Image Credits: Manuel Guzman.

I don’t have the energy to fully respond to Freddie DeBoer’s latest opus, and there’s plenty there I could mock. It’s a bit much to watch him complain about the cynicism and condescension running rampant in the zeitgeist while he mocks nearly everyone who holds a heartfelt opinion. But he’s right about several important things.

First, virtually no one is making real money writing today, and good luck emulating the few exceptions. Second, too many people are speaking in the same voice. Finally, the second problem is largely caused by the third problem, which is, as he puts it, that it’s “an industry now made up only of snitches and nuns” that “does not need more hall monitors or commissars.”

If deBoer offers one piece of advice for writers that I can solidly endorse it’s “be ruthless in asking yourself whether you actually hold a position or if you are just afraid of the consequences of appearing to not hold it.”

Too often, this posture takes the form of making apologies for being a shithead. If the position you’re afraid to hold resembles the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, then just go ahead and continue to live in fear. The problem isn’t that people are afraid to freely express shitty mean-spirited science-challenged opinions. It’s more that too much energy is going into enforcing conformity and policing the acceptable parameters of debate.

That’s death for a writer because standing apart is what makes you interesting. Challenging assumptions is more stimulating than playing Wac-a-Mole with anyone who expresses an unorthodox or unvetted opinion.

At the moment, one half of our country is rebelling against this by rewarding anyone who’s willing to be offensive. It’s like an arms race to divide the world into bigots and cranks on one side and morally superior signalers on the other. Writers who fall into either category are going to be crap, and the scolds are going to be boring too.

I can’t offer advice on how to make money as a writer because I don’t make any (prove me wrong and get a subscription, please), but I can say that I’ve built a loyal audience that helps me pay the bills by focusing heavily on the things I see as wrong with my own portion of the political spectrum. I write about everything that is wrong with Republicans, but I am unsparing with progressives, too. And this hasn’t made me a whipping boy for progressives but rather a valued voice within progressive politics. I did this when consulting for Howard Dean’s Democracy for America outfit, and I did it for seven years at the Washington Monthly. I can operate on both ends of the Democratic world mainly because I’m not echoing what everyone else is saying.

It’s not the easiest path because you don’t make anyone truly happy, but good writing is not about making people comfortable, and if your readers are just shaking their heads in agreement all the time, they will soon get bored.

Most political writing these days bores the hell out of me, and it’s mainly because I find so little of it surprising. As a writer, even if you have conventional and inoffensive beliefs and opinions, you probably shouldn’t bother saying what’s already been said, or will be said, by countless others. My advice is to focus on areas where you have something contrary to say, and that doesn’t mean being offensive just to get attention.

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