10 Years a Got Damn Hustler

In the summer of 2011, I quit my job, moved into an attic apartment in a brownstone, and wrote for my damn life.

I was in Covington, a river town that’s just a flip-flop’s throw across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. My theater company had moved to Columbus, but I didn’t want to go. At this point, I was certain that my whole life was just wrong.   After finishing a yearlong breakup, I deduced that since I couldn’t keep a relationship together at thirty, everything else was going to fall apart eventually. Might as well, you know, start over.

I decided to move west to Chicago with my friends that fall. But before I could reboot the offbeat web series that was my life, I had to figure out how I was going to make rent and feed myself.

Now, this wasn’t the first time I had to care for myself. Even at my worst, I was a capable grown-up who could write checks, wash my own clothes, cook real meals, AND remember when to get my oil changed.  But now, I was in a position where I needed money, but I couldn’t get a steady gig.

Okay, I could get a job. But I didn’t want to. There wasn’t enough “easy money” in the world to get me into a pair of khakis with any type of enthusiasm.

But one day, after filing for unemployment but before bingeing SVU episodes on my Xbox, I looked at a website that posted jobs for writers.

The site hired ghostwriters—people who write for an author that publishes your work as their own.  It seems a little shady at first glance, but it is the way most of the articles you read on the Internet are created.  But not semi-regular, charming-as-hell blogs like this one, of course.

I had written press releases and ad copy for the theater for years, and I was pretty good at it.  That was me writing stuff—it wasn’t like I was an actual writer.  

But then again, I thought to myself, I didn’t think I could be an actor.   I walked into a theater and turned into an actor, so it stood to reason that I could turn into something else again.  

I filled out the online application and sent a couple of releases I had written for samples.  Just seconds after I hit the “Submit” button, I got an email response welcoming me as a contributor.  I wasn’t surprised. I mean, it wasn’t like I was going to land a gig writing for anything with Times in the title. And after eating the last chicken thigh in the house that day, I was ready for anything.

The site offered my services as a copywriter to clients at $10 a page, for content that ranged from instruction booklets to scripts for those cute cartoons that show you how a bank handles your savings. But those gigs were the not the norm. For anyone trying to earn a buck whist sitting in their living room, the real money was in the “academic research projects.” Those were the gigs where a client would “request” some “assistance” in digging deeper on a historical event or philosophical stance.  And sure, it was possible that your work would be “reviewed” by “professionals at the collegiate level,” and may be attributed to your client.

Oh, you think it sounds like I was writing papers for rich and lazy college kids? Well, legally I cannot confirm or deny that claim. But let’s just say that there are a couple of people that graduated college by knowing only as much about Much Ado About Nothing as I do.

With every new gig, I got a little more confident. So I decided to use my new work samples to apply to some more reputable sites. They took a bigger cut of the money, but I got to meet new clients that wanted cooler things. By the fall I was co-writing e-books, condensing interview transcripts, and editing capstone projects for grad students.

I fell in love and moved in to an expensive apartment with my girlfriend. I wanted to start building a life that we could share that was as great as the love we had found in one another.

So I started ghostwriting porn.

But like, really good porn, y’all. So good, actually, that it is called erotica, and sold in e-book stores to people who apparently don’t know that you can get porn for free.  Even though it was lucrative, I only did about four of those pieces.  When it comes to writing about sex as a creative, you can peak pretty early. Sometimes you don’t even know when you’re going to peak.  It just sort of, you know, happens. And then you can’t write anything else for like, 45 minutes, at least.

Last year, when you and I were waiting inside under a blanket waiting for the world to explode, my wife built this website for me. After staring at it for a couple of weeks, I got the courage up to write to you.  Not as someone else, or a hired pen. Just me.

And it’s been great.

My work has landed me a podcast interview, freelance contracts for major clients in the finance and education sectors, and consulting gigs that connect me to professionals who are looking to be better at sharing their thoughts with others through writing and storytelling.

When I started this, I had no idea how to write, really. But I kept at it. And eventually, it paid the bills. It put gas in the car. And it made me grow as a human.

Writing gives me what I need. And I hope one day I become a good enough writer to explain what that is. In the meantime, thanks for reading as I try.