Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rumination: Should Writers Write For Free?

Okay, so today is a day for a bit of writer rumination. So many of us do what we do and go through each day, writing, without thinking much about it, but every once in a while, what we're doing, where we're going, is deserving of some focused consideration.

While considering, it's only logical to ask this question of ourselves, those of us who write, would we write if we didn't get paid?  Are some of us, in fact, writing without pay?

This almost always becomes a touchy subject with some saying we 'have to pay our dues' and writing for free is one of those.  Don't agree with that one  myself - lower pay scale for the beginner, but for free?  Do you know any apprentice electricians or bricklayers who work for free to 'pay their due'? Burger flipper? Doctor? That said, your skill as a writer is a unique one. There might be a time or times when you want to help someone out or dedicate your skills to some charity. And of course it wouldn't look bad on your resume. That's a different ball of wax from simply 'writing for free'.

Now of course for the freelance novelists among us, there's no guarantee you'll be paid for what you're writing. You might. You might even make a whole ton of money along with the other bestsellers. Then again, you may never see publication or a dime. Or you could land somewhere in between those exptremes. That, however, is more a roll of the dice than a conscious decision to write for free. It applies to non-fiction freelancers as well. You may write a fantastic proposal but never see it get picked up so your project dies a quiet death, never getting written beyond the proposal. Article writers, ditto.

We all do some writing to promote our own work, such as blogs like this one, tweets on twitter, facebook, etc. I don't consider any of that as 'free writing' as it has several goals. One is to promote oneself, another is to disseminate information that can be helpful to others.

So where does all this leave us as writers? I advise writers to find more than one venue in which they're comfortable writing. A novelist might do well writing movie reviews for the local paper or ad copy or sales letters for a company. There are also blogs to write for which pay, websites that need content and pay. There are companies and foundations that need newsletters written. As you embark on your writing career you would do well to broaden your horizons, but I've said that before.

So back the original question. Would we write if we didn't get paid. The simple answer for me is, yes, when it comes to novels and screenplays.  I've had a number of novels published and several scripts optioned. But, on the other hand I have a number of scripts which haven't been optioned and novels that haven't found a publisher. Would I write commercially for free, even to 'get credit'? No. Do I take gambles to further my writing career? Yes. Simply writing a novel or script that isn't under contract is a gamble. And, it's your gamble. Writing for someone else, for free who tries to sell you a bill of goods about how it's going to add to your credentials is, in my opinion, cutting your own throat.

You may disagree, and if you do, please feel free to comment, I'd love to hear other takes on the subject.

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