Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Don't Give Blow Jobs For Free

Young Girl Writing at Her Desk by Henriette BrowneYoung Girl Writing at Her Desk by Henriette Browne

Yesterday, I spoke to undergrad students at a local college. A wonderfully talented new friend of mine, who works full time in PR and teaches on the side, asked me to stop by her class so students could test pitches on me. I very much enjoyed their fresh enthusiasm -- questions from young adults waiting for careers to bloom. I also loved telling them how I got to this point in my career by way of this blog. But in some ways, I felt like a newbie myself, as I never in a million years dreamed that I would be professing anything again on the subject of writing and communications since I left academia years ago.

Last night's experience has inspired me to sit down and pour my heart out about something that has been bugging me for a long time. It is this: I would like every writer, every communicator who is worth their weight in gold, to boycott their jobs and stop wordsmithing for a day. I am not talking about those writers with full-time paychecks. No. You know who you are. The other writers, the mistresses of the midnight oil. The little girl sitting at the desk looking over her shoulder at an uncaged bird. What would the world be like if sluts like us who are paid to write stopped writing? What does silence sound like?

You see, I am extremely frustrated by the fact that I, as well as many writers like myself, are expected to pen beautiful, well-researched and compelling prose for less than a hooker makes giving blow jobs on Biscayne Boulevard. The gift of gab, the knack of storytelling, the rhetorical turn needed to make people get off their asses and do things -- all this is in fact a talent and a practice, people -- it's a craft that should be upheld and dignified by all.

Has the age of blogging made it harder for experienced storytellers to make a living? Ironically, I think it has. I think that any asshole who can put a noun together with a verb fancies him or herself a Hemingway without any of the brain bleeding it takes for years to write great stuff without even thinking twice about it. Great writing is second nature. Great writing is a flash in the synapse before you even put your grubby fingers on the keyboard. Great writing is something that you breathe, sleep and eat. Great writing is a story you want to tell all the time, because you are the soul making that story come alive. Twenty four seven, three sixty five. You are a writer through and through.

Blogging does not make you a good writer; writing does. I have said this a million times and I will never tire of saying it until my last breath: a blog is simply an empty vessel for content and if you don't put in the time to perfect that craft, you aint a writer.

I have recently resigned from a column that I was writing for a major local newspaper -- not because I hated my beat or had a bad working relationship with my editors -- but because I could simply not justify the amount of time and work involved in producing great content for the meager financial compensation. For months, the newspaper company got great content for next to nothing. Yeah, I know, I accepted it. And yeah the economy is what is, bla bla bla ... but at the end of the day, I have to eat, people. I also have to fall asleep with a little dignity, too.

And it does break my heart, because I really love the publication and respect the people I worked with, but seriously, these days, devoted wordsmiths are probably better off monetizing their own blogs or finding other ways of making a living than depending on the byline of a newspaper.

So what if newspapers are dying? Shit still needs to written, right? Who the fuck is writing it, then? Just because writing is online doesn't make it any less valuable of a commodity!

And I am also sick and tired of nickel-and-dime negotiations with potential writing clients. Go write that fucking copy yourself. I'd rather flip burgers and I'll make more. And you, those other writers who are whoring themselves out for nothing, you make the rest of us look bad because you are giving that blow job practically for free when you know it's worth more than your pimp's fake Rolex.

I'm not sure what the answer is, folks. But I do know this -- it's a good thing I'm no longer a writing instructor -- you know, the teacher who actually teaches students who want to make a living at writing. I'd tell students to go enroll in law school, get an MBA or if they have vaginas, go the way of the MRS degree and push out a couple of puppies if that's what makes your life meaningful. For me, it has been writing and save for my beloved and the family and friends in my life, it's all I got.

And for those would be die-hard students, the ones following in the cavalry, well, welcome to our hell.

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18More Bla Bla Bla:

Blogger : ) said...

You said it sister!

2:15 PM  
Blogger BohoPoetGirl said...

Amen sister. Unfortunately,or fortunately, I am not there yet. I am still in the phase where my byline practically gives me an orgasm. Also, as a poet, I am used to getting nothing for my work. The $50 I made off this week's dispatch may have equaled out to less than $12 an hour, but for now, it's a labor of love.
And I love you, big sis.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's with the f--- bombs?

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

This is amazing in all ways. I'd rather write for free and call it charity than write 500 word blog posts for $10. And I agree, Starbucks pays $8 or so an hour and at least there I could smile nicely and maybe meet some benefactor to give me the MRS degree and the keys to a nice condo.

Now that I know that you were a writing instructor I have many more questions for you.

This post has link love written all over it.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maria, I couldn't agree with you more. It's BS.

If the companies aren't willing to pay then the writers should not accept their pennies.

It's even worse when you have fucking aggregators like Eater Miami that just steal content from others and make money off other people's content. This shouldn't be allowed.

Good luck with your endeavors and don't lose your stance.

2:59 PM  
Blogger lapp said...

I am so impressed with your ability to do what makes you happy! You did the right thing Maria and you should be proud of your decision!

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! Artists should be compensated fairly.

...and I'm sure all of you paid for all of the mp3s in your music library, because otherwise, all this righteous indignation would be hypocritical.

3:19 PM  
OpenID flashfree.wordpress.com said...

Amen and amen! This needs to be shouted to the trees. I am grateful for your dedication to the craft and your candor.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Dori said...

You are completely right and justified. Just because you write, it doesn't mean you are a writer. Blogging has led people to believe that writing, journalism, and everything in between can be done by the same people who are changing my tires or selling me life insurance. As one insanely smart friend once said: would I let anyone work on my vehicle that wasn't a car mechanic? I could, but they wouldn't do it right.

It's hard to let go of things we love to do because the financial compensation is meager and sometimes, not worth it. I still do it in hopes that it leads me somewhere greater, but I understand why you would do what you did.

Sometimes, I still have faith in humanity that they will realize what is worth reading, and what is bullshit. Hopefully I'm not wasting my time. Great post.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Paula said...

Great post. Many people now expect you to write for free and the truth is that if you don't do it, someone else will. There have been several discussions about this whole issue at Will Write for Food (a blog about food writing) and there's always an outpouring of comments. Some people want to write for free to gain exposure but those seeking to make a living freelancing feel that only hurts their chances of getting paid decent money. Sadly, it's something that probably will continue happening.

I'm sure better opportunities will come for you.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Angie Moncada said...

Holy crap! I'm not sure whether to take credit or responsibility for the hilarious and heartfelt vitriol unleashed by last night's class. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom with my students and I raise my hand in salute to you for taking a stand.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous gopalo said...

I share the frustration sometimes. In our free market system, the marketplace sets the value. Some of us draw a line below which we refuse to stoop. We attempt to demonstrate to our clients why we feel our work has a certain value. But if no one is willing to pay our price, we may have tough decisions to make.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous irina patterson said...

Maria,

Would be glad to brainstorm the ways for you to monetize your skill. Remember, we discussed that, it is my community work now, helping people to figuring out the best way to monetize their skills: http://mylifeandart.typepad.com/1M1M/ DM me on Twitter if you want, so we can arrange for a talk

8:16 PM  
Blogger aikin said...

I gotta agree with you. I graduated with a BS in journalism and promptly landed a $20K a year job. I did better with just a high school diploma.

Much as I loved writing, I had to move on to something where I could make better money. Now I put my degree to work playing "grammar nazi" on various forums. lol

9:24 PM  
Blogger OwenO said...

Well said...I mean...written.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Carlos Miller said...

In the day and age of the internet, no one should have to give their work away to anybody but themselves.

If giving your writing away to another website for free is the equivalent of giving a free blow job, then blogging for yourself for no money is the equivalent of masturbation - it can be lonely and cheap, but it can also be extremely satisfying.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Trina said...

Well, I don't know how I'm going to follow Carlos, but I just wanted to say I really appreciated this article. I'm one of those people who isn't embarrassed to talk about money, because I think the more honest we are about it, the more likely it is that we will not allow ourselves or other creative professionals we know to get hoodwinked or to lower the value of their profession. I'm a teacher AND a writer, so I know about working on the cheap. However, I think I have a lot to learn, and posts like this are very valuable to get the conversation going. Thank you!

9:56 PM  
Blogger Maria de los Angeles said...

I would like to personally thank all of you for your thoughtful comments. It means so much to me.

Obviously, this isn't the end of the story. I'm going to continue pursuing the subject of making a living at writing here.

For all you writers out there in the same boat ... let's keep pushing forward somehow!

If you have any ideas you'd like to share, don't hesitate to contact me via the contact info in my profile.

Warmest regards,

Maria

10:04 PM  

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