Tag Archives: writing

A watched video never uploads

As promised, I am beginning my series of YouTube videos about history. The first one, which is uploading (currently at 11%) now, is about the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 and the insurrection in Washington earlier this month. I compare and contrast Germany in the 1920s to America in the 2020s, seeing what lessons can be gleamed from the past. Interesting stuff, at least to me.

The sound is terrible. The lighting is worse. And I get a little flustered at times, as you’ll see, so the narration isn’t as good as a proper YouTuber. It’s also incredibly long. I think about 50 minutes. That is far longer than I intended, but not surprising. Thinking back to university, I remember I always had problems keeping to time when giving presentations. I am eternally grateful for my editors, who help me trim the fat of my pieces. Because God knows there is a lot of fat to be trimmed.

I will get better at YouTube videos. The most important step you take is the first, though, so whether this one is perfect or not is of less consequence than the fact that I actually made a video. I sat down and researched it, found the pictures, recorded the narration. I’m quite pleased with the final product, rough though it may be.

I’ll get better at editing myself, both editing the video and editing the script, as it were. I plan on playing around a little with Microsoft’s Video Editor to see if I can figure out how to use it to make better quality videos. I used Powerpoint for this one, and as you’ll see, it didn’t work as well as I hoped. Still, it did work, so there’s that.

It took well over an hour for the Powerpoint to convert to a video so I could upload to YouTube. Now the video is 12% uploaded, which means it won’t be available until tomorrow. Not much to be done about that, I’m afraid. That’s another lesson learned here: the sheer amount of time that it takes to save, download, and upload these videos means that I should probably plan to do all this the day before I want it to be live.

13% now. YouTube is not meant to be my full-time job, yet today it was. That’s alright. I need to learn, and I learn by doing. It may seem odd that I need to learn, since I’m a writer and not a videographer. Yet, having a presence on YouTube has been deemed necessary by enough writers that I feel I must take note. It was actually Jenna Moreci’s videos which convinced me to bite the bullet, as she talked about branding and building up an audience on various platforms. There is something to be said for that, especially if you are self-publishing like she is. I’m not self-publishing a novel, but I do self-publish on Medium and on this blog, so I reckon the principle is the same.

The thing is, I enjoyed doing this video. It was something different. Something new. I could have just as easily made this a Medium blog, but that wouldn’t have been as fun. My video isn’t sophisticated, but the research is sound and the information is accurate and interesting.

There is no real reason for this blog, other than to pass the time while I wait for this YouTube video to upload. I have already watched EastEnders. I don’t have any outstanding articles to work on (unfortunately). The dog is cuddling with my grandmother, so we can’t play tug.

15% now.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Ramblings on a snow day

Do you ever have those days where you don’t feel like doing anything? I do. I am having one right now. It is just after 10:00 AM here in East Tennessee. I am drinking coffee out of my new coffee mug, which is a 20 ounce Chip from Beauty and the Beast, which you can see here. I love him.

Chip is precious and gives me coffee. I love him.

There is a blanket of snow on the ground, briefly turning our grey mountains into an Alpine paradise. Of course, snow is a Catch-22 in Appalachia. It makes everything beautiful – because frankly the bleakness of barren trees and muddy mountainsides is not beautiful unless you throw a coat of snow on it – but also inaccessible. Still, if it has to be winter, I prefer there be snow.

When I was in high school, we would regularly miss the entire month of January, or nearabouts, due to snow and ice. I lived up a curvy, narrow, one-lane road with traffic that went both ways. You had to pull over to the side to let the other person pass. That might mean your car is mere inches from a 100-food plunge down the mountain. Dangerous at the best of times. Besides, no school bus could make it up a hollow in the snow.

Like I did as a teenager, I am having a bit of a snow day today. Maybe its the weather. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe its the fact that we just lived through an attempted coup. Who can say? All I know is that today is a day for taking it easy.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be doing any work. I’m looking ahead to next week. There’s some research for a piece I want to pitch about the 50th anniversary of All in the Family, a piece I may begin that I’d like to put on Medium on Sunday, and a few other things I’m working on. So, even when I’m not “working,” I’m working. But that’s okay. I enjoy my work.

My goal this year is to make $2000 a month. So far this week I made $350 – though $50 of that was a payoff from work I did last month, so I’m not sure if it counts. If I can make $2000 a month, though, I can breathe a little easier. That’s going to require some hustle.

…when the world never seems to be living up to your dreams, and suddenly you’re finding out the facts of life are all about you

I had a pitch rejected this morning, which isn’t great for my bottom line or my ego. But it’s part of the game, and you have to be prepared to hear “no.” As the proverb goes, you take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both and there you have the facts of life. Who said that? Oh right, Mrs Garrett.

I fully expected a rejection, though, so it wasn’t devastating. I shot my shot, but I knew it was a long one – my pitch really was outside the scope of what they were looking for, though only just, so I thought I might have a chance. You win some, you lose some, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Who said that? This one I don’t know. Someone famous, surely. Anyway, it’s a good idea for a blog if not an article, so you’ll probably read it sometime next week.

2021 is the year of taking every chance, though. It is also the year of being persistent. The worst an editor – anybody, really – can say to you is “no,” and “no” is not so bad. Whenever I am feeling down about a rejection, or a piece not doing the numbers I’d like, I remember how much I hated working in mortgages. Whatever downsides to being a freelance writer (and there are several), it beats being miserable in a job I hate. But, I have a pitch out for an essay on that topic, so I won’t say too much here.

Interestingly, though, I stumbled upon a reminder of that very fact this morning. I finally linked my Gmail account to Outlook (easier than I expected), and in doing so found an e-mail from a former colleague, dated May 2012. She had forwarded it from her work account to my personal e-mail, I suppose so that we could talk about it without the powers that be monitoring us, though I can’t remember and that makes no sense as surely they’d see her forward it out-of-house.

Either way, it was a real eye-opener. Or rather, a stark reminder. My God, we were treated terribly. I forgot just how much extra work we were asked to do for no extra compensation. This was around the time I made the transition from the underwriting department (where I was essentially an assistant, though I bore the title junior underwriter) to processing. It paid more, so at the time it seemed like a good move. A promotion, even. In hindsight, if I wanted to make mortgages a career – which was never the plan – it was a mistake. I should have remained in underwriting.

Either way, reading this message reminded me of why I left the mortgage industry in 2019. I suddenly had flashbacks to myself, sitting at one of those long communal work stations in an open office environment plopped in the middle of an old warehouse on the North Side of Chicago, suddenly and uncontrollably weeping at the pressure the CEO himself was placing on my team’s shoulders.

None of us could manage. Most of us were gone within a year, either to different departments or different companies. I left for a different department. Then I was laid off.

Whenever I feel glum about my career, I try to remember mortgages. The first job I had, and the last. Both were terrible. (The one in the middle wasn’t so bad, though I didn’t realise it at the time – but that was down to other factors, and is a story for another day.) When I think about it, I know I made the right choice. This is where I belong. If not forever, for now.

That seems like a good place to leave it. Chip is empty, so I am going to refill him and probably finish reading Spark’s Press, the new novel by Sarah A Chrisman. I want to review it when I’m finished, so hopefully you’ll read that next week. I’m also going to figure out how to film a reaction video, which I hope to have up by next weekend – though that could take longer, depending on how long it takes me to figure out how to film said video. Either way, every day I’m hustlin’.

Who said that? Oh, right, Rick Ross. A philosopher for our times.

x. Skylar

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Sonia Weiser’s “Opportunities of the Week” newsleter – a great resource for freelance journalists

I first came across Sonia Weiser when she came across me. I tweeted about a website with absurd requirements for its writers, and she asked where. I looked at her profile and discovered she produces a weekly newsletter called “Opportunities of the Week,” in which she collates various calls for submissions from editors. Intrigued, I subscribed.

I recieved my first newsletter today, and Sonia did not disappoint. There were at least two dozen opportunities to pitch listed in the e-mail. Not all of them were a fit for me, of course, but several were. They not only provided me with contact information for editors, but also generated two or three ideas for stories that I can write even if I don’t write them for that specific platform. If you are freelancing, I highly suggest subscribing to Sonia’s newsletter. She doesn’t charge much ($3 USD/month), which is a bargain for the amount of work that must go into finding all these opportunities.

Knowing where and whom to pitch is part of the writing job with which I struggle, especially when pieces seem to fall between verticals. Over the years, I’ve written several pieces that could just as easily be filed under “politics” as they could “culture” or “tech.” Having editors tweet what they’re looking for is therefore incredibly helpful. Of course, no one can follow every editor on Twitter. That’s what makes a newsletter like Sonia’s so useful. Thank you, Sonia, for this wonderful resource.

Anyway, if any of you reading this are editors and you wish to commission me, my e-mail is skylar.bakerjordan@gmail.com. If you’re a reader and have an idea of somewhere I should pitch, drop me a line too.

x. Skylar

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Calendars and racist tchotchkes

Well, here we are. Another year begins. When I think about what 14-year-old Skylar would have imagined 2021 to be like, it certainly isn’t “stuck in a house with his grandparents trying to avoid a deadly pandemic and hoping the President doesn’t start the Second US Civil War or the Third World War.” Alas and alack.

My goal this year is to produce new content five days a week. That is ambitious, and I fully expect there will be weeks where that does not happen. I actually had an idea for a quick piece on British politics, but Boris Johnson’s statement to the nation means I am holding that until tomorrow. Still, I do feel it is important to start as one means to go on, so here I am.

It is probably for the best. I had housekeeping that needed doing today: housekeeping in the figurative sense that I needed to organise my calendar for 2021 and take care of clerical matters (organising invoices, paying bills, that sort of thing) and in the very literal sense of cleaning and organising my workspace. So that’s what I have done.

I bought this jaunty calendar last month, with the plan of writing down important anniversaries and dates so that I can better plan content. This will help me with both the YouTube series I want to launch, in which I talk about historic and political events, while also sparking some ideas for articles to pitch and when to pitch them. Not all ideas will be seen to fruition, but many will. Brainstorming possible topics to write about is one of the biggest challenges any writer will have, so it’s good to have a list to work off throughout the year.

I have tried three times to get this damn picture up in the paragraph I want it. I simply can’t. WordPress is the most unintuitive blogging platform I have ever used, and I bitterly resent the fact that my credit card renewed my subscription before I had a chance to cancel it. Anyway, enjoy a photo of my new calendar, referenced in the last paragraph.

I also finally took some of my books out of the plastic tubs they’ve been living in since I moved. I dragged several posters out of storage, too, which you can see in the featured image at the top of this blog. This serves the dual purpose of making my workspace more “me,” which helps me feel comfortable and relaxed and therefore more creative while also covering up some of the unfortunate tchotchkes my grandparents have collected over the years.

They are old white southern people and so have their share of ceramic Aunt Jemimas and lawn jockeys—things most people under the age of 40 would immediately peg as being at best in poor taste, but that my now-octogenarian grandfather has cherished for more decades than I have been alive. He particularly enjoys collecting figures of Native Americans. I use the general term, because I can’t say that I nor he could identify which tribe these figures are meant to represent. Nor could their creators, I imagine.

Papaw loves his Native American figurines. When I was a child, my grandmother was responsible for decorating the house, but my grandfather had “the family room,” (essentially a prototype for the “man caves” of the 2010s) which was decidedly masculine. He decorated that, and he favoured Native American imagery along with wolves. I don’t know if there is a connection in his mind there, but that is what I remember and what I still see.

Some of this no doubt comes from the Westerns he grew up watching. I hadn’t made that connection before just now, but it makes sense. Westerns were such a ubiquitous part of American culture in the 1950s and 1960s that they are bound to have left a massive impression on the generation which grew up with them. Not unlike superhero films in the 00s and 10s, I imagine. I wonder if there is some level of nostalgia for a misspent youth in my grandfather’s home décor choices. I should ask him.

Regardless, my grandfather rarely uses this room—essentially a den in the basement—and I use it every day, having established it as “my office” when I moved here at the end of 2019. So, I put my pictures up to hide his figures. As I said, this is to make me more comfortable in what has essentially become my space, but it also hides figures I feel many people will quite understandably find offensive.

I can hear some of you groaning about “PC gone mad,” but not alienating my audience as I film YouTube Videos in this room, and not having to worry that there is something problematic in every selfie I take just seems like good sense to me. On the other hand, it is not my house and I am not about to tell my grandfather what he can and cannot display in his own home. I have expressed my concerns about these figurines to my grandmother—specifically when she asked if there was anything I wanted to be left in her will (the house), and anything I didn’t (the racist knickknacks)—but I have learned to pick my battles with my cantankerous old grandpa, and this just isn’t a hill I wish to die on.

Besides, anyone who would cancel an old man for his bits and baubles needs some serious perspective. Still, I hope he doesn’t mind. I quite like looking up and seeing the original cast of EastEnders and River Phoenix playing a guitar. If he does, I will take them down, because it is his house and I am ever vigilant about not overstepping boundaries.

Anyway, this seems like a good place to leave it. I am going to make some notes for tomorrow’s article (probably a Medium piece), start compiling a list of outlets I want to pitch to in 2021, and do a few more clerical things that need taking care of before we get into the actual writing bit of my job. That’s the thing about writing professionally no one tells you about: you spend a lot of time not actually writing but rather doing office work. Every job has its drawbacks.

Happy New Year, you lot.

x. Skylar

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Looking back on 2020, looking ahead to 2021

If you can’t tell, that picture is fake. My teeth aren’t that white, or that straight. My skin is not that flawless. Oh, and as if anyone is celebrating New Year’s Eve in a massive crowd this year. Yeah, that isn’t happening. At least IT BETTER NOT BE HAPPENING. (Looking at you. Yes you. You know who you are.)

Of all the things Covid has robbed us of, New Year’s Eve might be the one thing I am grateful it took. Even when I drank, this holiday was overrated. Black tie events with cold hors d’oeuvres and swill champagne at £300/$300 a ticket. Pubs and bars and clubs jack up the prices of drinks and slap you with an admissions fee at the door. If you opt instead for a house party, you are shoulder-to-shoulder with drunken strangers who insist next year will be their year, but whose sob stories about this year make you very much doubt that. And don’t get me started on the big celebrations: Westminster, Times Square, Navy Pier.

No. Thank. You.

Part of my bitterness towards 31 December/1 January is down to the fact I have never had a successful New Year’s Eve. The closest I came was probably 2009 into 2010 (I never know which year to refer a given New Year’s celebration by), when I stole a bottle of champagne from a bar in Bowling Green, KY, only to find out a few days later that the champagne was not only free but intended for my group anyway. A regular criminal mastermind, ain’t I?

Since then, I have been turned away from gay bars in Chicago, danced alone to a Shania Twain song while sobbing quietly into a warm But Lite, and thrown a New Year’s Eve party which exactly three people turned up at—my neighbours—and they only stayed out of pity. Oh, and I have never had a New Year’s kiss. At some point enough was finally enough, and I stopped celebrating altogether.

Still, when you are as sentimental and nostalgic as I am, it is hard to resist the urge to look back on the year that was. On social media, folks have been listing things they’re proud to have accomplished in 2020, or things they’re looking forward to in 2021. All very sweet. I am a pessimistic person by nature, so I look back at 2020 and see only the things I did not accomplish: the book that still isn’t written, the articles that were rejected, the weight I haven’t lost. Some things I wanted to do, like explore the Appalachian Museum near my house or visit my loved ones back in Chicago, were cancelled due to Covid. Still others, like a trip to see my loved ones in London, would have been cancelled due to finances even if there wasn’t a pandemic raging.

It wasn’t all bad, though. This was my first year since leaving the mortgage industry and dedicating myself to writing full time. Did I accomplish everything I hoped I would? No. I still don’t have a byline at the Atlantic, but I did write meaningful pieces for The Independent and Arc—a new outlet for me in 2020. I didn’t finish a first draft of the Great American Novel, but I did write quite a bit which showed me that I can in fact do this. I’m still not dating Harry Styles, but as far as I can tell no one else is either, meaning I’m still in with a chance.

In the spirit of the season, allow me to list 5 things I am proud of accomplishing this year:

  1. Lost 60 pounds
  2. Remained sober the entire year
  3. Read my work publicly for the first time
  4. Started dating again, albeit only virtually and with limited success
  5. Overall, coped amazingly well in self-isolation, only going out when absolutely required of me  

It was also a successful first year professionally, if only because it taught me a lot of hard but necessary lessons. I feel more confident than ever that I can write a book. I am driven to finally start doing YouTube videos, which is something I have long wanted to try my hand at. I feel motivated to pitch more, even to magazines and on subjects that are a little out of my comfort zone. I think 2021 can be a successful year.

One thing that I want to do more of in 2021 is write for Medium and this blog. There are articles or blogs I want to publish but that don’t necessarily have a home elsewhere (for a myriad of reasons). In the past, I have let them die, but there really is no need for that. I have two platforms which allow me to publish the content I want. I plan to utilise them more.

But that only works if you all help me out. I’m going to be retooling my Patreon in the coming weeks so that the tiers are lower. They’re ridiculously high right now, because I modelled it after a much more prominent writer when I set it up, having no real benchmark of my own. If you regularly read my blog, I would ask that you contribute. Another way you can help is to follow me on Medium, to clap 50 times for my stories, and to share the links. Help get my name out there. I am also going to be looking into putting some writing behind a paywall, whether on Substack or Patreon (or both), where I can really analyse issues in more detail.

I am terrible at self-promotion. It does not come naturally to me. I was raised to believe that if you have talent or are worthy of mention, someone will notice. But one thing I have learned in 2020 is that you must be your own biggest advocate. Self-promotion is key to a successful writing career, as so much of our success is determined off social media metrics and algorithms and audience engagement.

As such, I have been looking at which stories performed the best for me in 2020 and which ones performed the worst. The results were not surprising. You all seem to like my political content and my cultural critiques of things like postmodernism, identity politics, and the like. Expect more of that in 2021.

In the meantime, here are a few of my favourite pieces from the past year. Most underperformed my hopes for them, though “What does ‘queer’ even mean?” is my most-read piece on Medium and did relatively well. The piece on the George Floyd protests for The Independent also did well, but I’m so damn proud of it that I wanted to include it here

Anyway, here they are, ten pieces I’m proud of but that you lot mostly didn’t read:

x. Skylar

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Thoughts and advice for aspiring writers on pitching, waiting, and rejection

One of the questions I get asked the most by people who want to write for a living is “how do I pitch?” Folks simply don’t know how to communicate to a newspaper or website that they would like to write for them. When I first stared writing, this was one of my biggest obstacles. I didn’t know how to pitch, or even if I could—I was just a kid with a history degree and a dream. Imposter syndrome, they call it.

The best advice I ever received was from the writer Kellee Terrell, who told me to “just pitch.” The worst they can say, she correctly pointed out, is no. If being told “no” is scary for you, then you are in the wrong field. Writing is not a career for the easily dejected.

Earlier, I tweeted that I received three rejection e-mails this morning, but that isn’t entirely accurate.  I received two rejection e-mails and one no-response, which I take to mean a rejection. One thing that is true about writing is you hear “no” more than “yes.”

The important thing to remember is that a “no” is not a reflection on you as a person, or even you as a writer. One “no” I received was a fairly blunt “we’ll pass,” but I have written for that website previously so they clearly like my writing. People are busy, editors especially so, and they don’t always have time to explain why they’re rejecting your pitch. You just got to take it on the chin.

Another editor (who I’ve worked with for years) e-mailed me to say they already have someone writing about the topic I wanted to write about. It might be a freelancer who beat me to the punch, or who has some expertise I don’t. Or perhaps there is someone in-house who can write the piece, which means they don’t have to pay a freelancer’s fee. Newspapers and websites have a bottom line to consider, and you might not be in their budget.

If you get a response, even a rejection, you should be grateful. Not all editors will even bother to do that much. No responses are frustrating, because I am never sure exactly how long I should wait to pitch the piece elsewhere or put it on my blog. (This is assuming I have written copy, or that I don’t just abandon the idea.) The nightmare scenario is to pitch a piece elsewhere, get a yes, only to later receive a yes from the place you originally pitched. This has only happened to me once, and it was on a weekend when no one was working but the news item was hot so I mentioned I might publish it elsewhere, so both the editor and I forgave me.

How long should you wait for a response before pitching elsewhere? Sometimes outlets will have clearly stated policies on their website letting you know that after a specified period of time, you can assume no response is a “no” and should feel free to pitch elsewhere. Sometimes, writers will say in the pitch how long they’ll wait for a response.

I am not typically one of those writers who give editors a deadline to get back to me. It feels pushy, and I don’t want to be off-putting. I am not saying that is the best attitude to have, but if a piece isn’t particularly “hot,” – meaning that it won’t “go stale” (read: lose relevance) relatively quickly – then you should let editors take their time getting back to you. If it is “hot,” like the one I pitched but haven’t heard back on, it might be better to give an idea of by when you’d like a response. Most editors would intuitively understand the reasoning.

The piece I pitched but haven’t heard back on is “hot,” but it isn’t so “hot” that I felt “I need an answer within 24 hours.” So, I’ll wait another day. If I don’t hear anything by tomorrow, you’ll read it on Medium. Ordinarily I might try to find it another (paying) home, but it’s the week of Christmas and people are busy enough without me bothering every editor in London and New York. Remember, editors are people too, and they have lives outside of their jobs.  

Part of why I might not have heard back is because I pitched to a general mailbox. You know, the pitches@writeforus.website kind of communal inbox many websites and companies will have. That can sometimes feel like shouting into a vacuum. In my experience, it is always better when you have a direct contact, an editor who you can reach out to directly. That isn’t always the case, and some outlets prefer or require pitches be sent to the communal inbox. Best practice is to follow the instructions on their website, at least until you’ve built a relationship with the publication.

You can’t build a relationship on unsent e-mails, though. Don’t be afraid to pitch because you have never written before, or because you’re not a subject matter expert—although that helps, and it’s worth considering whether you have the expertise or experience to write about said topic. But the worst they can say is “no,” and “no” isn’t so bad.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

On writing, and going forward into 2021

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of personal blogs, reflecting on, well, whatever the hell I want to reflect on. A lot will no doubt be on politics, though I plan to migrate most of that writing to Medium where it can pick up more traffic and make a little money. (And I do mean a little; most pieces bring in pennies, and no piece has netted me more than $25.)

Over the past several years, with rare exception I have avoided writing much about my personal life. As I have gotten further into my 30s, my desire to mine my own trauma for clickbait has diminished. This is partly because I have come to realise first person narratives are only so interesting, at least to me. My interest has moved decidedly more towards analysis. I suppose this is where it was originally; my degree is in history – that is, the history of other people, of civilisation – and not psychology or creative writing.

So don’t expect a lot of “why my college boyfriend ruined me for other men” blogs here. Although, perhaps not coincidentally, that might be a piece you see in the New Year. Undecided.

In truth, I don’t know what content might end up on this blog going forward. This will be a place where I dump what doesn’t fit anywhere else. If I can’t sell an article and don’t expect it to do numbers on Medium, it’ll end up here. I suppose that makes this a dumping ground for my spare thoughts. Not sure using a website in my name as a rubbish heap is a wonderful idea, but sod it. Here we are.

One thing I do anticipate writing more about here is writing. As some of you may know, I have been working on a novel for the past year. Well, novels. I started off with an idea about a single gay father, which then got sat aside for an idea about a gay Romeo and Juliet, which then got sat aside for an idea about several thirtysomethings returning to their college for homecoming, which then got set aside for, got set aside for, got set aside for.

In truth, I am very good at planning and plotting, at worldbuilding and character creation. I enjoy it. Where I seem to lose myself in anxiety and self-loathing is the actual writing bit. Sitting down to craft the narrative is a frightful undertaking, one that fills me with dread. I have the most painful imposter syndrome whenever I try to craft a fictional sentence.

Why is this? I have a few ideas. One is that I come from a working class Appalachian background where my family – God love ’em, they meant well – instilled in me that things like pursuing dreams and writing books and taking risks were for rich people. When you come from generational poverty like I have, success is defined differently. It isn’t a book deal or a blue tick on Twitter, it’s putting food on the table and having a roof over your head.

I don’t mean to make out as though I grew up Oliver Twist. My family was decidedly lower middle-class or working-class (choose your own descriptor) by the time I was born. But my grandparents, who raised me, were born and raised in abject poverty. My grandmother remembers the first time she got electricity, in the 1950s. Those of you who’ve seen Downton Abbey will know that was about 50 years later than most. But then, the mountains are often left behind the times. Not always by choice, but also sometimes by choice.

That is a different essay for a different day. The point is, I think my upbringing – one in which I was taught to aim low and avoid disappointment, but which a more generous interpretation would be to always find job security and never take risks you can’t afford – has, if not stifled my creativity (I have plent of ideas), stifled my self-belief. I am working through this. I’ll update you on how once I’ve figured it out.

But I also think there is something else to be said here. Writing a novel requires a very different skillset to writing the 800- to 1000-word opinion pieces which have become my calling card. From the start of my career, I have pitched an idea to an editor, gotten a yes within two hours (if it was a yes – more often it’s a no), and had to turn it around in another two to four hours. And, at risk of sounding cocky, I am very good at this. I work well under pressure and am able to form coherent arguments strung together in decent prose very quickly. I credit my history degree for this – those final exams consisting solely of essay questions really prepare you for a life of writing hot takes for the internet.

This is, needless to say, a very different skillset to planning, plotting, and writing a 100,000 word novel. To begin with, they’re not even the same type of writing. Nonfiction – or at least what I write – is relatively straightforward. Sure, I aspire to be as punchy as Marina Hyde or Suzanne Moore, but so long as I get my point across I feel I’ve succeeded.

Not so with a novel. You have to be clever. Not smart or intelligent, though obviously those things help, but clever. Witty. Lyrical. You need to know how to write vibrant, vivid descriptions, how to make each character sound and move uniquely, how to paint with words. I don’t need to explain what Donald Trump looks like, how he moves, how he sounds. We are all painfully aware. But you have no idea how The Lady Grierhannon, Regent of Lastlight speaks or walks. I have to tell you. And that’s harder than you might think.

The Lady Grierhannon, by the way, is an actual character from a novel I have started and stopped at least three times this year. Actually, if I have my way, it’s a series of novels: a fantasy story I describe as “Game of Thrones meets Pride and Prejudice.” I am excited about it, I love working on it, and I think I can eventually finish book one. But then, no one wants to publish a fantasy series from a first time author. I might have a small but proven record of being a successful opinion writer, but no one – least of all I – know if my fiction will sell.

So, I’m wondering if I should even continue working on that book, at least for now, or at least in earnest. I think I’ll always work on it; I enjoy it, and it’s my passion project. But, maybe I should try to write one of the other novels I have floating around in my head first. You know, a one-off to prove I can, in fact, do this. Prove to agents and publishers, of course, but also to myself.

I also need to spend more time pitching and writing for money, because I need more money. 2020 was good to me. I never hurt for cash. Part of that is my circumstances – I am living with my grandparents, and they have been kind enough to let me stay here with minimal expenditure. That can’t last forever, though, and now that I have health insurance (I tweeted about this), I need to make more money each month than I was. So, expect more pitching, more hot takes, maybe some reported pieces. Who knows? I’ll write anything for a buck or a quid. I accept both currencies. (I accept others, too, but I don’t know a fun colloquial word for them.)

Anway, that seems like a fine place to leave off now. Who knows what will become of this blog, or my novel(s), or me, or you, or anyone in the new year. Coronavirus has shown us how pointless it is to plan and predict the future. I’ll take it one day at a time, doing my best, hoping for the best, and we’ll see what happens.

Oh. I guess if you have any blogs you’d like to see, let me know. Don’t imagine you do, but I’m open to suggestions.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Thoughts from an empty office

284200_956877083902_41101513_42467622_684042_n

The author, on the day he was hired for his first mortgage job

I am sitting in my office right now. My desk is bare, only my laptop, my monitors, my phone, and a pineapple coffee mug full of ink pens left. I’ve taken most of my decorations down. Pictures of friends and family have been taken home. The mug my best friend’s daughter bought me for Christmas is packed away. Posters and prints and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree lean against a wall—the last remaining indication that this corner office in this old bank-cum-office-building was once occupied by Skylar Baker-Jordan.

I only worked here for just over a year. I started in June 2018. I will leave in September 2019. It’s the first time I’ve had my own office since I was Student Body Vice President in college. When I had that office—a small, cinderblock cell with fluorescent lights and cheap tile on top of concrete, I thought having an office like I have now—spacious, possibly the biggest in the building—would be a sure sign that I had made it. That I was successful.

I never imagined having an office like this would make me feel trapped.

As most of you know already, I am leaving North Carolina, a state I’ve only called home for 18 months. I put in my resignation at work two days ago after calling my grandparents and confirming that yes, as we discussed, I can move in with them in Tennessee. I’m going to apply for graduate school, try to make some money writing, and cross my fingers that I can figure out a way to find a career that brings me more joy than grief, which is a lot more than I can say for the mortgage industry.

I was never meant to be in mortgages. I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2011 and started applying for any and every job I could find. Six weeks later, I had an interview at Guaranteed Rate, at the time billed as America’s fastest growing mortgage company. I thought it was for a position as a receptionist. I was 25, though probably as naïve as a 20-year-old, fresh from Kentucky and a very dark period in my life. I put on a tan suit jacket, pastel pink dress shirt, and teal tie—all of which I had picked up at a thrift store the week before the interview. I went over to my friend Sara’s apartment to print off my resume, which took longer than expected. Her then-boyfriend sped through the North Side so that I wouldn’t have to take the train (I couldn’t afford a cab). He dropped me off outside this giant brick warehouse which had been reclaimed as a loft-style office space.

It was cold inside, both in temperature and décor. I waited for a nice young woman—no older than me—from human resources to interview me. She explained that it wasn’t a receptionist position, but an interview to be either a sales assistant or an underwriting assistant. Which would I prefer? I had no idea what either of those things meant, but I knew I didn’t want to do anything with sales, and underwriting at least had the word writing in it, so I picked that. Later, a matronly middle-aged woman with a nasally Chicago accent interviewed me. She would later tell me she knew she would hire me the moment she saw me because of my outfit. I stood out, I was bold, and I was charming. I got the job.

That was eight years ago. This was all supposed to be temporary. But over the past eight years I have, but for one nine month exception when I actually launched my writing career, been employed in mortgages. I have risen from an underwriting assistant to a senior, seasoned processor. My loan-level knowledge is, if I do say so myself, profound. Ask me about FHA guidelines, or what Fannie will allow but Freddie won’t. I’m good.

I’m also desperately unhappy.

The only reason I stayed in mortgages as long as I did was because I lived in Chicago and didn’t want to leave. Even though Chicago itself brought me a lot of misery, I relished being in such a cultured and exciting place, and I loved my friends. But there was something else keeping me there, too—the fear of flunking out of the big city. I am a small-town boy from the hills of eastern Kentucky. There’s literally a song about how you never leave there alive. But I did. And my biggest fear was having to go back.

So I stayed in the mortgage industry so I could stay in Chicago. I didn’t want to leave. Leaving meant failure. I didn’t want to be a failure. Finding a writing job was hard, and I could never manage to save enough money to step out on faith and freelance full time. So I kept doing mortgages.

By the end of 2017, though, it became clear to me that I was not going to be happy staying in mortgages and that, at 31, the time had come to shit or get off the pot. I had a choice—try to make it as a writer, or embrace this career I had tripped into quite by accident which I loathed but which I was good and pays pretty well. It’s a choice a lot of us face: excitement or stability.

In 2011 I chose stability. I had been in college on and off for six years, finally graduating in 2010. I was working at a café, living with roommates in an apartment two doors down from my college campus, and dating a closeted fraternity boy. I was stunted. So when I left Chicago, I wanted to make it as a writer, but I also wanted to have a fucking income. My own apartment. A trip to London. A dog.

I got all but the dog. I have two cats instead. Don’t ask.

By 2017, I began to realize I had made the wrong choice. What I should have done when I left Kentucky is go to grad school, get my MFA, and figure out a plan from there. I didn’t do that. Instead I helped rich people buy their third house. For a socialist who believes property is theft, that felt like shit. For a Millennial who thinks healthcare is nice to have, it felt good.

For professional reasons I won’t go into here, by December 2017 it became clear that my job would no longer exist in six months. My boss and I sat down at an Irish pub across from our office that Christmastime and began discussing what we would both do next. He wanted to go to Guaranteed Rate, the company that had first hired but which had laid me off years before and from which I came to work for him. I wanted to be a writer. And so, we decided, that was what we would do.

And then my 16-year-old brother got hit by a bus. And he almost died. Moving to North Carolina was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. He needed me. Our mom needed me. Suddenly, leaving Chicago didn’t feel like failure. It felt like the only right choice. And so, I moved.

I stayed first at the Ronald McDonald House while my brother was still in hospital. When he was released, I stayed with my maternal grandmother. 1 June 2018 I moved into my loft apartment in downtown Jacksonville—a drab military town a few miles inland from the Atlantic. On 4 June of that year I started at my current job, deciding to stay in mortgages because the upheaval of moving and my brother’s accident was enough change for one year. Switching careers at that time seemed not only overwhelming, but also impractical. I was living life in a new town, and I needed to make money and connections quickly. So, here I am.

But over the past year or so, I have also found myself more unhappy and, frankly, more lonely than I have ever been. Processing mortgages in Jacksonville, North Carolina is not the life I want. It is not enough for me. It is not fulfilling. This is not a criticism of anybody for whom it is enough, or who likes this town, or who likes this industry. For some people, this is exciting stuff. For others, the money makes it worth the sacrifices and stress. But not for me.

Shortly after I moved here, I began rereading my high school journal. How hopeful I was. How eager. How I thought everything would be so easy. Seeing how 17-year-old Skylar though this life would turn out compared to how it actually had made me sad, but also angry. How had I wasted so much time? What did I have to show for my twenties except debt and a string of loser ex-boyfriends?

I started to think about what I want my life to be. I’m 33. I’m unmarried. I don’t have kids. The things people usually take comfort in when they realize their childhood dreams haven’t come true are not things I have. I come home to two ungrateful cats and a bottle of Jack Daniels. That’s it.

So I knew I had to make a change, and it was at that point I decided to go to graduate school. I wasn’t ready for the fall of 2019—I didn’t know how much my brother might still need, and I wasn’t sure I had enough money in the bank. So I decided to apply for fall 2020.

My brother has made almost a full recovery. He starts college himself this fall. In talking with my friends and family, I came to the conclusion that since he’s leaving, there is no reason for me to stay here in a town I don’t like and a career I don’t want. This job is stressful—more stressful than I can articulate. And frankly, it paid well enough in Chicago, but the pay here is shit. So, the decision was made to leave.

(I’ll talk more about how that decision was made at a later date, because it’s an interesting story. But it’s not one for now.)

I’ve spent eight years in an industry I hate because I was concerned about giving up the trappings of middle-class life, about being seen as a failure, and frankly, about failing. I’m terrified I won’t get into graduate school. I’m petrified I’ll never make it as a writer. I’m nervous about giving up my immediate financial independence and moving in with my grandparents, because as generous as their offer to support me during this transition period is, it’s still a massive sacrifice for me as much as them. (Okay, maybe not as much as them, as they’re footing the bill here.) To be completely honest, I’m absolutely shitting myself right now.

My decision to resign wasn’t spur-of-the-moment, but my decision to do it when I did was. Again, a story for another time. But despite my fears and insecurities and absolute utter fucking terror, it feels right. I’m more hopeful about my future now than I have been since I was 25. That’s something, at least.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer currently based in Eastern North Carolina. His work has appeared at Salon, HuffPost UK, The Independent, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @skylarjordan

#ThatAwkwardMoment when you get your big break, then leave the country

villiers street

Dreams do come true. In case you missed it, I published my first piece at The Advocate last week. When I was in high school, I used to sneak and read it at Barnes and Noble every time I visited my parents in Ohio. Never in a million years did I think I would have a byline on their site. To be honest, it’s still pretty surreal, but it feels fucking great.

It’s so funny, because when I started blogging again last month, I spent quite a bit of time lamenting the fact that I kept pitching and not hearing back. And then, one drunken election night, I tweet to the managing editor that I have a pitch, and she says to e-mail it over. Bam, there you go, first piece. I suppose this is evidence that if you just whinge and moan enough, the universe finally gets tired of hearing your bullshit and throws you a bone?

Haha, I kid. Look, I’m over the moon thrilled to have been allowed to write for The Advocate. It’s exactly the confidence boost I needed. In fact, I just finished another piece tonight that I’ve pitched to another high-profile site. I’ve got a couple more that I’m going to be working on in the coming days. I’m a guest lecturer at Triton College on Wednesday, where I’ll be talking about gender norms in same-sex relationships. I’m very excited for that.

But perhaps the most exciting thing happening to me this week is that I’m returning to my beloved London. I fly out on Friday, and I’m there for 8 glorious nights. What am I going to do? Not go to that Starbucks between Embankment and Charing Cross to see if Danny, the cute barista, still works there. Nope. That’s not happening.

Okay it might. It’s on my way to the National Portrait Gallery and it’s going to be chilly so I will need a coffee. Don’t judge me.

Honestly I’ve no idea what I’m going to do whilst back in the motherland. My mate Nick is making a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, which coincidentally is the same day I’ve applied to be in the Question Time audience. So that’s one day booked. As for the other seven? No clue. I plan on doing some writing; I know a lovely coffeehouse in South Kensington I may squat at, but beyond that…?

I know, I know, I should try to take some meetings. And I’m going to put word out on Twitter that I’m there, and if any journalists or, more importantly, editors want to meet up for a coffee or a drink, I’m game. But I don’t want to just start tweeting at writers who follow me and asking them out to brunch. That seems intimidating, completely unprofessional, and a bit bonkers. “Hi, perfect stranger who sometimes reads my work, would you like to meet up with a totally-not-a-serial-killer stranger from the internet?”

Not a good look.

So we’ll see. Frankly, I’m not established enough yet to even have the clout to ask for and expect to receive a meeting with the likes of (NAMES REDACTED FOR FUTURE CAREER PROSPECTS). That’s why I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to network and find a job and make my dreams come true overnight. I’m a small fish going to a very, very big pond, and I’m going to just keep a low profile, look at some paintings of dead kings, and get drunk at a gay pub. Maybe make out with that guy in Kensington Gardens again. That was hot. There’s also an economist I’m looking forward to seeing again. Fingers crossed.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m not super excited, because I am, or that my ambition is waning, because clearly it isn’t. But there’s some freedom in letting go. As I wrote about last month, the constant pressure to produce, perform, and skyrocket to the top took the joy out of writing. I’m rediscovering why I love this medium, especially online commentary and analysis, and so I’m just taking it day by day. I’m being proactive where I can, but otherwise, I’m enjoying living the life of a burgeoning pundit who just published his first piece at a major news outlet.

The only three things I do know with any certainty is that when I land, I’m going to be exhausted, but empowered by the adrenaline rush I always get when I’m back on British soil. I know that I’m about to see how the British interpret one of America’s most sacred traditions, Thanksgiving dinner. And I know that when it’s time to leave, I’ll once again bawl like a baby.

Everything else is being left up to chance. But considering how well this month has gone so far, I’m optimistic. Who knows? Maybe I won’t get a column with GayTimes, but maybe my quest for prince charming, or even better, the perfect pint, will come to an end.

I’m baaaaaaack (and clearly have no pithy title)

1044065_10100897395374682_715937988_n

So you’re probably wondering where I’ve been. That’s understandable. Ever since last winter, this blog has experienced a silence so deafening even Madame Kovarian would squirm.

Well, I’ve been busy. I started a new day job which, though still in mortgages, offers me less stress and more flexibility than ever did my last. I’ve been to Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee to see family, friends, and even a couple enemies. I got a free jeep. I’ve lost 15 pounds. I’ve planned a trip to London, and will be spending Thanksgiving in Britain, the irony of which is not lost on me. Indeed, it’s irony which compelled me to choose that date.

But perhaps the biggest change in my life has been that the Columnist, a wonderful up-and-coming site I had the privilege of contributing to, has shut down. I’ve spent the last few weeks regrouping. I wasn’t the most active contributor, but it was through the Columnist that I’ve seen some of my biggest successes to date.

Okay, those pieces were actually my only successes to date. Since we last spoke I’ve pitched, or attempted to pitch, to sites as varied as PinkNews, CNN, and the Advocate, all of which proved fruitless. I had writers and friends, all of whom I admire, encouraging me along, and attended the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s conference in August, which was a decent networking event and redoubled my resolve to make this career happen. But it also made me realise that I’ve got much further to go than I thought, not just to get to where I want, but to have the capability of getting there.

When you pitch, and pitch, and pitch, and hear nothing back, not even a rejection, it’s not just incredibly frustrating, but incredibly demoralising. David Bell, Molly McCaffrey, and the WKU Creative Writing department told me as much as a young 21 year old aspiring writer, and they also told me that I’d pitch a thousand times before anything came of it. But what they couldn’t prepare me-or any aspiring writer-for is actually coping with the rejection and dejection. It fucking sucks. Every time I pitched to a magazine or website, only to see another piece over the same topic published a week later, I questioned my own ability, my own talent, and my own voice.

Maybe it was time to give up the ghost.

It was with that in mind that I returned home a couple weeks ago. One of my close friends from university was getting married, and her wedding became something of a sorority-plus-Skylar reunion. Seeing her so deeply in love, as well as seeing a couple other old friends with their loving spouses, content in their lives, made me long for whatever it was they had. It’s no secret that I’ve got some fucked up Disney fantasies, where Prince Charming sweeps me off my feet and we live happily ever after in Chelmsford or Chiswick or Croydon, playing out a queer version of Keeping Up Appearances, with me starring as a sort of Guyacinth Bucket. We’d adopt a couple kids, or have a couple on the NHS, whichever was simpler and cheaper and pissed off Roger Helmer more, and he’d work in the City by day as I baked pies and organised fêtes for little Gareth’s primary school.

Of course that would involve me actually finding a British man, which probably requires me being in Britain, which I’m not. I’m in Chicago. But I could easily adapt that fantasy to meet North American specifications. Instead of Chelmsford or Chiswick or Croydon, it could be Wilmette, Winnetka, or Warrenville. Instead of little Gareth, we could have little Gavin, and instead of playing proper football, he could play American football. (No. I have to draw a line somewhere.) Life could be just as idyllic, if not as ideal.

The point is, I could start living for today, instead of dreaming for tomorrow. I could begin living in Chicago, instead of existing in Chicago. So for about a week after coming home, I embraced all things American. I ate a lot of pumpkin shit, cos I’m white and it’s fall. I listened to a lot of country music, cos I’m white and it’s fall. I started driving my jeep to work, cos, well, you get the picture.

I didn’t write. I didn’t tweet. I actually skipped an episode of Question Time, and only felt slightly guilty. It was liberating. Maybe I could be okay with this. Maybe I could be an assistant for the rest of my life, working in this office with good people. Maybe I’d meet a nice Chicago boy and settle down on some Midwestern Wisteria Lane, and live out an all-American existence. Maybe contentment was all I could, and even should, hope for.

It felt good, not living under the constant pressure to produce, to write, to pitch, to be published.

It felt good to not constantly be thinking about life in London, but living life in Chicago.

It also felt disconcerting. My entire adult life has been dedicated to moving to Britain, and the past year has been dedicated to being a writer. Giving that up felt like, in some way, giving up a big part of my identity. I’m that Anglophile kid who, in the words of my best friends, “loves England and will tell you about it.” I’ve made Britain part of my character, and while giving that up temporarily was relieving, it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel authentic.

That’s been a massive part of the problem over the past year. I haven’t felt authentic. The stiff analyses I’ve tried offering on the Columnist and on my Twitter feed have been cogent, if not always fresh, but they’ve also been stuffy, and to some degree derivative. They’ve been stiff, formal, and a bit pompous, all of which I’m not.

And my problem has been just that. I’ve been pretending to be someone other than who I am. I’m sick of pretending that I’m a columnist, and not just a boy with a blog. I’m sick of pretending that I’m some uptight intellectual. I’m sick of pretending that I don’t live in Chicago, which while I’ve never done in my writing, I’ve definitely done in my head. I’m sick of pretending that things aren’t shitty, but I’m also sick of pretending things aren’t better than they were.

And that’s where I’ve been. That’s where I’m at. Like last year, when I came back to blogging, writing, tweeting, and pitching, I’m at another pivotal moment in my development as a writer. See, this used to be fun, but at some point in the last few months, writing became more of a chore. And every time I was attacked for expressing an intersectional opinion, or threatened with a lawsuit for calling out homophobia, it became less fun and more terrifying. Every time I pitched and heard nothing back, or had a hit piece written about me, it became less fun and more annoying. Every time I scrapped an entire piece because I felt it wasn’t good enough to go anywhere, it became less fun and more disheartening.

I want writing to be fun again. I can say that because it’s not my job. Writing doesn’t pay my bills. Maybe one day it will, but right now it doesn’t. It shouldn’t bring me more stress, it should be a way to de-stress.

So that’s where I am, and that’s how I’m treating it. I’m not going to beat myself up, or let others beat me up, over writing anymore. I’m going to have fun. I’m going to be me. I’m going to say shit that pisses people off and give zero fucks while I do it. I’m going to blog, and not pitch, and if people want to read this little site, fine. If they don’t, whelp, I’ve always got mortgages.

I’m going to keep looking at ways to move to the UK. I’m going to keep thinking about graduate school. But I’m also going to live life in Chicago. I’m going to eat deep dish pizza. I’m going to cheer for the Blackhawks (though not their racist mascot). I’m going to start dating again, not hold off for the perfect British man. He may not exist. Or he may be living in Lincoln Park. Who the fuck knows?

Point is, I’m done putting pressure on myself. I’m done trying to find a niche. I’m done with the way I’ve been doing this. I’m going to start blogging. I don’t know what about. Whatever tickles my fancy. And I’m going to update as often or as little as I like. Because this needs to be fun. This needs to be irreverent. This needs to be enjoyable. This needs to be about me.

I’m coming back. Watch this space.