A famous writer friend is always a bit bemused by my blog writing. “You don’t get paid?” he wonders. I squirm when he says this because I do very much like getting paid for my writing. More than the cash, it gives me the good feeling that I am valued, that what I say and how I say it matters enough to pay me for it. But I also like writing this blog and, so far, no one has wanted me to move it somewhere and pay me to do it. So, yeah, I do a lot of writing for free.
A recent kerfuffle involving the musician Amanda Palmer who invited musicians to play for free at some of her concerts has sparked my navel gazing on this topic. This musician questioned that and here is Amanda’s response. It is complicated and I don’t see a clear right or wrong to all of it. Both make points that make sense to me. I like blogging here because I feel I have things to say that others are interested in, things on a wide variety of topics. I can write here about a book, about teaching, about a visit to an eccentric museum in Oxford, about writing for free, about anything I want that I hope will interest those who read this blog. I have the hubris to think that I can sometimes help — get a book a bit more attention or get readers to think about something they might not have before.
I also like blogging at the Huffington Post. When they merged with AOL some boycotted the Huffington Post, arguing that all who blogged for them should get paid for their content. Makes sense to me and as I said at the top, I’d love to get paid for my blogging. But I also like to write for an audience and feel that the HuffPo one is different from this one and I do want to get the word out about stuff to them. And so I continue to write for free.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the years as I’ve always done art be it visual or writing. After majoring in art at college I went off to Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps Volunteer. While there I did art on my own and art for my work. The latter involved mostly my creating 4-5 illustrations a day for a course in road repair for the Ministry of Works. I learned that I did not want to do art that way and so when I came back to the States I taught and continued to do my own art on my own. I did hope to get paid for it — to get a contract as an illustrator. That didn’t happen and after a few years I lost interest in drawing and moved on to other things. One of those after many years was writing. Opportunities presented themselves, some paid and some not. I discovered that I loved to write, needed to write, and would do so whether or not I got paid to do so.
This is rambly, but it is something I’ve thought a lot about. For a long time I couldn’t write at all and once I did start again and discovered that I could do it well I enjoyed it very much. Hearing from others that they appreciated what I had to say and how I said it meant a lot to me. It continues to do so. I did a few books for teachers and now am writing some for kids. (My first for kids comes out next year.) I got paid for all of them. And that was important, a validation that others felt my work was worthy. That said, here I am writing for free.
It is a messy business indeed. For what is writing anyway and who is it for in the end? A business? A situation of self-reflection? In need of an audience? There is no one answer for me.