Don’t. Even though I’m kinda doing that now because no one is paying me to write this blog.
But don’t write for free. Don’t give it away.
I have wanted to write this for months, years. I was afraid of offending people, or of being a hypocrite because I am a far cry from the successful, highly-paid writer idealized in the media. Maybe that’s all for the best; maybe you don’t want to listen to someone who writes for $3-a-word glossies and knows every editor in the Big Apple.
Those kind of writers are intimidating.
Last month, I went to a panel discussion on essays. The four panelists, all women, were lovely people and, I’m sure, competent writers. One had been paid $8,000 for an essay in her area of expertise. . . . in the 80s. Now they are giving it away. Seriously. Someone asked them how much they got paid to write their essays–their mommy-blog posts, their art posts, their brilliant bon mots. They looked at each other and admitted that they didn’t. Get paid. that is. A couple had self-published some books that had been profitable, but gee, you had to write for free just to get people to notice you–
NO! NO NO NO NO NO!
Do not write for free. Google that phrase and you will find many find authors who will explain why. Harlan Ellison recorded a rant that went viral a few years ago, featuring the phrase, “You’ve gotta pay me, dammit!”
If you can’t find outlets for your essays, you are not looking hard enough. Google. Yes, the print magazines and newspapers are drying up and have been for years. But . . . . There are hundreds of websites that pay writers.
Why did those nice ladies on the panel not know this? I suspect because they were not full-time writers. One stayed at home with her baby while her husband earned a paycheck. The other three were in academia. Yup, professors who marketed their work on the side, and getting close to retirement age.
They weren’t hungry. They didn’t have to write in order to buy groceries or pay bills. So (this is true for the older three) as their print markets dried up, they didn’t put a lot of effort into finding replacements. All four were looking at future books, thinking that their free writing builds them a platform.
Writing is a profession that sustains a minimalist lifestyle, if not an extravagant one. One example: a couple who are raising two children in New York on the paychecks they each earn from writing. They are talented, energetic, and don’t waste their time.
Those three qualities are key. Talent, energy, and–I’l rephrase–discipline. Many writers support themselves well on their writing, but you have to push yourself.
You can’t sit around all day writing blog posts or watching the Weather Channel’s team coverage of Storm Juno. (Bad Vickey, bad!) You have to get to work.
Looking for that job is the first step in any profession, and it’s part of your day as a writer. Every time you enjoy an article online, notice who hosted it. Go to the site’s home. Are there submission guidelines or a tab that says Write For Us? Do they list payment?
Maybe you need confidence. Could you see yourself writing a blog post or short article for fifty dollars? Here’s a starter list of sites that pay modestly (but they still pay!) for guest blogs or articles. Google for additional lists.
Many companies offer much more for essays. Christian Science Monitor, Modern Love and other columns in the New York Times. Chicken Soup for the Soul, Slate and Salon for more journalistic endeavors. And if you like writing about entertainment, movies, and stars, the possibilities are legion.
Do not let anyone–including Adriana Huffington–make you believe that the effort you put into crafting an article is valueless. Writers deserve to be paid. If we all started insisting on it, maybe we’d all start reaping the benefits.