Considering the question of whether to write for free or not, I have to admit that the future of writing, as a career path, looks pretty grim. The publishing industry has always been a low margin affair, with only the best selling authors and in-demand freelancers making a living from their craft. Journalists and editors have traditionally worked long hours for low pay. But writing has been a path that with persistence, hard work, and some luck, would pay something.
Now, with newspapers, magazines, and books ever shifting to electronic forms of distribution, words and information–including stories, poems, and nonfiction of all kinds–are in more demand than ever before. Freelance writers in the States are now forced to bid competitively with writers from other countries, where the cost of living is less than one-tenth what it is here. Ironically, it seems the very inundation of words has made the craft of writing less valued. Information has become “content,” and writers are increasingly expected to write for free, just for the privilege of seeing our articles published online. And, with the increase of blogging and self-publishing, published writing seems to be shifting from professionals (those who get paid for their work) to amateurs (those who do not).
What does all of this mean for me today and for my future as a writer? The truth is, I do write for free. All the time. I write for my blog (writingthroughlife.com), this blog, and other blogs about journaling, memoir, and nonfiction writing. I’m thrilled when something I write gets published (unpaid) in a literary journal or online magazine. And I literally dance around my office when someone sends me real money for something I’ve written (be glad you don’t have to view that spectacle).
Which brings me to consider the question of why I write to publish. There is, after all, a difference between writing to write and writing to publish. I write all the time—words that I expect no one else will ever read. Writing is integral to my sense of self and the world: it is the way I process thoughts, emotions, feelings, and viewpoints; it is the way I express myself to myself.
So why bother learning how to write well? Why bother writing essays and memoirs and publishing? Do I write to make my mark on this world? For me, I think it’s more about the desire to be seen, known, and understood. To share my stories and listen to others’ stories. To be touched and to touch one another on a primal, story-telling level.
And so I write. I write for free, and I write for money. (I do other things for money, as well.) I write to explore my world through experience and imagination. I write because writing is just what I do. I publish because I want to connect with others through my stories.
Money or not, here I come.
Image Credit: Bede Jackson