be repaid, according to Sallie Mae and my confused grandfather, who the aforementioned loan company called to threaten when they somehow couldn't get ahold of me or my parents. This was years ago, but my grandfather's voice will haunt me forever, as will his ghost.

2) Writing takes time, and time is money, therefore, if you're not being paid for your time ... you know, this was going somewhere good, but I'm not sure anyone will get this far before the editors delete my pitch (oh yes, this is still a pitch, motherfuckers!)

3) Always ask for payment up front, not after you've already invested hours into the work. I realize this doesn't apply to everyone, like construction workers or painters or party clowns, but asking for a commission from an artist doesn't mean you don't get to pay him when your baby daughter's portrait comes out looking like Gollum. It's not my fault I can't paint! You should've done more research! Also, your daughter kind of looks like Gollum, but don't tell her I said that.

4) Shit, still three more to go?

5) I should've been more reluctant to trust my friend. This is the same woman who recommended a Sister Souljah book to me after I told her how much I enjoyed "MONSTER: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member." When I arrived at the first "throbbing member" in Ms. Souljah's tale, I determined with Sherlockian speed that I was not reading a work of non-fiction.

6) Clickbaiting aside, CRACKED is doing something cool here by at least offering to pay freelancers. You'd be surprised how rare that is. Most people will tell you that they're offering you an "opportunity" as payment, but you can't eat opportunities. Unless you are Galactus, destroyer of planets, and then I think "opportunities" probably fits within your palate ... but also, why are you reading CRACKED, Galactus? While this "X Ways to Something a Whatever" ain't my cuppa tea, there's a huge market out there for this stuff, and getting hits and traffic is great for any writer, I suppose. HAVING SAID THAT, there's a lot of fantastic content on the Internet, and while some of it takes longer than 10 seconds to scroll through, it's worth it. Seriously, stop giving your clicks to the master-baiters and donate your time to the rest of the Web. It's a really big place; you'd be surprised at the cool shit you can find online. If we humans can band together like the Mongols under Genghis Khan, we can take over a large portion of Asia and Europe before flaming out, which should be the ultimate goal of every writer and RISK player.

You're probably thinking, "Whatever, old man. You're just bitter. You don't 'get it.' This is how we consume information now, brah." You might be right. I am not as spry as I once was, though I'm not old, either. What am I?! To most of you, I am nothing more than a collection of words (I fear I'm nearing the 1,500 word mark ... surely the editors haven't made it this far!), no more impressive than an IBM-created computer spitting out Jeopardy answers and diagnosing cystic fibrosis with a series of robo-wands. But I assure you, I am not a robot (though you have only my word to go off of ... typical robot), I am a human male, who thought maybe, just maybe, the fast-track to comedy-writing stardom would come through the creation of the listless listacle.

And thus begins (and surely ends) my CRACKED writing career.

So it goes.

The Sometimes Intentional Truth About Stories

© Warner Brothers

When I set out to write novels, I did so because I had a story I wanted to write. It wasn't any more complicated than that. That novella, which I'm saving for a rainy, share-worthy kind of day, did not have some deep inner meaning. Not that I was aware of, at least. It was a story that crawled into my head and refused to leave until it was on paper, but there were no righteous calls for climate change, no scathing commentary on the Middle East, no subliminal messages about people I love and hate. It was just a story.

Or was it?

As I've moved forward with my writing career, I've read and learned a lot about the craft itself (it's hard to avoid advice when every fucking person in the world has a goddamn tip to share). But more than that, I've learned about PEOPLE. Why they write. What their actions mean. What they're saying through their words. What they're saying when they're saying nothing at all.

What I've come to realize is that there are two types of stories:

1) One where a writer intentionally reveals his/her deepest inner secrets,

2) One where a writer accidentally reveals his/her deepest inner secrets.

Some people might disagree with number two, convinced that psychoanalysis is as useful as an ice pick to the neck, but revealing writing is unavoidable. Even intentionally-"false" writing is revealing. Look at James Frey. The fact that he would completely fabricate "non-fiction" stories and then pass them off as truth was as revealing as any factual autobiography could've been. Frey accidentally revealed more about himself than he surely intended.

On the flipside, J.K. Rowling built the Harry Potter universe around her own adolescent (and adult) struggles. Harry Potter wasn't just a boy wizard, he and every other character, setting, scene were all pieces of Rowling, and she wrote her story as much for her own therapy as for the world's enjoyment. Paolo Bacigalupi's mind-blowing science fiction says more about his thoughts on genetically-modified food, over-reliance on technology, and much more not through explicit essays about those subjects, but through beautifully-rendered stories.

The bravest of the bunch are the people who write stories confronting their biggest fears, their most-embarrassing moments, their most shameful secrets. These people are goddamn superheroes. People like Chuck Palahniuk are masters of the TRUTH, even though he (and others like him) is technically writing "fiction" ... whatever that means. Stand-up comic Rob Delaney wrote a gut-wrenching piece about his personal battle with depression. I'm not sure you can write anything more powerful and honest.

I started out writing because I had a story to tell, a story about a little girl who didn't want to live with her grandmother anymore. I don't know why I HAD to write that story, but I'm sure after some painful introspection, I'd find the answer. As I've grown older and more experienced (as a person and a writer), I'm finding that my views and thoughts and interests are forcing their way into my work. I still have that overwhelming compulsion to tell a story, but I'm going into it with more understanding than ever before. I think a lot more about WHY I'm writing and WHAT I'm really writing about than I did when I had that novella clawing at the back of my skull. It's not better or worse to be more cognizant, it's not anything really, just my own personal evolution.

The next step, maybe a writer's final Pokemon form, is to reach that Delaney-esque brutality, where all of the fears, shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing of the real world become secondary to the story. I'm definitely not there yet (sorry), so for now, I waver between subtly-intentional and awkwardly-accidental revelations about my deepest thoughts and secrets.

A common writing tip is to "write what you know," but I think that should really read, "Write, because what you know will be in there with or without your consent."

And if you're brave enough, pull back the curtain and show the world the fragile wizard within.