08 October 2009

The Nasty Side of Unpaid Writing

by Morgan Barnhart

I've been watching a lot of Californication lately. Californication is a television program on showtime with David Duchovny where he plays a writer who is having trouble writing. I heart David Duchovny.

Anyway, there was this one scene where he was talking to his daughters class at career day about being a writer. He said (and I'm summarizing because I can't remember exactly what he said) "Do not become a writer. If you've ever wanted to be anything else, do that. Being a writer blows."

And you know, I kind of agree with him.

I should clarify, I don't hate the act of writing, I hate the business of writing. For one thing, nobody feels like paying a writer what they're worth. They feel like writing is just soooooo easy and anyone can do it so there's no point in paying what the writing is worth.

I was commissioned to do 5 articles everyday for $1 an article where I would write 350-400 words per article. So basically I was being paid dirt. I only took the job because I was told there'd be more high paying jobs in the future. I delivered the 5 articles every single day. But every single day the person would hassle me in the morning about where the articles were. I had the entire day to get them in, there was no set time to get them in.

So here I was, writing for dirt and being hassled about getting the articles in which put stress on me and soon I began to hate writing.

I said forget it. I love to write and this assignment was sucking the life out of me and my writing. I began to realize that no matter how long I wrote for this person that they would never pay me more than $1 for a 400 word article. My writing is worth far more than $1 per article, not to sound conceded or anything.

The moral of the story is, even if there's promise of higher paying gigs in the future, don't sell yourself short. It's just not worth it. I spoke in my previous article about selling your soul, this is the same concept; don't do it.

I know as writers we're all desperate to be rich and famous and be well known for our writing, but you can't do that when you're letting everyone walk all over you. Your writing is worth more than dirt. Don't be a victim. Stand up for your writing and maybe then we can all love to write again.


  1. Wanting to be paid more than a dollar for an article is not con*ceit*ed in any way. A dollar? When I read that I was like "seriously?".

    Writers need to unionise or something. That's really screwed up to think that you could pay someone one single dollar for an entire, thought-out article. You can't even buy a loaf of bread with a dollar. Hell, you can barely buy a game of pinball with it.

    It isn't worth it. I wouldn't do it either.

    The music industry is the same way. Only if you 'make it', you're indebted to someone. You probably make more as a musician being in a 6-piece band and making 100$ in a night than being a writer; unless of course you include the amount of money put into instruments and the amount of time put into weekly practises.

    Passions aren't profitable. :-(

  2. Guh, I knew I spelled that wrong, but it didn't come up wrong in spell check so I left it. Oh well.

    It would be a great idea for all writer's to unionize so this crap doesn't happen. It really is getting out of control. But I also blame the websites that allow these types of postings to go up.

  3. Writing isn't for sissies. The editorial world seems to be populated by a strange creature that wants the world but wants to pay for el zippo nada. My first acceptance came with this great letter. . .it said,(or close enough)"A great piece of writing! Unfortunately, we can no longer pay our contributors. We will send you copies of the magazine to build your resume'. Again great writing! Can you trim a page of words?" Well, that basically gave me a left handed compliment but I went ahead and trimmed the page and resubmitted. Never heard anything after that - and honestly don't care. I'd never heard of the magazine anyway. Still, I enjoy slinging words around and making sense out of them or emotions or - well, it's still fun.

  4. I definitely don't mind submitting things for free if it's something I enjoy or believe in or have hope in or just want to do for the heck of it or think that it'll give me exposure. There are several reasons to work for free. But I'd rather work for free doing something I enjoy instead of working for pennies writing something I absolutely despise. There's always a choice.

  5. Writers, people, deserve dignity in everything they do. Morgan, I think your position is easy to understand.

    I just have to say: I appreciate you greatly. I love reading your articles and am amazed at the talent you show in the secret project we're working on :).

    Myself, I've done a lot of work and a lot of volunteering. I love both, but I hate being insulted. I had a supervisor threaten to charge me $5 for canceling a class once. Two-thirds of the class were sick and the rest were 30 minutes late, so, I was taking my students to Starbucks. Lose $5? I intended to spend $30 on lattes.

    Some people think if you work for very little you are desperate and will except undignified treatment. I say it is the opposite. I always to volunteer in libraries and at soup kitchens or chamber of commerce. I value the contribution I make and I want to promote things I believe in, and a few pennies isn't what gets me out of bed in the morning.

    Unions maybe. Respect and dignity always.

  6. Morgan,

    I originally went to college for Architecture. After graduation I landed a job with one of Rhode Island's largest firms where I gave them 17 years of my heart and soul. When I left in 1998 I was making less than $20 per hour to design buildings.
    I'm not talking about dog houses here. I'm talking about multi-story apartment buildings, parking garages, office buildings...you name it.

    Here's the thing...Although the money I received was an insult to my abilities and I was forced to deal with people who were morally bankrupt and ethically challenged, I still LOVED every second that I was there. Most days I couldn't believe I was actually getting paid (albeit meagerly) to do something that I loved so much.

    Although I would have gladly produced drawings for nothing - it was the business side of things that I hated. Politics, favoritism, nepotism and every other "ism" you can imagine...it totally turned me off. So I quit. There are days I wish I hadn't - but what's done is done.

    The point I'm trying to make is that in EVERY pursuit you could choose, there will be three negatives for every positive. The only thing you can do is to take every drop of satisfaction that you can from it and smile because you are getting paid to do something that you love while most people are getting paid crappy wages to do something that they despise.

    I appreciate your disgust - believe me, I've been there. What I've learned is that no matter what business you're in there will be "bull$hit" to deal with. Nowadays I simply laugh and refuse to allow it to ruin my love for what I do.

    Hang in there...your day will come.

  7. @C: Thanks! That does mean a lot. =) That's just it, it's about respect. I wasn't being respected for my work, I was being used and at a mere $1 a pop. Some things just aren't worth it.

    @Tim: I wouldn't have minded if I were writing something of use or something that I truly enjoyed, but most of it was just rewriting, so I wasn't even really writing. Oh sure, I was in a sense, because it was all my own words, but still, that's not the path I want to take.

    You took the path to further your career, that's what we all must do once we exit college and enter the real world. We must work for a smaller wage before we can get to the big time. I totally and completely understand and agree with that.

    I work for free all the time. I volunteer and intern on a constant basis. I'm interning at several writing firms right now because I want the experience and to further my career.

    But this was not furthering my career at all. This was not an endeavor that would help me in anyway to better myself as a writer or my career.

    That's just it, I'm not going to let it ruin what I love to do, so I'm just not going to do it since it was no benefit. =) There's no reason for people to sacrifice their talents for something that isn't going to help them succeed. If you're using your talents in a way that will get you noticed, that will give you experience, but are working for a bit less than average, then hey, I say more power to ya.

    I don't really see it as 'my day will come', I see it as a continuing cycle of doing something I love, always and not having to sacrifice my dignity because of it.

  8. I think the bad feeling will drive away the muse, too.