March 18, 2013

The Harder They Come

By Brian Clarey

No one told me how hard it was gonna be.

In the beginning I thought it would be easy. I wrote for my college paper, won a few awards, worked hard at developing what I then called, almost reverently, “My Voice.” I envisioned my byline in Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, — but not the New York Times. The Gray Lady was too staid, too structured for my irreverent wit, or so I thought at the time. I also believed that internships were for dimmer lights than mine. No way was I going to take one of those. I thought a lot of things back then, most of which turned out to be wrong.

Then I graduated, and nobody called. Turned out I would have to suffer the indignities of actually going out there and asking for work.

In this time and place — New Orleans ca. 1994 — there were no websites or blogs. There was a daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, but I had already decided that daily newspapers would stifle my creativity, my passion, My Voice. A group of Yale grads were starting a slick monthly called Tribe that seemed more my speed. I went over to their Magazine Street offices with a bundle of college clips under my arm. They had never heard of me, and were not interested in my services. That left the Gambit, the city’s alternative weekly. An old journalism professor of mine had an editorship there; he took pity on me and gave me my first paid assignment.

I delivered the piece — it was about dive bars, if I remember right — to absolutely no fanfare. The paper stayed on the streets for a week, and then it was gone, like it never happened.

If the first thing I learned is that nobody knows who you are, the second is that there are writers with assignments and writers with ideas. Writers with ideas get a lot more work.

So I learned to flesh out story ideas, sometimes on the fly, and pitch them with enthusiasm. I got more work in Gambit, and started writing for a little monthly start-up called Where Y’At. I never did crack the pages of Tribe — they went under inside of a year. But I did get published in New Orleans magazine, a couple short pieces for the staggering sum of $2 a word. Through six years of freelancing in this way, I amassed perhaps 20 published clips.

Things got better. I got better — at writing, at marketing my work, at spotting opportunities. I moved to North Carolina, where after a few years of hustling I landed a job editing the Triad’s first alt-weekly. My writing life is nothing like I imagined it would be, but I take great satisfaction in the small degree of success I’ve managed to achieve.

It was hard — a constant struggle against an indifferent industry, defiance towards everyone, including at times myself, who thought I wouldn’t be able to make a go of it, or that it wouldn’t be worth it in the end.
But it was worth it. It was totally worth it.

My first book came out last year, TheAnxious Hipster and Other Barflies I’ve Known, a collection of columns, essays and long-form journalism. There are more pieces in there than I wrote in my first six years in the business. I’m proud of them all.

I thought publishing this book would change my life. It absolutely did — but not in the way that I thought. I was wrong about that, too.
Brian Clarey studied journalism at Loyola University New Orleans, and is currently the editor of YES! Weekly, covering the cities of the North Carolina Piedmont Triad. His first book, TheAnxious Hipster and Other Barflies I’ve Known. He lives in Greensboro, NC with his family. "Brian Clarey has been editor of YES! Weekly, the Piedmont Triad's alternative newsweekly, since 2004. He has been writing about arts, culture and entertainment since 1993. In 2006, with a Greensboro-based film crew, he wrote the short "JoBeth," which won that year's Greensboro 48-Hour Film Project and finished high enough in international competition to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007."--Amazon   @brianclarey


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