Writing On Writers’ Right On Rights
by Kat Arnsby
“Might start trying to buy things how people try to hire me. ‘Can I have an apple? I can’t pay for it, but I’ll tell people the apple’s good’”
@Scriblit via Twitter
That is a funny Tweet, succinctly and grammatically containing a great argument within just 140 characters, a testament to the creative brain and technical writing ability of Scriblit.
Scriblit is a working writer, and when she works, she wants paying; that is, unequivocally, fair.
It’s bloody hard to make money out of writing. Writing itself is not hard, I’m doing it now, but making money out of it… tough gig. There are many reasons for this, ranging from ‘because you’re shit’ through to ‘millions of people write stuff and try to make money out of it’.
Nearly everybody can actually write, and many people are very competent at it. If you added up the minutes in your day/week/year that you are on the clock and writing something, you could say in that time, you were a ‘working writer’. I estimate mine conservatively as 125.5 hours a year, which is just over three weeks full time work as a writer. Hooray! I’m so glad I stayed in school.
Perhaps if brick laying or engine tuning had been aggressively encouraged by parents and schools instead of writing, then it would be builders and mechanics plying their trade for exposure and credibility whilst writers laid out massive invoices for doing something almost anyone can learn to do.
That absurdity exposes that writers don’t actually want to be paid for the physical act of writing; they want to be paid for a natural ability to have brilliant ideas and the tenacity to couple that with the hard earned craft of turning those ideas into something I can understand. The limit of a builder or mechanic is to keep your house up, or your car running; a well-communicated idea is limitless.
I like to think we know that in our society; there is great work published all the time by respected houses across multiple mediums and the writers are justly compensated for their time and effort. From local newspapers to online blogs, I see the evidence of clever, witty and erudite people who sometimes communicate ideas that shape my mind, and I am pleased they have been paid for that.
Equally, I have encountered some total tosswaffle. Floppy, weakly constructed sentences bouncing aimlessly around ill-considered points and bumping into distorted facts and opinions. It comes from people who think that they are writers and consider their own efforts worthy of monetary payment, when, in fact, fair compensation would be that they get beaten with Sharpies until the offensive, badly punctuated nonsense jiggles out of their densely inflated heads.
It’s not that I want to agree with what I read; I just want to read considered and researched ideas that are explained in a way that respects and develops my language. Good writers do this, and I regularly pay to devour their words. Bad writers muddy issues and damage the way a language I love is written and spoken and read.
I write my tiny blog for pleasure, and because I now know that if someone reads one of my little pieces, it’s not the absolute worst thing out there. I can at least thank the crass thinking, belletristic terrorists lurking with their keyboards and drivel for giving me confidence to squirt my nonsense into text, because I do enjoy it.
I would write a piece for free for anyone who asked me, but the view count of my blog doubles when my mum logs on. I might not be such a typing whore if I was already a featured writer on a website with 2m+ monthly views; I’d want more too.
Our whole economy is based on the principle of me giving you something I’ve got for something else I need.
I don’t need any more exposure, what else have you got? If I refuse exposure and demand money, will you create a paid role, or will you find someone else who will scribble it for free?
Writing can never be exclusive to the monetary economy, so I beg the really good writers not to disappear forever from the unpaid corners of the cultural economy. If there are new websites that have an ethos you support, please drop them a paragraph or five. If there’s a struggling, quality print publication that would benefit from the attention of your current followers, write them a story once or twice. If you really can’t, then do you know a quality writer that will work for the exposure on your recommendation?
I believe it is hard work to consistently produce excellent writing, and that hard work should be paid for. I also believe that good writers have an intangible gift, a natural way of working the language so it changes what you think and who you are. That gift is an incredible stroke of luck.
Getting that lucky gives you a duty to the cultural economy that may not be rewarded at all, let alone with money; your duty is to protect the readers.
The best writers should be moderators we can trust, at the very least.
As a reader, I can’t promise to give up reading work I know is unpaid because I will never lose the fear that paid for written opinions on important topics are those of the commissioner, and not the writer, however paranoid I am told that is.
I can promise to work hard to avoid websites and publications that distribute badly written script and shoddily constructed ideas, but please push back a bit too. It’s a numbers game for readers and the more places that excellent writing appears, the more likely it is we will stumble across it.
If you don’t help, sometimes for free, then the cultural economy will become even more flooded with self-important, fastidiously opinionated, linguistically clumsy waffle from amateur scribes like me. Please be there, because, as a reader, I am genuinely terrified by how far even my own brand of tosswaffle is from the worst kind of writing I find.