Phoenix Skylark needs no introduction. As the world’s foremost non-author, he’s made headlines since his first foray into the literary community some 5 years ago. Now, it’s hard to imagine a world without him. Our News Feeds are so cluttered with articles from “10 Reasons Traveling is Right for Your Relationship and You Won’t Believe What I Say” to the “Puppy That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity” to the tides of BuzzFeed quizzes that the barrage sometimes threatens to overwhelm us. Luckily, pioneers like Skylark have stepped forward and done the unthinkable.
“Not writing is easier than you think,” he muses. The view from Skylark’s Portland penthouse is staggering. The floor-to-ceiling windows reveal a cloudy cityscape dappled with patches of sun. The Willamette River slithers past just blocks away and the face of Mt. Hood punctuates the eastern horizon. He’s certainly spent his royalties well.
He steps away from the window and pours us both a tumbler of Kentucky Spirit. Apparently he hasn’t forgotten his Midwest heritage even now that he’s sunk deep into the lap of luxury. “Most people don’t realize the power of shutting down their laptops,” he finishes, handing me my drink.
For the uninitiated, the 29-year-old Skylark is a non-author, someone paid (handsomely) not to contribute to the expanding glut of online articles that sap the time and – some would argue – intelligence of Facebook and Reddit frequenters. Simply put, the man doesn’t write. “And I never have,” he laughs.
Thanks to my connects, a bit of networking and a dash of good luck, I found myself flying on the Writtalin private jet to see the man himself, who leapt at the opportunity to have his story told. “I mean, I couldn’t do it myself,” he states, tipping back his glass. “For the obvious reasons, of course.” Indeed I wouldn’t want to tarnish his sterling reputation. Skylark may be the last bastion against the volley of opinions that hurl around the interwebs, unfiltered, unsolicited and shoved down our throats with increasing ferocity. And though I may be a part of the problem, I’m glad to aid him my pen.
It’s been a long journey to the top. Did you always know you wanted to be a non-author?
That’s an interesting question. You know as well as everyone that my particular career path hasn’t existed for that long. I guess I always knew I didn’t want to write. My parents signed me up for Facebook when I was seven – a little later than most kids, but they were always somewhat protective of me – and I noticed right away that I wasn’t interested in anything I saw. I couldn’t read that well, but something deep down told me everything people posted, tagged, reblogged, etc was garbage. The decision not to contribute came next. I don’t think I’ve written anything since then.
Nothing. I had a ghost writer in school that I dictated all my assignments to, but beyond that, I never blogged, tweeted, pinned, posted, vined, you name it. I read Stephen Colbert’s I Am America pretty early on and I think he was heading in the right direction when he said he didn’t write, he only dictated his thoughts. I just took it one step further and didn’t express my opinion, even through dictation.
And when did that catch the attention of sites like Elite Daily and HuffPost?
I think it was HuffPost that first wrote a story on me. During my freshman year at the University of Washington, I was the only student without their own blog. You can see why that would make national headlines. The News Feeds blew up with my face and suddenly everyone wanted me to write for them. But of course, I didn’t take any offers. I don’t think these publications saw the irony in that, especially BuzzFeed.
They offered me some money to pen this piece called “13 Reasons I Don’t Write Articles.” I had to spend like 40 minutes on the phone with one of their people trying to explain the hypocrisy there and he just wasn’t getting it. He thought it was something about the number that prevented me from writing it, kept saying something like “What if it was only 12 reasons? What about 16?”
I didn’t think my decision to remain voiceless on the internet was that alien to people, but it really threw them for a loop.
How did you start not writing for a living?
I kept in touch with this woman Vanessa over at HuffPost throughout college. It was her idea to bring me in as a non-author after I graduated, except there wasn’t a name for it at the time. When she asked if I had thought about a career in not writing, I laughed in her face. Who would go for something like that? A lot of people apparently – specifically the people that had created the demand for non-authors in the first place.
I got my first check from HuffPost before I even knew I was on the payroll. I think that’s when it set in that I could spend the rest of my life doing this.
Did you love it right off the bat?
Absolutely. I had been not writing all my life and I enjoyed every minute of it, but this was the first time someone told me there was an industry for it. I mean, think about it.
He lifts his tablet off a nearby coffee table and opens Facebook.
I could spend hours scrolling through “18 Things Only Millenials Would Understand,” learning what Disney Princesses would look like as Shrek characters and reinforcing my dating insecurities with “7 Reasons OkCupid is Ruining Modern Relationships,” but what did I really do with that time?
Exactly. And I think people were starting to realize that. If the late 20th century was the information age, then the 21st is shaping up to be the age of opinions. Everyone with a laptop and wi-fi spouts their nonsense into the ether and for every well-researched, rational argument, a thousand more drown it out. Most people fail to appreciate the brilliance of leaving a thought unspoken.
Do you think you’re doing the world a favor by remaining silent?
To some extent, but that could just be me trying to justify all of this.
He gestures at his lavish surroundings.
As long as my services – or lack thereof – are required, I’ll gladly sit here and keep my fingers off the keyboard.
He lifts his tablet to his nose and scrolls down. From a distance I can just make out the Like Button on a “Why Travelling is Crazy Awesome and Trust Me My Opinion is Original” article as he clicks it.
Is that allowed?
I haven’t written anything, have I?
We are forced to take a short break as his assistant wheels in the lunch cart. I’ve done naked sushi only once before, but this time takes the proverbial cake. Two women clothed only in strategically placed banana leaves lie mute on the double-wide cart as Skylark’s live-in itamae itemizes each of the delicacies plated on their bodies. I help myself to an albacore roll, trying not to make eye contact with the woman I reach over.
So this is what not writing will buy you?
You should see dessert.
I swallow a mouthful of sushi before continuing.
It seems like an easy task for how much you’re paid. Why do you think more writers aren’t paid to withhold their opinions?
I’ve thought about this to some length before and here’s what I figure. Let’s take a look at you for instance. You’re a writer, and a well-paid one I assume.
Well, the jet belongs to my boss. I’m not exactly paid…
Okay, that actually makes this a better example. Knowing that you’re not paid, would you ever consider not writing instead of penning weekly op-ed pieces?
Come to think of it, not really.
Because you like your soapbox too much. The same goes for the countless internet journalists out there. Even with the promise of a seven figure salary, you can’t back down.
So what’s next for you?
I’ve thought about not writing a novel. I know a few publishers who have shown interest in that, but I’m not sure yet. For now I’ve got a North American tour lined up for this summer. Kicks off at the Staples Center in LA if you’re interested. I’ll get my assistant to wire you some tickets.
That would be awesome. What can we expect from that?
I stand silently on stage for a couple hours while people applaud. It’s quite a popular event.
I can imagine.
Yeah, I did one a couple years ago and it was a blow-out. Sold out in thirty-six cities.
His assistant wheels out the naked sushi models, who have begun to yawn in exhaustion.
So one final question, if there’s any writer you wish were a non-author, who would it be?
That’s a toss-up. Probably L. Ron Hubbard or Ayn Rand. But then again, Twilight is an abomination. Can I add Stephanie Meyer to the list?