The Widening Gyre: Going Broke in LA


You need a career reboot. Go get “What Should I Do With My Life” by Po Bronson. Witness how his subjects changed their lives (for good and for bad, but always out of a sense of hope). See if you can chart a course forward based on what you learn.

Above all, take responsibility for your career. The problem is not that others are not giving you opportunities. The problem is that you expect them to.



Seems like a better title would be writers going broke in LA. Isn’t writing a broad field, what with technical writing, fiction, journalism, and so forth?


I dunno, what’s being an asshole on boingboing comment threads like?

To clarify: Just because someone is from a position of relative privilege does not make their hardships easier to bear. Every single one of us, if pressed, could find a Rwandan orphan whose story would make our bellyaching pale in comparison. However, it is a fallacy to say that this negates our own hardships. A fallacy, furthermore, that is promoted by the ruling classes (the .1%) to equate “getting laid off from my comfortable middle-class job” to “getting dinged with an additional 5% tax on my capital gains,” by dint of equating both to the worst abuses it is possible to visit on fellow human beings.

Just because one’s main problem isn’t getting decapitated with a machete doesn’t mean that problem is not a problem. A rich person’s problem with a slight tax increase on investments is no more comparable to a middle-class person’s problem with being unemployed than either of those problems is to getting your arms chopped off, and to equate the three in any way is the most deeply offensive casuistry I can imagine.

And I’ve got a good imagination.

EDITED: to try to make this comment make sense when the one it was in reply to was invisibly deleted. Long story short: Somebody said something stupid, I replied, the original stupid was erased. I don’t make a habit of randomly calling unknown people assholes for no apparent reason. Well, not a bad chronic-type habit anyway.


So, did the author get paid for this essay?


If the water is stagnant its time to change the water. It wouldn’t be easy, but instead if sitting on your hands waiting for the call why not make our own opportunities. Get your writer friends together, find some actors waiting for the big break and film school graduates wondering what they are going to do. Find some funding or launch a kickstarter.

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I’d look abroad, particularly to Asia. I used to hire good writers to edit (and sometimes write) reports my company used to produce for Hong Kong/Chinese companies. I used to hire native English speaking writers living in Hong Kong, but there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been done remotely. It’s a competitive market, but you can clearly write well so I’d start to widen my network and search.

Good luck. I wish you and your wife well.


I don’t want to sound callous here. I sympathize. I really do. We are all getting screwed by this economy.

But you choose to live in the third least affordable city in the United States.

I get it- I live in one of the 20 least affordable areas myself, because I have friends and family here, and because my wife has a good job here. I understand not wanting to be run out of the place you call home.

But writing is a job that can be done anywhere. Literally. You can bring a laptop to a cafe or a beach and do your job from wherever you are. You can pretty much live literally anywhere you want, or go complete nomad, living out of an RV and exploring every corner of the continent. On what it costs to maintain a single room in Manhattan, you pretty much be a fuedal lord over what’s left of Detroit. The cost of living in Atlanta is 1/3 of LA. In Cleveland, it’s 1/4, and they’ve got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You could settle in the Virgin Islands for a lower cost of living, and work from a white sand beach every day.

Again, I sympathize. Skyrocketing rents have ruined my hometown and pushed all the artists out to the outlying towns. But the ability to hold down a career while travelling the country? Fuck, man- I would literally kill for that.


you could swap out the town name for other towns, and your name for other people - this is not just writers in LA.
I can’t tell if this has always been the way, or if it’s new, since I only realized the problem when it happened to me. No one talks about it, or warns you of it.
(I too went through the “what’s wrong with me?” thing, only to find out my ‘resume’ was routinely knee deep in a pile that would take an employer so long to go through it’s not worth the time, so they go with one of the top 20 on the pile.) suggesting, positively, to ‘get something going! kickstart something!’ is not nearly as easy as it seems. when one is 20, kickstarting with crazy hope is easy, when one is 50, not so much - the world looks at you differently - why is HE looking for help/money/work? what’s wrong with him/his choices that he’s in this shape?
me, I went international and got experience in multiple fields - I thought that would open me up for lots of potential, i think broader and more creatively than almost anyone I know - what it did was a) make me hard to define (I could do four jobs, so they can’t give me one) and b) make younger, or less experienced “managers” intimidated by my abstract and complex history. I know several people whose positions I could hold easily as well (I’m being kind), and quite probably bring more to them than anyone locally, making 50-100K/year, and many of them spend 1/3 the day dicking around.
I’m hanging drywall with a chip on my shoulder, trying to find a way to be peaceful inside. dreams and potential are now a thing of the past. it’s tough. but I have to eat. it’s not over yet, but the game is not the one I should be winning at - I guess i’m saying there’s probably an undefined trend here, but tough sh*t for us involved in it, we’re on our own.


No offense, but you just might be insane.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Forget about being a writer. You’ve identified all the reasons the journalism profession is extinct. Its not “dying” its dead with only a few stragglers who refuse to embrace the new world left rotting. Give the dead horse a break and get on with your life. Go back to school and learn about computers. its these new fangled things that allow you to access “the intraweb” and yes they even have it on computers these days!

Become a tradesman. Do SOMETHING, besides lament on how shitty your non-existent efforts have been. There are millions of jobs out there, just not in the writing profession.

Or, don’t take any of my advice, chastise me on being a horrible person, and continue on your journey of self loathing.

Sounds like victim-blaming to me.

“It’s not anyone else’s fault that you are succumbing to forces beyond your control, it’s YOURS! We’re all fine here, nothing to see here, YOU are the problem!”

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Many thanks for this - it’s a subject that’s always fascinated me. Bought on Kindle, and I’m reading it now.

My heart goes out and it does sound soul crushing… but… This is the life of a writer. It is like being a musician or an artist. There are a lot of you. There are far more than there is demand. It is a life style that can be really appealing if it matches your personality. You can work anywhere, make your own hours, and it is seen by many folks as being noble and romantic. The price you pay is that because it is such an appealing profession to so many, it doesn’t pay much unless you are one of the exceptional few.

In my fairytale techtopia where the robots run it all and humans do nothing but chill, everyone gets to be an artist if they want to. Until then though, if you pick that life style you need to make hard choices.

So, I have sympathy, but no shock or solution.

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Hang in there. You may not get a break for many more years. Look at Donald Ray Pollock who worked for a paper mill for 30+ years. In the meantime he wrote and then got published in his 50s.

Bukowksi, Chandler, Henry Miller, Laura Ingalls Wilder. All late bloomers.

Keep writing.


WELL AMIGO. I like your style of writing and can feel what you feel. Give me a ping and maybe we can fix up a LETTER FROM LA if you think you can articulate some witty fact based stuff on art and photography in SoCal ??? Good Luck otherwise Vasari (editor of established London based UK art magazine)


I’m mid-fifties: I’m on career 4 right now. Each of them I was fully committed to, rose to a reasonable level to, made good money at. Each disappeared, and I had to re-calibrate. I was an engineering design model builder: combining a watchmaker’s accuracy with an engineer’s understanding of process flows in factories and plants and ship engine rooms. Early computers wiped this out.

Then i worked as an exhibit builder: World’s Fairs, Science Centres, industrial exhibits: that got wiped out by standardized aluminum extrusion booths, lowered budgets - it’s not that it’s gone, It’s just so much smaller, and much of it is now done with video screens.

Then I became a multimedia developer, creating CD ROMs for government agencies, banks, schools, and so on. The web wiped that out when I was about 7 years into it.

Finally, I became a web application developer, and that’s still around. But you know, they won’t hire old guys like me. And maybe they’re right, or maybe they’re not. I put a decade in, I was a founder of a startup, I sold some code, I was a lead dev.

In between, I taught technology in schools, colleges and to individuals. I worked as an illustrator on the side. I helped a few world-famous artists create sculptures and other artworks that were in major international art fairs and major collections. I shot a few experimental films. I raced and built bikes. I renovated houses and made money that way, my own and others. I designed and built kitchens that I’m still very proud of. I had a company providing zinc bar tops to restaurants and bars.

So, I’m sorry that writing isn’t working out for you. But even though I have less security than I maybe hoped for, I’ve lived a life. I’m on to my next career: building a school for people who want to bootcamp their way to a new career: it’s focused on people who are entrepreneurial, ready to challenge themselves, who don’t believe that what they have done is all they can do. Check it out if you want: I’m plugging it because it reinforces the point I’m making here, not because I spend my time spamming comments. I don’t.

Main thing is, it would be great if life was different, but it isn’t. Move on.


Why are you in LA?

You’re in LA for the same reason all of those other out-of-work writers are in LA. You thnik it’s where you have to be.

Because you’re all there, the market is completely saturated. Yeah, you’re good, but so are thousands of other people who would give their teeth to be a serious LA writer. Nobody has to return your calls, because even if you’re on the short list, they never get that far down the list.

You say there’s work in other cities. GO THERE! You can always take work from LA just like you take work from those other cities now - if it ever comes up. Meanwhile, you have a life and you’re not waiting for the Handsome Quarterback to notice you’re even alive.


I’ve been self-employed for 30 years. If something stops working, find something new to do. Things change, stuff happens, you have to be able to reinvent yourself, especially when you’re 50+ because you probably won’t get a job. That’s just how it is now.

I’m a software developer and have a micro niche converting dinosaur DOS database applications to Windows. It’s an arcane specialty. However there’s practically no competition and I’m quite busy.

Maybe the author can find a micro niche in writing. It can easily pay the bills.

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Bravo, recognizing what’s important is your skillset not the career track. My career has parallels with yours, started doing modelmaking and effects for commercials till that was destroyed by digital fx, then puppets, now theater and costume stuff that has to actually be real. But I’ve known craftspeople who are rigid and say things like “I only want to work on movies, not theater”. That’s the way to poverty.


Your reply gave me a good laugh!

“What Should I Do With My Life” - “it’s a subject that’s always fascinated me”