Technically, I'm a paid writer. I write informational articles on topics ranging from clogged toilets to diesel exhaust at a flat rate of $16 per article. In the past year, nearly 200 of my articles have been published in online magazines. Some are humorous; many are dry. All require extensive research, an intriguing topic paragraph, and supporting detail. All articles must be no longer than 500 words.
Each month, I set a goal to write 100 articles, which potentially translates into $1,600 per month. Not bad as a supplementary income, right? I have never met that goal. Some writers in my genre have successfully whittled down the time they require to research, outline, and construct an article. On discussion forums in my writing community, some writers set goals to generate 10 articles per day. After reading the motivational threads, in a flurry of excitement, I commit to generate five per day. Once, over the past twelve months, I wrote five articles in one day. Most days, I write one. That one article takes me five to eight hours of time to research, outline, construct, and edit. My effective pay rate is $2 per hour. Is it worth it? For me, it is.
Writing is like breathing. Actually, to be blunt, writing is an emotional and intellectual laxative. It keeps me healthy. It prevents emotional constipation. As an introvert, it permits me to channel the flood of reflections, images, words, and emotions onto paper. Initial pieces I jot down are frequently unintelligible. But, when I hone and see the finished product in print, as in one of my articles, I feel a sense of closure, pride, that "aha" feeling, as if I gave birth to something original and meaningful.
Sometimes, I use poetry as a vehicle to exhaust myself. Five years ago, poetry was the sole method I could use to express anguish. My 18 year old had become increasingly ill with bipolar, was untreated, and homeless. Unwilling to accept help or to seek treatment, she wandered from friend to friend. When she had used up all resources, she checked into Bellevue Hospital. As I watched her spiral, I used poetry as a means of expressing my feelings of helplessness and grief.
Over the years, as writing skills have matured, I've used different genres. Some work more effectively based on the subject. Some articles, such as the informational ones, are quick fixes. Even a dry article such as building a doggie toilet permits me to infuse a personal touch, humor, and personal commentary.
Ursula Le Guin once wrote that 95 percent of all writers are introverts. I am one of those introverts, one of those reflective, deep thinkers who has to go to the woods to recharge. My antenna is tuned in to the emotional pulse of humanity. Without meaning to, I observe, eavesdrop, and absorb. When I write, I can regurgitate these impressions into something meaningful. I can recharge without the mass of swirling images cluttering my channel. And it's far more gratifying and cheaper than psychotherapy.
As for paid versus free, those of us who write do it because we must. Payment is simply something extra. Like actors who support themselves as waiters so they can do what they love, writers will persist, paid or not.