When I was a teenager, my mom had a prescient friend who traveled to New Orleans with her. An aspiring jazz sax player myself, I longed to go with them, but had to stay home and go to school. While wandering down Bourbon Street one lazy afternoon, they came upon a young woman on a corner, playing her sax for all the world to hear, sharing her gift with anyone who needed a little music in their life. Mom later told me that she was drawn to this young woman, she couldn’t move from the spot: from the music, from the woman, from the open case on the pavement in front of her. She played for the people who stopped to listen. And they gave her the money she needed to live.
“That’s going to be Shannon,” Mom’s friend suddenly gasped, seeing something in the future that I think my mom only felt.
A few years later, the lure of a boy interrupted my saxophone dreams. And then the lure of writing pulled me farther along my journey, filling journals and notebooks until I’d written myself back into my family’s farm.
I haven’t touched a sax in decades, and I’ve often reflected on what Mom’s friend actually saw. If she could see the future, couldn’t she see that I was going to put down the horn in favor of a pen and some pork chops?
I’ve been a writer for nearly twenty years now. I’ve worked with copy editors, content editors, acquisitions editors. I’ve done work for magazines, I’ve done work for publishers. In all honesty, nearly all of those experiences resulted in frustration: At times my words were massaged beyond recognition, or they were stolen, or they were held over me for ransom to take less pay. Worse still, my words and thoughts were evaluated against potential market demand. If there wasn’t a large enough segment of the culture interested in paying the publishing industry for what I had to say, then I simply didn’t get to say it. It didn’t matter if my words were important to a few thousand people. If they weren’t going to matter to a million people, then they would not be said.
Then along came the internet. And a website. Suddenly, so many of the shackles of the conventional publishing world were lifted: With my own blog ,I can say what I think, when I’m thinking it. I became more prolific, balancing online writing with my own self-published books and my family’s farm: Essays as weekly blog posts when the farm demands most of my time, full-length books in the winter, when the farm is quieter.
I understand now how I am like that woman on the street corner. Like many buskers, she recognized something important as an artist: the more we can directly connect with our audience, the more we are inspired create, the more spontaneous and fresh our work will be.
But cutting out the middle man of producers and publishers comes at a cost. And in the end, creative work is a business, like everything else. Operating a blog costs money. But more than that, writing for free only thrills the soul for so long. After a while, when household expenses mount, and the mechanic is shaking his head at the car, the daily and weekly toil that goes into writing must be examined. It needs to generate an income, just like the laying hens out in the field.
That said, here are some things I can tell you about you, as readers.
Fifty-five percent of web browers leave a site after 15 seconds. Most are gone before 30 seconds. If a website can hold a reader’s attention for more than two minutes, that’s considered a cyber-eternity.
But you folks? You don’t have normal attention spans. Your average visit is at least 20 minutes. And you return, week, after week, year after year. What does that mean? You’re thinkers. You’re deeply reflective.
You’re also a dream audience for advertisers. With that kind of continuous attention, an advertiser’s message could get some serious play. Because of this, I am regularly asked
– to endorse products
– to allow ads
– to allow ghost writers to draft stories for my site that tacitly endorse products
– to allow links to other sites selling products.
But, see, you’re not just deeply reflective. You’re intelligent, discerning, and fed up with consumerist culture. I could get money agreeing to those things: I could maybe fix the car, maybe catch up on a few other bills. But you’d be pissed, and I’d feel….well…not quite like myself.
So I don’t do that.
Which is why, now, you can see how I am very much like that young woman on the street corner. Her instrument case was open, and those who enjoyed her music paid her directly. The money didn’t go to agents or producers or record labels. It went to her, and she kept creating.
The same is true for how this website works. I ask you for money directly, through one of two options: either a one-time (or periodic) donation, through PayPal, or by becoming a patron through a web service I use called Patreon.** With this financial support, I keep doing my work, I feel your appreciation and support, and my writing stays freely available for all. And the air conditioning gets fixed on the car. ….Oh! And the firewood! I can’t forget I gotta pay the guy for the firewood. And there’s the insulation in the roof at the cafe, too. And hey! Maybe I could even generate some savings? That would be fantastic…
A lot of you live close to the bone, like me. But your choice to pitch in a few bucks now not only feels great, but it starts to add up and make a difference.
Some of you have been fortunate enough to move beyond the “close to the bone” phase of life. I’d like to ask you to consider patronage, a recurring monthly payment that helps support my creative work year-round. This kind of support is important, because with a steadier, more predictable income, I can expand the reach of my work. I have goals on this front that I think we can achieve together. You can see more about this on the Patreon page.
But the bottom line is this: you and I are engaged in a creative process together. Your readership and direct financial support fuels me, and my continued writing and thinking inspires you. We need each other, and that’s what makes this work so darn rewarding.
PS: A few of you have been my monthly patrons in the past. You may have noticed that your credit cards have not been charged in eons. That’s because the company that provided the service went out of business, and I had to switch over to Patreon, and I’m starting fresh. If you could resume your patronage once more, I’d be so grateful!