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It's worth-while

You are paying for this, even if you don’t realise it. Each time you argue, you disagree, you want to whack me, you shake your head in disgust, you get a lump in your throat, you see your own colours through the kaleidoscope I proffer, you touch my chord and play your music or you stop by and stay or cast a glance and walk away, you have paid me.  

My money has many shades, from the crisp notes to jangling coins to cheques. These live in banks and fit into a wallet. They buy me things, and I need them. But the day I first wrote a published piece – and I shall skip the poems, stories (many of which I merely spoke out extempore without knowing where they would end, fattening them along the way with bites from curious smiles and sips from the rims of wide eyes of classmates or friends) – and went to the site, an art gallery, and a gentleman said I looked like an artist and he was one and I spoke about how I felt about the painting and he said it was nothing of the kind for he had painted it, I knew that I had a voice and I would use it although it went against what the intended purpose was. I got no money for the piece for it was a summer training assignment, but I was paid with words that were to give me a glimpse into how I would express myself later.

I spent a good many years writing columns and I always felt embarrassed discussing money. “How much do you expect?” asked an editor. And I said, quite honestly, “I don’t know, but you would know my worth since you've asked me to write.” He did. I, quite a newbie, was paid the same amount as the senior-most writer. I knew only because he told me. However, I have also been short-changed often.

  • A few examples come to mind. I was asked to contribute “anything” for an anthology. I liked the subject, so I said yes. In the course of the conversation I was told, “We’ll pay you if you want.” I said nothing and the conversation was over. However, I found this strange. What does “if you want” mean? Much later, when we spoke I asked this question. To my amazement, I was made to feel like a heel. “Oh, so you want to be paid.” It went on and on, when all I said was, “What exactly did you mean by if you want? Do you say this to the others? If they are being paid, then one would assume the same standards for me.”
  • There was a reason for this response. The problem with people who know you can take on a weird turn. A colleague who had visited home had the audacity to tell another colleague that I did not need to work. The reason, “She has a chandelier in her house.”  I’d dare them to say the same about male writers or even Page 3 female columnists who flash their and their partner’s wealth. I did not even buy that chandelier. 
  • Then there are friends who tell you that you seem “well set”. How? “You know one gets that feeling.” Okay, even if I am, does it take away from the work I put in? No chandelier writes my stuff and in all these years it has not been about sitting beneath its light, anyway. I have done more field work than many of the glorified ‘slumbags’.

The problem lies in how we view our writing lives. I still have romantic visions of it, even as I write in the most unromantic of places. Most of my professional decisions have been emotional or based on whimsical experiments. In the early days, I gave up a hugely popular offer once and went on assignment to Delhi, a place I disliked. Not only was I not paid well, I had to live in seedy guesthouses. What did I get out of it when I was away from the mainstream where memories last till your last byline? I faced resentment from the older people who could not tolerate a younger person telling them what to do; I was to tell them what to do. When another job offer came to pep up a publication, the money was great, there would be a car and accommodation. I did not take it up. I was told that the person who was stuck like adhesive to his chair wanted to remain a consultant. Fine. I had no issues if his name appeared above mine, but I was not going to be answerable to him about how I managed my work. Especially not someone who behind my back dismissed me as a ‘Bombay glamour girl’.

The unfortunate truth about writing or anything to do with editorial work is that you are judged within the field not by how good and honest you are but by how much you earn. There is also a tendency to see your ‘soft’ stance as a means to make you into a scapegoat for other people’s follies. The internet has made it worse because everyone thinks they can judge you and do so in real time. Websites that want to use your name and abilities, more so if they know you grab eyeballs with your shoot-from-the-hip style, become the stomping ground of the vengeance cabal. I think I once made a horrible decision to accept an ‘honorary’ position because I ended up spending way more than eight hours of my time and that too not in my time zone for a large part and being abused for things I did and did not do. And people insinuated that I was paid for it. On hindsight, yes I was. With so much hate as honorarium.

Again I romanticise and say it made me stronger. The truth is I was already quite strong to take that plunge into the deep end of nothing. It made me realise, though, that those who do not deserve your time should be shown out of your zone. I have less patience now and leave my romantic ideas to what I write rather than the outcome of the effort.

I continue to write for free when I believe in things and need the space where regular spaces are constricted with congealed thoughts. I write for free when my spontaneity cannot wait for acceptance. I write for free when I feel free.

That does not mean I come for free. You pay a price by watching me unfold. I don’t encash your vision, though, and save it in the vault.

(c) Farzana Versey

Comments
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Worth

Farzana,

The ability to value oneself, yet stay humble is worth more than money in the bank.

Sharing your words and expressing your humanity are part of what make you you. Nobody should become so important (or think they are) that every word they write has to have a monetary value attached to it.

Julie

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yet...

Jules:

I agree with your sentiments, but humility need not be 'priceless'. Daily wagers are forced to be humble. Also, thinking outside of myself, there are occasions when people merrily reproduce our work and earn money from it. Then, inadvertantly, is there not monetary value even if we don't know it? Most of the corporations make money from others' work. 

Incidentally, in many publications, people were paid per word. There is also the factor of whether this is the sole profession of a person. I am quite disgusted that columns penned by celebrities are often masked ads - some industrialist or his wife, or an actor...either they are paid a whole lot or thye pay to get mielage. 

Just thought I'd share a few more thoughts.

~F

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Being one.

I am happy,for you remain absolute you after all that happened.What you have earned is more precious then any wealth.

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And so...

Jitu:

Thank you. I think such episodes only make you delve deeper into yourself and find the 'missing links'. And those turn out to be precious as they complete the picture. 

~F

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Yes, that voice of yours is

Yes, that voice of yours is strong and often haunting. You are commanding, putting me in awe of the words that seem effortlessly painted across pages that sometimes I don't understand completely, but then I have not walked in your shoes or traveled in your spheres. Thank you for caring so much about so many things.
~Lynn

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Lynn: That is a generous

Lynn:

That is a generous comment, although one should be more accessible. Coincidentally, your remark came a day after an email expressing "despair" that the person could not understand some of my work. I think if at some point we connect, then the circumference constitutes details, and indeed many things are from "different spheres". 

More than a writer I feel like characters in varied places. 

Thank you. 

~F

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More...

I have added a few points to this post in the main copy (the ones that are an unordered list) because one such example took place recently. Just thought I'd clarify that this was not in the original.

~F

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Clarification

Farzana,

I appreciate the clarification because it prompted me to reread this blog and the replies.

Lately, as I'm being published more frequently, I'm often asked how much I'm paid. If I say nothing, there is undertone hiding behind the congratulations that I'm not a serious or successful writer. It usually comes from people who aren't writers. My comeback (I can be a bit of a smartass) is I'm in it for the competition and awards.

Your line, "I write for free when I feel free" caused a visceral reaction, a perceived connection and understanding of a similiar experience. The process of free flowing thoughts and ideas: my knowledge, opinions, life experiences and understanding of events are what I wish to convey to other people. In doing so, I hope they have a viseral reaction, an aha, a connection and understanding of a similiar experience from something I wrote. This need to be free to connect, without knowing if it will occur, is rather ironic, isn't it?  

If someone wants to pay me ten cents a word, great. But if money were the driving force for writing, I'd be hobbled by my need, instead of being free to create. 

Jules 

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A need

Jules:

Thanks for revisiting and adding to the discussion. I think that one should separate the monetary aspect from the 'connectivity' one, as some of us indeed do.

Since writing is the only professional calling for some of us, I am not discounting the need for it. It is important, though, to realise that not everything one gets paid for talks to the reader just as not everything one is not paid for. The creative instinct needs to be explored - or rather explore - without such encumbrances.

I recall years ago a freelance journalist telling me that I should not write long pieces if I am paid per column because I would get the same for less words. he could not understand that for me the slight open-endedness of a word limit was freedom.

Thanks again, for you made me re-read what I had written. I guess I'll pay myself a bit!

~F

PS: Yes, you can write and get those awards...always wish you the best for any recognition you might get because you don't court it.