The writing game

I wonder if people thought Marita Noon’s final column was actually about me since I hadn’t posted in several days. (However, I did a little work on the site and updated the SotW Tracker page.) But you may recall I made some comments at the end of her post regarding what she had chosen to do in her career beyond writing in and about the energy field.

Something you may have missed earlier this week ties into the plight of the energy worker, and it’s a shame Marita won’t be commenting on it here on my site. On Tuesday the United States Geological Survey (USGS) came out with the news that a west Texas oil field could be “the largest estimated continuous oil accumulation that USGS has assessed in the United States to date.” They estimated 20 billion barrels of oil could be recovered, which would supply our needs for three years just by itself. (Ironically, this field probably lies deep under Marita’s house.) It’s great news, but with a catch: the price of oil needs to rebound to $60 to $65 a barrel to make this bonanza worth recovering economically. According to an oil industry expert quoted by CNN:

Morris Burns, a former president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, told KWES the low price of oil - currently around $46 a barrel - means the oil will sit underground for the foreseeable future.

“We are picking up a few rigs every now and then but we won’t see it really take off until we (get) that price in the $60 to $65 range,” Burns told the station.

Many years ago I remember the price of gas getting under a dollar a gallon; this was probably back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. At the time oil had plunged to about $10 to $15 a barrel. For consumers it was great news but for oil companies and workers it was a desperate time. A few weeks before her “retirement” from energy writing and commentary, Marita had wrote what seemed like a counter-intuitive piece concerning the slowly increasing price of oil. But if you look at it from the perspective of an energy worker, the best of all worlds is a price where demand stays constant but profitable. Oil scraping $30 a barrel may have dropped our pump prices close to $1.50 a gallon but it was killing the domestic energy industry (which several OPEC members wanted it to do, as the U.S. is now their major competition.)

By the same token, Marita began her career in the energy field at a time when oil prices were sky-high and we truly needed to work out ways to make ourselves energy independent at a lower cost. (One such idea I played up in the summer of 2008 because it was done with such humor was the “NozzleRage” campaign. Unfortunately, their answer was a government mandate for flexfuel cars and additional requirements for ethanol.) But these prices also came with the benefit of sustaining the industry in such a manner that the fracking revolution created a boom in the energy industry and made previously dormant regions like the Dakotas and west Texas economically attractive again. (North Dakota, in particular, was depopulating prior to the Bakken oil boom because there was little there to attract young jobseekers who were abandoning the state in droves – by 2005 it had the largest percentage of residents age 85 and older.)

And Marita was sharing in that boom – as she noted, her “field of dreams fundraising model” was getting her enough $500 annual donations to provide a reasonable living. But as the industry suffered, her own revenue sources withered and it eventually led her to dismiss her PR person and in the end chased her away. (Had Hillary Clinton won, the result of her withdrawal from the punditry game would likely have the same but surely Marita would have considered herself a failure.)

In a roundabout way, this brings me to a point I began to make the other night: writing for a living is a difficult game at which to succeed. I found this out several years ago when I was out of work and tried to make a go of it – there are too many people out there chasing too few dollars, particularly in general interest writing. When I reviewed political websites during the campaign I openly questioned whether the people some hired to write their copy even lived in the country, which I can do because I have had to compete with people who can live on a few dollars a day. A penny per word nowadays is a huge amount to make for an article, but even if you wrote 5,000 words a day that doesn’t fly in America. Yet on competitive writing job sites you’ll often find people who are willing to take half that – or less – just to write copy. (And that doesn’t count the old adage used to trap aspiring writers who get convinced to write for nothing because “it’ll give you the exposure you need.” Yeah, right. Expect to double your salary every week from that point.)

So when a polished and experienced writer like Marita, who wrote several motivational and Christian books under her maiden name Marita Littauer and the energy columns under her initial married name Marita Noon (she has since remarried, but maintained the name for professional reasons) can’t make a go of it, one has to wonder what’s in it for others in that same predicament?

Now I have never done a “field of dreams” fundraising approach, although I have been known to “bleg” every once in awhile. And it brings a smile to my face when I see someone actually clicked the donate button up top and chipped into my PayPal account. But as I have told you when I left the political party game (and slowed down on my own writing pace to some degree) part of the reason I stepped back was to write a second book – hopefully learning from the mistakes I made with the first one. That will continue nonetheless because I believe I will be making important points and contributing to dialogue going forward. The same also goes for this website – I really meant to write this column Wednesday but was sidetracked for several reasons. So you get it late Saturday night instead.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if my priorities are quite where they should be. Truly I enjoy writing, but I also have to make sure to be a good Christian, husband, stepdad, and employee. So I may never get back to (or even arrive at) the place where some said I had to be to maintain a successful blog, meaning lots of content updated frequently. After all, I often get the opportunity to sell article space on my site for dubious reasons, probably someone else’s marketing scam. I’m not going to damage my brand like that.

But the reason I went into this spiel is to make it plain I can understand why people get so frustrated with the writing game. We seem to be the last thing people need, but I happen to think we are the most indispensable people out there when it comes to making sense of the world. For that reason, Marita’s insight (as well as that of several others I have known through the years) will be missed.

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