where the writers are
On writing for (no)pay or peanuts
bibliomaniac
This one paid back its advance, and is still in print. Hopefully still making someone think.
Amazon.com Amazon.com
Powell's Books Powell's Books

Once, in the olden days, I launched a real estate career to support my addiction to newspaper writing. Had a ball, made a bundle. (It was a time of The-Sky-Is-Falling white flight in my southern town, and I hit #1 for Century/21 in the Southeast -- not for handling the BigDeal estates but for selling two-bit homes to community-minded people of all colors who didn't care what color their neighbors were. Good folks.)

The money was fine and the cause was compelling, but my heart remained in the typewriter. Churning out columns, writing up reports of legislative shenanigans and high crime, occasionally offending politicians or society mavens by quoting their exact words without cleaning up their syntax.

I made 6% commission on that $3+ million sales year, and a flat $20 each on columns.

Fast forward to a Boomers and Beyond column for the late lamented news aggregate True/Slant.com. That one was a daily grind of pulling together relevant news and commentary on a topical issue, adding my own profound thoughts (sometimes just tossing my own profound thoughts into cyberspace all by themselves) and creating a reputation -- we hoped -- for having something to say that would interest the over-50 generations. Had a ball, didn't make a bundle.

Unless I hit the magic number of Page Views -- that mysterious gauge of worthtfulness in the digital age -- I averaged about $5 a post. This will give you a sense of how my journalistic career has progressed. Meanwhile every now and then I've sold a short story for 2 copies of the magazine, or written a book that maybe, eventually paid back its advance...

Writing for (almost) free? Why not? It's not fair, not always fun, and surely not encouraging in what it says about today's (or yesterday's) cultural priorities.

It boils down to writing because you love it. You love the look and feel of words on a page, the challenge of translating ideas into language, the joy of -- possibly, some day -- coming up with an original thought. Plus the hope: that next blog post will somehow make someone think, or that next book will hit the hometown paper's bestseller list. 

Face it, it's an addiction. You can always find a career on the side to enable it.