If all jobs paid $2 an hour, I’d still want to be a writer, because that’s what I do. But the simple fact is that $2-an-hour jobs are for teenagers who live at home and have their bills paid by their parents. Few responsible adults who pay their own bills can get by on $2 an hour, far less nothing an hour, and why should they?
I'll make the usual comparisons just because I can: I don’t expect a mechanic to fix my car for nothing, in order to cement his reputation, nor a doctor to fix my broken bone to practice his skills. I don’t expect a plumber, painter, carpenter, photographer, portrait painter, garbage collector, tree trimmer, street sweeper, electric lineman, cable guy, tax professional, waitperson, chef or anyone who provides a skilled service to do it for nothing. Why should I, a skilled writer with years of education and experience, be expected to suddenly believe that my skill is worthless. Particularly when I see people making lots of money based on the product or content that my skill produces. Huffington Post, Examiner.com and many other sites are saying just that: Your experience, skill and product are worth nothing to us, but we manage to make millions of dollars by filling up our websites with it. Hmmmm. Something stinks in Denmark.
I flatly reject that business model.
If there are writers out there who can afford to produce work for nothing, and there always have been hobby writers who have a spouse or a trust fund to pay for their daily bread, then I salute them for their good fortune.
There will also be some writers who are just starting out, and who have no large newsroom where they can spend a fruitful internship, now that so many newsrooms have shrunk to the size and power of a cheap novel. Those of you who fall into that category, if you can afford it, can and should write for free for a short while, as interns have done for generations, in order to establish your credentials, to show that you can produce interesting, accurate and readable copy, and to learn what it’s like to be edited and fact-checked and trimmed.
But you shouldn’t do it for more than a few months. Then you must demand money. Otherwise you are rendering yourself worthless in the eyes of those who are using your words.
Money is being made off your skill, off your craft, off your copy, off your content. The smart writer sees that and demands payment. Those of us who have gone to school and labored long to hone our craft, need to state our worth and demand a wage commensurate with our skill and experience.
Nothing less will do.