February 20, 2014 § 15 Comments
I’ve just seen the following tweet on my Twitter timeline, and I admit it irritated me a little. And it irritated me because it is all too familiar.
Somehow people still seem to misunderstand what it is that writers do, so I thought I’d explain a little, in the clearest possible terms.
Writing is our job. It’s what we do to make money. It’s how we send our children to school, put fuel in our cars, and buy clothes to wear. It is a skill that takes years to hone, and which you would not need us for if you could do it yourself.
I don’t know what you do, but imagine you arrived at work in the morning and you had landed your dream job, with the corner office, after years of working towards that goal. Maybe you’d had to do some other jobs along the way, but now, finally, you were doing what you’d always wanted to do, and knew you had the skills to do it. And then imagine that your boss said, “There’s just one catch: we can’t pay you a salary. But what we can do is send traffic to a website of your choice. Just think of the exposure!”
What do you think the chances are that you would grab that job with both hands? I thought so.
And yet, writers are asked to do this all the time. Exposure is the favourite carrot to dangle in front of our noses. But here’s the thing. If I offered to pay the school fees with exposure, I’d be laughed off the school campus. If I tried to pay for groceries at the supermarket with exposure, they’d call the men in white coats. Exposure just isn’t a valid currency anywhere in the world as far as I’m aware.
And writing isn’t some kind of fun hobby. Those of us who write for a living take it as seriously as you take your job. We read about grammar and spelling and punctuation, we read style guides. We keep office hours and then often write well into the evening too. Now and then there are things we can just sit down and churn out, but that’s because we’ve spent years practising. And even then we go back and rework, rephrase, rewrite until we are happy with what we have crafted. Why? Because we know the impact that changing one verb can make, that placing a comma in just the right place can make all the difference to the meaning of something.
Mostly, good writing is a slog. It requires dedication, an eye for details, a measure of ruthlessness and a dash of flair. And that’s on top of being able to construct grammatically correct, stylistically sound sentences that are clear, concise and impactful. And it takes the ability to continually self-assess and redo something as many times at it takes to get it right, not just written. It is an exercise in endurance.
So, when you ask us to write for nothing – and I’ve done it, so I know – we actually lose money. Because we could have been writing for someone who’s prepared to pay us for our work in the time it took to write something for you. That’s not a sensible business model, is it? This is our business. This is what we do. It’s how we earn a living.
It is actual work, and it does take a lot of effort. And all we ask, is to be remunerated in return. I don’t think that’s overly demanding – do you?