My first job at age 17 was writing for pay. It was 1965, and I was hired to write a weekly humor column for three newspapers after my work was featured on the New York City radio show of humorist Jean Shepherd.
From the age of 17 until roughly five years ago, I earned my living (in sequence) by my pen, manual typewriter, electric typewriter, computer keyboard and laptop. But as print media began to disappear, so did pay for the kind of writing I did best: op eds, humor, light verse, features. Once I could claim that I never published a poem without getting a payment. This month, an 11-page article I wrote was published in a glossy international magazine for no pay whatsoever.
I first noticed this shift about 10 years ago. The journalism and public relations-type writing I did to support myself and my family for decades still paid the bills. My bylines appeared on features in company newsletters rather than in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal. But there were fewer paying markets for the writing that sprang uninhibited from my snarky imagination, the writing that didn’t have to please advertisers or pacify the chairman of the board. With the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, suddenly everyone was a writer. And most of the new writing was available at no charge.
I didn’t have to rely on creative writing to pay the bills, so I asked myself:
Creative writers, like actors, artists, and other societal mavericks, live to perform their craft and communicate their message. Time spent networking, job-hunting, and grant-seeking is time not spent writing. With the few decades I have left, I want to blaze like a star, not lick boots and curry favor. Bring on the non-paying jobs! If they suit my style, passions, and sense of humor, I’ll write for bylines and contributors copies. I am done playing the pay-me game. The subsidized pen is not mightier than the sword.
Writing for free is freedom for writing. Writers will always find a way to make a living as long as they can live the writing life.
Causes Linda Holt Supports
WWFM the Classical Network.
Yoga Research Society.
New Jersey Audubon Society.