You Can Get Paid To Write About Anything
One of the themes of this blog is that you can get paid to write anything if you really work at it, and another is that I am probably an alcoholic. The two came together for me recently when the Wall Street Journal Wine Club sent me an offer I couldn’t refuse — along with a three-ring binder and glossy fact sheets for all the wines in my life.
I am not making any of this up; if you sign up to be a member of the WSJ Wine Club (which is not actually a bad value if you can afford it, which I can’t) they send you a crate of wine, a three-ring binder, and a set of double-sided Facts-on-Fileesque sheets covering all the wines included. And someone had to write those things.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Obviously they got a wine person to write these. It’s the Wall Street Journal, for crying out loud; they can probably hire a sommelier out of the Petty Cash bowl (sommelier: from the French for “some liar,” a person who makes up crap like “crisp notes of shale and passionfruit” when it just tastes like fer-Chrissake-wine). But trust me on this one, if there’s one thing massive news conglomerates know, it’s that people can be trained to write about anything. It’s cheaper to train experts than it is to train writers (so feel good about yourselves).
The upshot of this for the writer-at-large is that you shouldn’t be spending all that much time researching things you’d like to get paid to write about. “Follow your dreams” advice notwithstanding, you don’t get to be a wine writer by learning about wine (although you’ll get away with staggering feats of alcoholism in the name of “research”). You get jobs like that by keeping an obsessive eye out for openings and having a good writing portfolio in general when you apply — knowing the subject matter is a distant third concern, and one that’s entirely irrelevant until people are offering you interviews.
I fully expect to hear some disagreement on this point. There are lots and lots of people out there giving advice on how to get jobs, and most of them will tell you that the most important thing is to know your field of choice backwards and forwards. But if you’re applying for writing jobs — even if all you want to write about is wine — your field is writing. Impress people with that, and learn the interest-specific lingo when you’ve got some interviews lined up. People who’ve never published before will definitely want a blog or other personal website, regularly updated, and they should keep an eye out for other opportunities as well — I’ve done the text for some friends’ webpages and online stores, mostly just so that I can point prospective employers toward them as further examples of my work (also ’cause I love my friends, don’t worry, guys).
But most importantly, you should all keep in mind that someone gets paid to drink bottles and bottles of wine and then make up pretty words about them. Don’t say there’s nothing inspirational on this blog! Now if you’ll excuse me, this “deep, dark Cabernet from the edge of the earth” isn’t going to drink itself.