TRP: I’m curious what your living situation was like when you first got here and were trying to figure things out after college.
GB: For almost a year, I was living with my aunt and uncle in Westchester, maybe an hour north of the city. So I didn’t have to pay rent, but I had to pay for my MetroNorth commute, so it was maybe $300/month or something. So that’s still far less than you would expect to pay sharing an apartment, so I was already saving money. Which made sense because I was an unpaid intern for much of the time. So when I continued to be an unpaid intern, I was a restaurant hostess by night, so that really helped me just kind of pay my rent once I moved to Manhattan, pay my bills, pay off my college
I think people assume everyone comes from the same financial place, which is a really dangerous assumption. People who live in New York and do creative work are often in the 1% thanks to their parents or their spouses. When you’re in that financial situation, risk isn’t important to you, risk doesn’t apply to you. So I guess depending on your financial situation, you have to think a lot about what’s realistic for you, and how to make the math work for you.
TRP: I wish I had known more when I was in school. I think I had one professor who was really trying to influence me to get big internships. No one else ever said to me, “Ok, so it’s great that you love this little literary journal and want to intern there. But they’re never going to hire you because they don’t have any money. So try to be an intern at Conde Nast.”
GB: Yeah and I think for me in particular - so my parents are immigrants. They went to college but they went in the Philippines. They didn’t know the American system so it was even more up to me how to navigate this power structure of the university and the corporate world. It was particularly fraught for me more than like an American kid, so I think that if you’re kind of in a marginalized position that you have to try even harder, which really sucks. But that’s how it is. It is really difficult to navigate power structures without mentors or peers ot help you, and so you just have to find those people. Make friends and share what you’ve learned, and maybe if your fellow students got an internship somewhere, buy them coffee and ask how they can maybe help you get an internship there. It’s not just about finding older mentors, it’s also about finding peer mentors, because sometimes older mentors - their advice is no longer relevant. They’re telling you to call up editors on the phone and they’re giving you all sorts of outdated advice, and they’re not telling you maybe you should be seeking opportunities through social media.
TRP: What are your biggest challenges as a writer?
GB: Honestly, money.
I’m reading this book right now called The People’s Platform, and it’s about how we expected the internet to be this liberating democratizing thing and instead it kind of replicates the power structures that already exist. So Facebook monitors our data and many advertisers are in control of what we see and read online, not just advertisements but also editorial, because they’re the ones who pay for editorial, so therefore publications online are always trying to play nice with advertisers or please advertisers. So a big challenge is convincing these publications that they should spend that ad money on me - the writer - and that my content is valuable not only because it’s going to get clicks but because it’ll make their publication look really smart and timely.
It’s really challenging because once you start doing content creation for the internet you’re part of the structure where you’re just making the stuff that goes between the ads. Like I would be making more money if I were a copywriter, as opposed to writing the editorial content that runs alongside these brands.
There’s a really interesting portrayal of it on Girls right now, where Hannah is writing advertorial for Neiman Marcus or something. So basically if you want to make a feasible amount of money as a writer oftentimes you’re doing brand-sponsored content. It’s something to think about.
As idealistic as a lot of writers and creative people are, we have to figure out how to be a part of this capitalist structure. It’s not just like “follow your dreams,” it’s “how does your dream intersect with the market.” As much as we want to be creative independent people, if you want to pay your rent, you also need to see how your work is going to interplay with ad dollars and sponsored content and all that. How you’re gonna make money, in what ways are you comfortable making money, etc. Some people would never be OK with sponsored content, and other people need to pay their rent. I’m sure if you interviewed a group of writers you would have wide array of commentary on this topic.
So as writers we’re not just in the business of crafting sentences, we’re in the business of drawing clicks and driving traffic and being aggregated – and that part is very new. I don’t think it’s necessarily an evil thing it’s just, how do you navigate it?
TRP: What advice would you give to anybody interested in becoming a writer?
GB: You don’t need to be based in New York to be a writer, and if money is a problem you probably shouldn’t be based in New York, especially since now everything is done by email anyway.
Don’t write the same story as everyone else. Just because the NYStyles section is now writing about braids, doesn’t mean you should prioritize writing about braids. Write about what you want to write about, but also be aware of realistically paying for your life. I know a lot of people are saying right now ‘do what you love and follow your dream’ but I think it’s important to be realistic about your dream.