July 18, 2013

Writing for free



On writing for free, it was Mark Twain who I've long deferred to for counsel when it comes to the sometimes-thorny issue. His position was this (see here also):
"Write without pay until someone offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for."
More recently I read the piece by Genevieve Smith (@gvsmith) in Elle Magazine, with a piece entitled, 'I'm for Sale'on the challenges of writing, getting paid and making it. Then there was also the interesting piece by Noah David on awl.com which had been featured on Andrew Sullivan's, the Dish here. What Noah does is basically explain how he works as a writing and balances the books. A great insight.

Then what really got me going was Matt Yglesias' March 2013 2-part blogs series on writing for free, part 1 and 2 here and here respectively. 

Matt Yglesias actually wrote the first instalment in response to a rant by Nate Thayer who had been solicited by the Atlantic Magazine to submit copy without charge. We should remember that this is a guy with well over 20 years in the game. Read the legitimate rant from Nate Thayer here

Here's Matt Yglesias explaining his journey from hobbyist to professional blogger:
"I started blogging when I was a junior in college and did it very diligently for a year and a half. Largely on the strength of that work I got a low-paid job at the American Prospect, where in addition to writing stuff for their magazine and website and also contributing to their group blog, I continued to diligently blog (for free) under my own name.  
After about three years of that, I got a paid blogging gig at the Atlantic. And good for me! While I was working there, I, at one point, went on vacation and needed some (unpaid) guest bloggers. I had been very impressed by Ta-Nehisi Coates' Atlantic piece on Bill Cosby and realized that he was blogging (unpaid) under his own name and persuaded him to do unpaid Atlantic writing. Yes, for the exposure. Now I'm reading in theObserver that he's turning down (presumably paying) New York Times column gigs. And good for him! 
Is the moral of the story that if you work hard at unpaid writing you'll get offered a New York Times column? No it's not. You almost certainly won't. But that's because almost nobody gets offered a New York Times column. 
The fact remains that if you have things to say that you think are worthwhile and nobody is offering to pay you to say them, you ought to say them anyway for free. If enough people agree with you that those things are worthwhile, it just may lead to something... Aspiring writers should know that doing work "for the exposure" isn't by any means a crazy idea."
Matt in full here.


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