Let our next greatest achievement be realizing the dream of full equality for all of us ...

- Human Rights Campaign President, Alphonso David, as reported by Maiysha Kai -

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Six Tips For Everyone Who's Ever Emailed Me For Advice On How To Start A Blog Or How To Write For A Living

Damon Young
Damon Young

1. Perhaps, because I've managed to create a popular blog and etch out a career where people pay me money to write words about things on a computer screen so that people can read them, you've assumed that I have unique insights to offer. This is understandable, as you're not the first and will not be the last person to assume that all successful people have unique insights on being successful that would be applicable to everyone, but you specifically.

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Unfortunately, this is not true. I have no template to offer and no substantive and specific advice to give. I could, however, tell you how it worked and continues to work for me. That the only reason that VSB is what it is today is because I can't (and don't want to) do anything else. That the only way for a nigga from Pittsburgh with…

a) no interest in leaving Pittsburgh

b) an aggressively underwhelming resume (and no interest in getting a masters or PhD)

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c) no ambitions to use writing as a springboard to eventually leave writing to do something else (like radio or TV or something)

d) no real interest in social media (or in being particularly social)

e) no connections to any Ivies or HBCUs or fraternities or universities or newspapers or large media platforms or NYC or D.C. or ATL or Chicago any other networks often available for us (Black people in media) to lean on for instant credibility or support

…to be able to do this for a living was to create my own shit and build it to the point that hopefully, maybe people would email and call me because they damn sure weren't going to answer my emails and calls. That living in Pittsburgh actually helped me, because the cost of living here is so low that I was able to survive for a couple years on freelancing, steady but frequently late paychecks, and timely grants in a way that I wouldn't have been able to in a bigger city. That I wasn't very good at writing when I started blogging but worked very hard to get better because I was scared to fucking death of what would happen if I didn't. That I vacillate daily — hourly even — between believing I'm the shit and believing I'm still not any good. That fear and a sneaky ambition to be the best at what I do are my primary muses. My only muses, really.

But, again, this is what is working for me. I do not know if it would work for you, so I can not tell you to do what I did and what I'm doing because I have no fucking clue what would happen to you if you did.

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2. I can, however, tell you to just figure out what you want to write about, and just start writing, I guess.

3. And, if you do choose to do that, know that you're going to suck at it for a while. You are going to be fucking terrible. If you keep with it and, over time, get better, you're going to read the shit you're writing now, and you're going to cringe so hard that you'll want to jump out of a window.

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(Also, I should probably let you know that back when I wasn't getting my emails returned and pitches accepted, my first reaction was incredulousness. It was them, I thought, not me. Because I was fucking awesome. But it was totally, absolutely, 100% me. I just wasn't good enough. Your friends and family might not tell you that, but time will.)

4. Know that if you want to get better you have to get used to being lonely. Because it's going to take thousands and thousands of lonely hours reading and writing (mostly reading) for you to do that. Actually, getting used to being lonely isn't enough. You have to enjoy loneliness. Prefer it to (most) people, even.

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5. Also, become well-acquainted with doubt, anxiety, sleeplessness, fatigue, jealousy, jitters, the tenuousness of mettle and confidence, angst, disappointment, vacillation, worry, and, occasionally, panic. These will be your new best friends. Treat them well, and feed them peanuts. (They like peanuts.)

6. Or don't do any of this. And just keep living the life you were living before you sent that email.

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That's all I have. I hope this helps.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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DISCUSSION

"But it was totally, absolutely, 100% me. I just wasn’t good enough. Your friends and family might not tell you that, but time will."

Then the question becomes, should we (as supportive family members) tell our loved ones the truth, or should we continue to be the one place where they can come to hear feel good message?

A member of my family is trying to be a photographer. This person got a nice DSLR (Nikon D3300 bundle), and some other accessories and goodies as a gift. the person can take some really amazing photos at times, but is inconsistent in depth and quality of the photos (unprofessional opinion), and doesn't spend enough time just going out to shoot to perfect stuff. And, spends more time worrying about building a website (a year on, still unfinished), putting together a pricing plan (only wants to shoot models; spends alot of time on scrolling through IG model pages), and just generally isn't progressing for having been into this for at least a year and a half. And, whenever the need to get out there and shoot more is mentioned, the person always starts going to the fact that they need a better camera, more equipment, yada yada yada.

I love this person to death, and I'm trying to be supportive, but also be realistic, and let them know that they could be better, and can be better with more time and effort. But, is that my role, as a family member?