Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Reward to Bullshit Curve Redux


A few weeks ago I wrote about yet another bowl of shit writers sometimes have to swallow. The comments, both here and elsewhere, were positive, and I was happy people seemed to take the post in the spirit in which it was intended.


That was near the end of September. I spent August with covid and its after-effects, and September began with having to cancel out of Bouchercon and enduring less than professional treatment from [magazine name redacted]. The nadir of a trough, so to speak.


October was better.


So much better it started a day early, at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference that began September 30. I moderated a panel that was well-received by both the audience and the panelists, then wrapped up the day’s festivities by hosting Noir at the Bar. A solid panel on Saturday led to Sunday morning’s discussion of hard-boiled writing that was one of the two best panels I’ve ever been on. I can’t imagine a conference going better for me.


That roll continued through the month. I received good comments on “The Box” and White Out, as well as demonstrations of respect on other levels


On the downside, October also brought news that a writer I respect a great deal is pulling the pin on his writing, while another is refocusing his efforts on craft and away from business. Both expressed feelings not dissimilar to what I posted about in September.


This leads to a logical question: when is enough enough? In 2010 I wrote a post called The Reward to Bullshit Curve; MBAs call it Return on Investment (ROI). Everyone uses it. Teachers, plumbers, writers, doctors, cops, astronauts, ditch diggers, spouses. Everyone. The curve has a simple definition: at some point the bullshit we have to put up with in any activity may overcome the rewards we receive from that activity. When it does, it’s time to move on.


Here it is, for reference. (I reversed the axes from the original. I like this one better.)

 (Editor’s Note: The “curve” is a straight line. The man’s an even worse artist than he is a writer.)


Reward has both relative and practical definitions. With a job, money is a key component, though it should not be the only element under consideration. As a writer, money is obviously not what keeps me going, so there must be something else.


Everything we do falls somewhere along the curve, even leisure activities. There are times The Beloved Spouse™ and I would love to be 1500 miles away in a matter of a few hours, but what do we have to endure to get there? Parking at the airport, going through security, getting on the plane half an hour early, hoping we don’t have to pee because airplane bathrooms barely allow room for my size 12s between the door and the toilet, several hours’ confinement to an inadequately sized seat, waiting for luggage that may never arrive, arranging the transportation at the destination, all with the realization we’re going to have to do all this again to get home. The bar for what constitutes acceptable reward for that level of bullshit would set an Olympic pole vault record. It’s not that we’ll never fly again, but there has to be an extraordinarily good reason.


Does that mean we never make those trips? Hell no. We drive. It might take three days, but we stop when we want, eat where we want, see sights if we want; our transportation and luggage are always with us. We take turns driving, and we can laugh and joke without worrying about the person in the next seat. True, we’re not driving to San Diego for Bouchercon next year, but anyplace east of the Rocky Mountains is fair game.


Anything one does regularly spends time above or below the Curve. There may be extended periods on one side or the other, because sometimes life is a bowl of cherries and sometimes it’s just one vile fucking task after another. If you find you’re spending too much of your time doing something – anything – under the line, it may be time to divest yourself of that part of your life. If you find you’re consistently above it, well, then, good on ya. Please do me one favor:


Never take it for granted.





Bradley Harper said...

Perfectly said. why I didn't return to medicine after I retired from the Army. That particular glass was full.

Ef Deal said...

I suppose in a way it's a good thing my novel-writing career didn't take off when I was in my 20s, as planned. I have fewer years of bullshit left in me to endure, and given my publisher, I don't think there will be much of it!

Austin S. Camacho said...

I suppose the perverse part of this is that writing can be like an abusive lover and sometimes you actually come to love some of the bullshit.

Dana King said...

Thanks, all. It's nice to see there are people I trust who get it when I go out on a limb a little.