I published my first zine while I was in college. It collected original fiction and poetry written by my high school friends. I didn't have any idea what I was doing, but the process was insructive. We sold a couple of copies to our friends, then sold a few more through a local record store. In the end, I decided that writing was more fun than pushing zines, so I stopped after five issues.
I wrote for other people's zines after that. My first published short stories were fanfic set in the Star Wars universe. A group of us shared characters and wrote together, spinning out some very high quality space opera. The local media convention offered an orphan zine table in its dealers room, where we could sell our zines without having to man a table of our own. People we didn't even know bought the zines. We made fans. It was heady to get attention for something I'd worked so hard on. Money wasn't necessary, other than to pay for the copying. We all wrote for free.
In the early Nineties, I started writing for music zines. My first essay was about accompanying a friend to get her genitals pierced. That led to a steady gig writing for File 13. The editor let me write about whatever I wanted, which turned out to be Alzheimer's and AIDS and other things my friends and family were suffering. The zine got reviewed. My name was mentioned. I was over the moon.
People liked my work. They liked the way I wrote. They offered me other writing gigs based on the things I wrote for File 13. Continuing to do the work gave me confidence and courage. It allowed me to believe that I had things to say, that strangers wanted to hear them.
These days, blogs serve the purpose that zines used to. Through your blog, you can connect with readers. Their praise can brighten your entire day. Criticism turns out not to be the end of the world. You can explore topics, return to them, expand them, argue both sides until you understand them.
Writing for free is hugely important for new writers. It teaches you what people respond to. It teaches you to take criticism. Better than that, it teaches you to take praise. It allows you to make mistakes and learn from them. You learn to take editing without freaking out. You strive to be better at what you do.
Of course, payment offers validation, but it doesn't guarantee readership. At the end of the day, you have to decide why you're writing. There are easier and steadier ways to make a living. Do you want the adulation of strangers? Do you want to instruct or persuade or provoke people to think? Writing for free may be the way to go.
Causes Loren Rhoads Supports