The Twelve Steps of Writers Anonymous

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  1. We admit we are powerless over the writing marketplacethat our lives have become unmanageable. We get it: talk is cheap; written words are even cheaper. So, take our words. They’re yours. All of them. For free.

 

  1. Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. If we let go and let God, the universe will provide. At Starbucks, there are outlets to recharge our iPhones—for free. At Costco, there are mounds of cheap toilet paper—in bulk. And beneath our feet? The sidewalks are littered with pennies that, if diligently collected, can be converted into dollar bills (provided the penny-counting machine at the Pathmark is not malfunctioning).

 

  1. Make a decision to turn our unrecompensed words over to the care of God as we understand Him (we’re talking to you, Mark Z.) or Her (yes, you, Arianna H.). You have shown us the light: if we don’t offer our words for free, some younger and less talented person will.

 

  1. Make a fearless moral inventory of ourselves. We admit that our expectation to be remunerated for our labors is informed by unsavory values. Pretentiousness. Pompousness. Presumptuousness. Pecuniariness. (Note to editor: The price to excise that last word is fifty cents. As we are no longer paid to produce legitimate words, we now charge to delete fake ones.)

 

  1. Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. To God, we admit that our quest to monetize the decades spent wearing through typewriter ribbons, mastering Xywrite, and honing our skills and craft is arrogant and more than a shade whiny. To ourselves, we admit that our hope for remuneration comparable to the $35 our alumni magazine paid us as college students back in the 1970s bespeaks a crass sense of entitlement. Finally, to our postal carrier, Fred, we admit that after our best pal recently received $250 from Slate, we discovered the dark truth in our heart: we hate her.

 

  1. Are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. We are also entirely ready to have God remove all our debts, as we regard non-payment of our bills at this late date in our careers a significant defect of character.

 

  1. Humbly ask Him or Her to remove our shortcomings. As He/She seems to have a limited attention span, we feel need to reinforce the point above about our debts.

 

  1. Make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. This includes the several editors to whom, when they told us, “We will run your piece with a mention of your new book at the bottom, but that’s free advertising, so you won’t get paid,” we responded, “Are you f—ing kidding me!” In hindsight, we wish we had chosen language more in keeping with our (previously paid) stylish prose, to wit, “Perchance, you’re pulling my leg?”

 

  1. Make direct amends to such people. We feel particular need to apologize yet again to the editor-friend who two Christmas seasons ago offered $50 for an online holiday piece. Our shock and indignation at the time was voiced in language we now regret. Further, the $50 we sneered at now seems a princely sum (though still way short of the $250 paid by Slate to our best pal, whom, despite our best efforts to move past our resentment, we continue to hate).

 

  1. Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it. Suffice it to say, we continue to grapple with selfishness, greed and outsized ego issues, all of which we diligently chronicle, for free, on our Facebook author page. (If you haven’t already, please take a moment to access our page and “like” us. While there, please “unlike” my best pal’s page. It’s for her own good. Really.)

 

  1. Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God. Please help us, dear Lord and Atlantic.com, to accept that our sentences, no matter how elegant, timely and punctuation-perfect, have no monetary value whatsoever.

 

  1. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we carry this message to fellow writers. We respect your professionalism and no longer resent you for being among the first to put your words out there for free, thereby turning all of our lives into a bankrupt sewer hole. To show our goodwill, we are starting a blog about the writing life. Send your submission to www.YouAreAJerk.com. A response will be forthcoming. A paycheck will not.

 

Jill Smolowe is the author of the memoirs “Four Funerals and a Wedding” and “An Empty Lap, “and co-editor of the anthology “A Love Like No Other.” An award-winning journalist, she has been a foreign affairs writer for Time and Newsweek, and a senior writer for People. Her articles and essays have appeared in many publications and anthologies, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe, The Washington Post Magazine, More and the Reader’s Digest “Today’s Best NonFiction” series.

 

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