I love to write. I love to hold a pen or pencil in my hand and just write, be it controlled or free-form. I love it when I use a keyboard and see my words appear on the screen with every solitary click. I love to write in the dead of night and in the cold and sober daylight. I cannot express myself through any medium other than the written word. I cannot imagine a life without being able to put my words on paper. To do so would be tantamount to suicide.
Since I was a kid, I have longed for a career as a writer. I can’t play an instrument, I can’t sing, and I’m not athletic. I’m Asian-American, and I have sought a career in the arts despite the odds against me, many of those odds coming from my own ethnicity and family, where such careers are eschewed in favor of more lucrative ones, like being a doctor or a lawyer. It has only been in the past four to five years that I have made any inroads toward my chosen career, and despite the obstacles, I still press forward, hoping that the day will come that I can do what I love and make at worst a decent living.
This explains my recent attempts at crowdfunding. Last year, I completed my first novel, a fictional tell-all called Saint Graziano the Good. It was the result of three years of writing and, well, not writing. After consulting many books and online sources, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. I couldn’t land an agent at the time, so I figured that I should cut out the middleman, so to speak. That attempt was a disaster. I raised over $200, but I soon realized that that would not be enough to publish without it looking like the typical self-published book of recent times: amateurish, with stock cover images and stock text. I gave up and decided on pursuing the more traditional approach of finding an agent.
But crowdfunding never left my thoughts. I soon thought about raising money for a writing project, as opposed to a book. I decided to combine my love of writing with my need to get out of my rut: a thirty-something still living at home with parents, with no job prospects, with a healthy case of writer’s block, and with enough personal problems to merit Iyanla Vanzant coming over to “fix my life” over the course of three episodes, at the very least. This led to an ingenious idea: Why don’t I go across the United States and Canada, and let the wonders of both countries inspire me to write poems? I’ve already done a novel, and a collection of poetry would be a good follow-up.
And then I saw what I was up against. The crowdfunding campaigns that were raking in the dough involved innovative items and charity projects. On Kickstarter, the most funded campaign is that of a customizable e-paper watch called Pebble, with over $10 million in contributions. On that same site, the most funded publishing campaign is from Planet Money, a joint project of NPR and This American Life, and it involves “(making) a t-shirt and (telling) the story of its creation”. On the rival site Indiegogo, I’ve come across campaigns to build a Nikola Tesla museum, to send Karen Huff (the famous bus monitor) on a vacation, to create gravity-powered lamps, even to purchase a video of Toronto mayor Rob Ford allegedly smoking crack.
I couldn’t compete with any of those. In fact, I could not compete with ANY of the campaigns, even if they didn’t involve politicians doing drugs or raising money so that a harassed woman could experience happiness away from a bunch of screaming kids. Those campaigns (in fact, most if not all crowdfunding campaigns) had glorious thank-you gifts, tempting potential contributors. In my initial campaign for Saint Graziano the Good, I had said that I would send copies of my book to contributors, and for my poetry campaign, I had said that I would send collections of my poetry to contributors, but I simply did not have the funds to afford those gifts. As of this writing, I am living on food stamps. How in the world can I expect to accomplish all these lofty goals when I can’t even find a part-time job that doesn’t require three years of experience?
My poetry campaign on Indiegogo lasted two months in late 2012 and raised $5. My goal was $5,000. I was so disappointed that I almost gave up the idea. Earlier this year, I restarted the campaign on GoFundMe. It has yet to receive one thin penny. I admit that I am at fault here. Creators of successful campaigns are relentless and spend every available moment pounding the Internet pavement for contributions, making regular updates, and seducing potential contributors with thank-you gifts. I have a hectic life as it is. I accompany my dad to and from dialysis three times a week. I walk my dogs. I take my medicines. I go shopping for groceries. I ride my bicycle. I do so many things, even on the Internet, that I often lose track of things, and what I want to do suffers in that regard.
Another thing in my way is the fact that I don’t know enough people, and I don’t know enough affluent (in relative terms) people. I can’t ask my parents for the money because they’re retired and living on a fixed income. Even if I do land a job, there is no guarantee that I will have enough left over for a down payment on my project, let alone the whole shebang. I’ve promoted the campaign numerous times on my Facebook and Twitter networks, with little success. Most (if not all) of my friends have more pressing needs. I understand if they can’t make a contribution, and I hold no ill will towards them because of it. It makes me wonder, however, how the winners in the crowdfunding game manage to come out on top. Is there a secret network of people with disposable income and good hearts that we don’t know about?
There are times when I think that my campaign in and of itself is flawed. In this economy, campaigns like mine would seem exorbitant and selfish. Who in their right mind would want to help a writer get his career off the ground? Who in their right mind would help someone go across the continent and write poems along the way? Their money would be better spent on charity and techie projects that may never see the light of day, irrespective of how much money is raised. I know that there are people who are worse off than I am, and I wish that I could donate money to help the needy in Angola or wherever, but I can’t, because by virtue of me being on food stamps, I am part of “the needy” in this world. And I am sorry, but I just don’t have the techie gift of innovation that so many others have in abundance. I just never have had it. Must I keep apologizing for wanting to be a writer? Must I keep apologizing for not being a visionary like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and the Spanx queen?
But I still go on. Despite all the problems I have faced, I refuse to roll over and surrender, and I’m the kind of person who has found it hard at times not to. Writing, be it novels or poetry, is just as important in today’s world as technology is. It is still a viable and acceptable way to make a living. Without the written word, this world would not exist. I think that it is more important than ever to nurture up-and-coming writers and their projects. Guys like me are the future of the written word. Technological advances are great, but writing (yes, even bad writing) is timeless. So, think about this: if you had the money and if you had the choice, would you be more likely to contribute to a budding writer’s campaign to in effect launch his career, where the results would be as accessible as going to your own library or bookstore, or an online video of a disgraced mayor doing drugs, which may or may not exist? Frankly, I’d choose the former. And I hope that you would, too.