Freelance Writers and Getting Paid

Writing is not the same thing as being a writer. Lots of people write. Many do a good job of readable emails, reports, even articles. But not everyone who can manage is keyboard is a writer, no more than anyone who sings in the shower is a musician.

Good writing is clear and direct. Easy to read. Grammatically correct. Written with clear syntax. Bad writing is what you get when you don’t know what good writing is, or don’t want to pay for good writing.

Writing takes training, practice, and a lot of work. I know. I’m a writer. So I get a bit cranky when the art and work of writing is shrugged off as “content providing.” And I get even more cranky when I pitch an idea to a magazine, and the editor writes back and says that they love the idea, but they don’t pay. Because it’s a privilege to appear in their magazine; having my work published is an honor. Yes, thank you, of course it’s an honor, but it is tough to buy gas with honor and privilege. The plumber does not think it is a privilege to fix the water leak, he expects to be paid for his time and expertise, and so do I.

Yes, some beginning writers need to write for very little so they can build a portfolio. I’m past that now. I read a lot of content, and I don’t see very many good writers. I see a lot of writers who don’t understand copyright or plagiarism, who think Google is a research tool, and who don’t understand when to use the nominative or the objective case.

Writing is a profession. It takes training, practice and dedication. And if I agree to work for pennies on the dollar, I am the one to blame for accepting that as a wage. On the other hand, if many writers who can live on pennies a day undercut writers who won’t, the system becomes unbalanced. Writing is devalued.

It’s happened with other professions. The work is outsourced and the value diminishes. It’s easy to settle for content, instead of writing. Cheap, starchy filler will always be easier to get than good, solid, well-crafted writing. Be careful. You are what you read.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who works with writers.