On this, approximately the third anniversary of Middle Age Cranky, I realize that I have never written about midlife crises. This is because, up until now, I haven’t had any. I’m not convinced I’ve had one now, but if not, it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to get.
Most Cranky readers know that I am a professional writer by trade. That in and of itself makes me extremely lucky, because very few people get the career they wanted as children. Add in the wickedly smart wife and the Mustang convertible, and you’ve got somebody who really has no business having a midlife crisis to begin with.
And yet …
A good portion of my time is spent writing white papers for technology companies. These white papers have a very simple three-step formula.
1) You set up the problem, such as increasing government regulation and the need to comply with it
2) You explain what goes into a technological solution, such as software focusing on governance, risk, and compliance
3) You discuss why the product developed by the company paying for the white paper has the very best solution to solve that problem and deliver the solution
Now substitute a different technology, such as security, and repeat. It’s kind of like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. You just keep telling the same story over and over, and getting paid for it again and again. It’s a good living. But I began to think that if I used the words efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity in a sentence one more time, I was going to scream. (Don’t tell my clients.)
So about five weeks ago I started doing something I’d never done before in my 35 years as a writer: I started writing daily news stories. A former colleague asked me if I’d be interested in blogging for PCWorld, the IDG publication focusing on consumer electronics. In the course of my regular work, I mostly write about enterprise computing systems – data centers, network fabrics, cloud computing and the like. Sometimes I write about smartphones, but that’s as close as I’d gotten to consumer electronics. Though I spent some time at PC/Computing (a now-defunct competitor to PCWorld) and Macworld, that was back in the 20th century, when the world was different.
For four days a week, in addition to my other commitments, I wrote a news story for Today@PC World. Sometimes I had a few hours to write something; sometimes my editor wanted an article within the hour. (Sometimes, with longer pieces, I had a few days.) I wrote about everything from Mac OS security issues to Google’s Project Glass to Ikea’s new furniture with the electronics built in. All fast, all fun.
I didn’t even do daily journalism when I was in college. There, I wrote movie reviews, and I was usually given previews enough in advance that I could still take a few days to write and have it published before the movie came out. I did act as news editor one night, which involved putting together the next day’s news, but it was the one day in the 70s that it actually snowed in the San Francisco Bay Area, so the front page kind of created itself.
Given that some of my other deadlines are as long as six weeks, it was weird to have turnaround in hours. It required focus. I’d never had to leave messages for potential sources that basically said, if you can’t call me back within 30 minutes, don’t bother. It was kind of fun. People who could accommodate you did. Those who couldn’t, didn’t.
But it was also very intense. I signed on with PCWorld to fill in my time between other assignments. Sometimes it filled up the time between other assignments, and then overflowed. I wanted to do it right. The adrenaline flowed. I learned more about consumer electronics than I ever did before.
The overall benefits were a little fuzzy, though. I was asked to do a radio interview about one of my articles the other day, which was fun. I liked the idea of increased visibility, even though I wasn’t quite sure what I would have done with it.
The rate per blog was menial, with royalties based on the number of hits my articles got. I calculated initially that even if only half of my articles got the maximum compensation allowed, it would have been a nice monthly stipend. I even rationalized that on an hourly basis, it might be somewhat lucrative.
But when I got my first accounting of how my articles were doing, the words dismal and abysmal didn’t even begin to describe my results. One story, for which I had the highest hopes, and which indeed had the highest number of hits, paid me the munificent amount of $60 (the maximum allowed was $400).
All of a sudden, productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency didn’t look so bad after all. When it came to blogging, I loved the intensity. I loved the adrenaline. And I especially loved that it cured my midlife crisis real damn quick.