Should I Keep Being A Writer If I Can’t Pay My Rent?

A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and J...

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Before starting this week’s column, I discussed with my editor what the topic of the introduction would be, and he reminded me not to get us sued for libel. “It’ll come straight out of your salary!” he joked as I wrote his name down in a book I have called Bossy People To Kill Later.

See, earlier this week, a woman came forward alleging to be Mike Duffy’s unacknowledged child. Karen Duffy spoke to Maclean’s from her home in Lima, claiming she was the result of an affair between her mother (a convicted drug mule who served time in Kingston’s Prison for Women) and Mike Duffy (a hard-boiled egg).

It is too soon to say anything about this case without—as my editor warned me against—getting sued for libel. Is this woman Duffy’s illegitimate daughter? Did he abandon her? Does he owe her anything? Can this much-vilified fleshy orb become even more reviled?

It’s tough to say. But let’s imagine that you, for example, had a woman come out of the woodwork claiming you were her father from some brief encounter more than three decades ago. And let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that you are her father and have been totally absent from her life for more than 30 years, just hypothetically. Should you acknowledge her? Should you try to keep her quiet?

Well, at the risk of getting sued and losing my lucrative Internet advice column salary, let’s keep it simple: just about anything you do for or in reference to this illegitimate child will be better than whatever Mike “Beldar Conehead” Duffy is likely to do.

But, anyhoo.

My roommate literally uses an insane amount of toilet paper. We went through four rolls in three days, and it is a house of three women, one of whom works out of the home. How do I tell this bitch to COOL IT??? (PS—she buys the cheap rolls.)

— Cohabitating Hell

Maybe she is building a fort?

Bathroom politics between roommates are dicey, largely because they involve the weird, disgusting things our bodies do, and in an area shared by multiple people. I used to have a roommate who would rummage through my clothes while I was at work to borrow my T-shirts, seemingly just to pour maple syrup all over the front. It was easy for me to tell her to cut it out because going into my bedroom was a clear violation of my privacy. But when she started spending four-hour stretches of time locked in the bathroom, listening to her ex-boyfriend’s album and drinking wine in the tub, it was a lot harder to explain that I needed her to get the hell out of there because I had just done a bang-bang of Eggs Benedict and an adobo steak burrito and it was time.

Whatever your relationship is with your roommate (and whatever weird thing she is doing with four rolls of toilet paper while you’re all at work) is irrelevant. You need to call a house meeting to discuss an equitable solution with all your roommates. Maybe you could suggest that everyone is required to purchase the same type of toilet paper in order to solve your problem with the “cheap rolls.” Maybe you just need to deal with the type of paper she buys and tell her that she is the only one who will buy it, while you will buy soap and your third roommate will cover dish detergent for the kitchen. If none of this seems reasonable to you and your roommates, then tell her exactly what you seem eager to tell me: “HEY. COOL IT.” She may not even be aware that it’s causing a problem. (That said, I have spent the last 20 minutes staring into the distance trying to figure out what she could possibly be using all that toilet paper for. Is she playing pranks on kids in the neighborhood? Does she have a horrible and ill-defined sickness? Does she use it to write her screenplay? I HAVE QUESTIONS.)

Is she playing pranks on kids in the neighborhood? Does she have a horrible and ill-defined sickness? Does she use it to write her screenplay? I HAVE QUESTIONS.

If that doesn’t work either, though, and this bothers you enough to make a big fuss about it, buy your own toilet paper and bring a roll of it into the bathroom when you need it. Store a secure stash of your preferred brand in the back of your closet. If you stick to this passive-aggressive tactic long enough (emphasis on the aggressive part), she will learn to fend for herself in the butt-wiping department.

Or, just move. I hear you can get a pretty decent basement apartment in the city with no natural light, no pets allowed, low ceilings, right next to the train tracks, for a super-affordable $5 trillion.


I'm a freelance journalist struggling to get by in an expensive city and am considering quitting writing altogether, but it's the only thing I know how to do well. While I certainly did not get into journalism to become rich, I find myself having difficulty paying rent and being able to afford three daily square meals. This quarter-life crisis is not helped by constantly hearing about publications shuttering daily. How do I shake these feelings of disillusionment towards my chosen profession and stay productive in the face of a job forecast that feels constantly negative?

— Tired of Being Broke

Sounds like someone listened to last week’s episode of The Arcade.

I went to journalism school, and I will assume you did too, so we probably heard the same line: that if you are talented and you work hard enough, you will find work that feeds your belly and your brain. I am sorry you have to hear it from an Internet advice column, but this is a big lie. It’s simply not true. Maybe it is in some industries, like dentistry or taxidermy, but in journalism and media, luck (or lack thereof) can sometimes dictate the terms of your employment more than things like talent and perseverance

I trust that if you ask the fine people who worked at The Grid—a free weekly Toronto paper that recently folded—they would tell you they worked really hard. Sometimes being good at a thing isn’t enough.

There’s a fine line between struggling at the beginning of your career (eating ramen, getting scurvy) and being entirely unable to survive on your meager earnings (not eating at all). It sounds like you’re skewing towards the latter. This is not sustainable, buddy, and you need to find a way to fix this.

But I can’t tell you how to shake the crushing feeling you have, because I don’t know how to do it for myself. (And I’m a salaried employee! I go to an office and file unnecessary HR complaints and everything! I am so unpleasant in the break room!) Instead, you need to think about whether this is economically and emotionally viable.

If you’re unwilling to let writing go as a career, you need to find something to supplement it. Plenty of prolific Internet people and print authors have other jobs that allow them to do this thing that they love. There are few people in the world that can live comfortably while writing food reviews and Upworthy posts. If the work you have now isn’t cutting it, find a part-time job. Whatever will allow you to pay the bills and work your own hours and give you time to write.

If the struggle doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in for the foreseeable future, you need to get out. A good journalist has skills that are transferrable elsewhere, no matter what, so consider what parts of your job you like the most and how they can be applied elsewhere. For example, my favourite part of my job is making jokes about eating too much food resulting in explosive diarrhea, so another good career for me would be cookbook editor. I also like yelling on the Internet a lot, so maybe I can be hired to run the Twitter for a prominent brand. (Still trying to find out who at Sun Life Financial I can send my resume to.)

Still, there’s one piece of advice I got from journalism school that stood out, and I think it’s as true today as it was those years ago when I was but a seedling, unaware of how horrible it is for us writers: “If you don’t cut it, marry rich.”


Let me start with the backstory: When I was 20 and incredibly stupid, I got engaged to a (what I now consider) waste of space human. As you could imagine, it didn't come close to working out. That—and my parents’ marriage being something not unlike a sham—has soured on the terrible tradition of marriage. Now I'm living with a decent fellow. We have been together for four years, and all of his friends are getting married. Every time we go to a wedding, he swoons and says, "Isn't this NICE? Are you saying you WOULDN'T want to do this someday? LOOK HOW HAPPY THEY ARE." Whenever he does it, I tell him to fuck off. Is this grudge I'm holding against the blessed institution of marriage legit or am I just a poo-poo head?

— Grudgy McGrudgebutt

Twenty??? Who let you get engaged at 20?! Where was your mother? I am 23 and my dad still makes me call at 10 p.m. every night so that he knows I “haven’t been pulled into an alley or hit by a car or gotten lost in the mall.”

Now, I don’t know how old you are now (though you did use the term “poo-poo head” so I will assume you are still relatively young). You have plenty of time to get married, and if you really don’t want to, that’s fine. I do not care if you get married. It does sound, however, like your “decent fellow” cares a great deal, so you have no choice other than to discuss this with him. Preferably not telling him to fuck off in the process. Just try it.

I am 23 and my dad still makes me call at 10 p.m. every night so that he knows I “haven’t been pulled into an alley or hit by a car or gotten lost in the mall.”

It’s one thing when strangers try to pressure you into marriage, it’s another thing when your boyfriend of FOUR YEARS just wants to talk about how maybe getting married isn’t so bad. You don’t list too many objections to marriage other than the fact that you almost got married one time more than four years ago, and that your parents’ marriage sucked. Those are fair reasons to not believe in the institution of marriage, but all I can think about is your poor dumb boyfriend.

Do you like him? Do you love him? Do you think your relationship reveals any shades of your parents’ relationship, and in the wrong ways? When you think about getting married, do you think about your failed engagement more than the idea of spending the rest of your life with this loving doofus?

He isn’t even asking you to get married tomorrow, he just wants to know that maybe in the future at some point in your dreary, horrible lives, maybe you will sign some paperwork and have a little party wherein you promise in front of all your friends and family to not have sex with other people.

Is that really so bad?

Look, if the answer is simply that you don’t want to get married, then nut up and tell your boyfriend in simple terms, “I do not want to get married.” He can decide himself if marriage is a priority and if it’s something he won’t negotiate on. Prepare yourself to be a grown-ass adult about this.

But if you feel that it’s something you could consider, that you wouldn’t mind spending the rest of your life with this guy, or, at the very least, could stand handling your first divorce, tell him it could happen, maybe, someday. Then work on yourself and whatever issues you have with marriage to get a clear answer, if not for your relationship, but at least for yourself.

And hey, speaking of marriage and compatibility, how much toilet paper does your boyfriend use? This is important.

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A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and Jezebel. She is the author of One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.