Today on her Tumblr, Twin Cities Runoff editor Deb Carver issued a clear instruction to writers: “Stop promoting the idea that it’s somehow noble to not make money for writing, or publishing others’ writing. Stop writing for free, unless it’s for yourself (or maybe for a startup project you really believe in, but only one pet project per person, please). If you’re publishing or writing, make sure you get paid. Don’t hire interns unless you can pay them, too. Stop taking unpaid internships. Stop hiring people who took unpaid internships.”
I respect Deb’s work and her opinion, but I fully intend to keep breaking every single one of these rules, every day.
At the Daily Planet, I’m paid for my work as an editor, and I consider myself very fortunate to have a job I love. I’m able to be paid for this job largely because generous foundations and individual donors support the Daily Planet’s nonprofit mission. That support also allows us to pay most of our writers at least something for most of their writing—though this column is among the things we publish without pay. If our donors all suddenly pulled their support and decided to put their dollars elsewhere, I’d be sorry for that, and I’d take another paying job doing something someone would pay me to do while I continued writing and publishing for free in my spare time. Why?
I believe that the process and the product of writing have value—so much value that I’m not willing to wait around for the free market to pay me to write. My cobloggers and I publish and write The Tangential without pay. Breaking another of Deb’s rules, I have a separate project, Unreality House, that I also write and publish at my own expense of time and hosting fees. It’s all free. Read those blogs or don’t, but we’re going to keep writing whether or not you pay us to. It makes us happy to do it.
What would happen if everyone in the world who writes for free suddenly stopped? What if all the blogs went away, all the Tumblrs shut down, all the zines were burned, all the tweets vanished? We’d find a few dollars in our pockets to get some of them back, but we couldn’t possibly support all of them, and the world of writing would be a much smaller, less diverse place. Worse, we’d all be deprived of the sheer enjoyment of writing and being read, of everything that means to us as human beings. Got something to say? How much money do I need to pay for you to say it?
Creative endeavors, from writing to sculpting to dancing, are things we show that we value not just by paying money but by paying attention—and, most of all, by doing. I don’t feel exploited or undervalued because I’m giving this away for free—it’s not free. You’re giving me your attention, which is the most precious thing you have. Money comes and money goes, but the five minutes of your life that you’re spending to read this post can’t be refunded. (Sorry!) It means a lot to me that you care what I have to say, and I hope you have something to say in response.
I could write more about why I think the pay-for-play business model for creative content is something we shouldn’t cling to, but my coblogger Becky Lang has already explained that well in a recent post that I can refer you to. I do pay for some writing (The New Yorker, my monthly Emily Books download), when I can afford to. I’m also glad that some of the publications I write for (including the Daily Planet) can afford to pay me something, some of the time. But I have a lot more curiosity than I have money, and I have more to write than you have money to pay me for the right to read it. Whether or not I can be paid for it, writing isn’t my job. It’s what I do.