Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, June 22, 2009

For What It’s Worth

(Writing, that is)

Note: I write this blog for free. I'd like to pay myself for doing it, but I can't afford to pay me what I think I'm worth.

When word came out that the local public radio station was in search of people to read their personal essays on the air, some of the Roanoke Valley Pen Women pondered the merits of writing (and reading) for free. On his Fromtheeditr blog, Dan Smith, a professional writer and editor, had mentioned, "You may be wondering how much writers get paid for these local essays. The answer is: Not a nickel. It's all about the audience—intelligent NPR listeners."

One of the Pen Women, a freelance writer, noted, “. . . my time is worth money.”

I think all of us who are serious about writing feel that way. However, is there a time when writing without monetary compensation is justified?

I’ve written for free on occasion—in the early 1990s when I was delighted just to see my name in print, a few times when I was helping get someone’s new publication going, for charitable reasons, etc. But the older I get, the less inclined I am to give away something I’ve have spent hours working on. (The reason I no longer write my “Peevish Advice” column is that the publisher—as a cost-cutting measure—decided to no longer pay columnists.) Still, sometimes, I write for free.

Fellow Pen Woman and author, Judy Ayyildiz, explained why much better than I can. The following is posted with her permission:

I've been in the arts now for most of my life. I believe in making money with my skills and do so whenever I can. I also know this: as artists, a certain amount of our work will always be out there for free. Visual arts hang in galleries and restaurants and festivals to be viewed for free in the hopes that it will generate sales. Writers get paid for selling a book to the library, but then many get to read it for free. Songs on the radio come to us for free. Artists of all categories promote work by exhibition and marketing in hopes for sales, and in hopes that we may have a wider communication of our inventive ideas to the world.

Now, to the NPR. First of all, NPR is a lifesaver for me personally. I admire and respect it. Second of all, if your essay is accepted, you still own it and can sell it elsewhere, perhaps with a better chance for having it aired on such a prestigious network, or perhaps another piece of writing may sale because you can say that you are heard on NPR. When we have a new book out, we certainly are most happy for any kind of public interview we can get in the hopes of marketing it wider. No one is ever paid for promo, and for most, being an artist is steady promo. I doubt if even Toni Morrison gets paid for such interviews.

I don't have an essay ready at the moment, but I may in the future. As a poet and short story writer, I have had many publications in literary journals and magazines for which I did not get paid except in one of two copies of the printed collection. This is pretty standard. What a writer wants to do is to build up a resume and readership. Writers generally have to start at the bottom of the heap of publications and work toward more saluted publications. Some of them do pay a bit, but hardly ever a generous amount. But, we are very proud and place it in our vita if it is a worthwhile publication that will herald us as good writers. NPR is just like most literary publications in that they are always trying to raise funds to keep going. We are not NASCAR folks, we are artists—and the average Joe doesn't care or understand fine art, and that's just the simple truth. I can track the progress in America by how much better opera not Oprah! is received all across the land, but opera's acceptance was long and hard.

By the way, half of the poems in my last book of poetry were already published in literary magazines and most for free. That helps get a book of poetry published by a legitimate publisher. Poetry sadly makes little money as we know. I have gladly and with much joy served on many arts committees for free, even when someone at the top was getting paid. Being an artist is my job 24/7 and I do it like I breathe. I try to get paid for it as much as I can, but why would I mind sharing an essay on a vital network for free that will enhance my name as an artist and which essay I may later publish in a book?

Lastly, I have no argument that artists are the servants of society without which society can't exist. If we all go on strike for pay or better pay then what will happen is that NASCAR will continue to exist as always, fundamental religions of the world will be joyous because then they can decide what is art, politicians will have fewer moral questions to wrestle with . . . and, you get it. I am so bad at this that I actually pay to be in organizations that promote the arts like Pen Women because that is where my belief system lies. I was an editor for Artemis, Artists and Writers for the Blue Ridge for 13 years, and it cost me money and I never did get paid—except it fed my soul and promoted all of the arts in my community. None of the contributors to Artemis ever got paid unless they won a contest because Artemis lived on such a tight budget that we could hardly make ends meet. Raising the arts in the Roanoke Valley was kind of like raising my kids in the Roanoke Valley in that it sure cost me a lot of time, frustration and money but I would have done it even if I had gotten paid money for it because I received so much in return.

OK, now I gotta get started on an essay. . . .



Anonymous claudia said...

Good Blog...
Started on an essay?
Take any one of your blogs and run with it!
You've got lots of 'essays'!

11:02 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

So have you, Claudia!

When I get a chance, I'll mine this blog for ideas. Meanwhile, I'm writing a (free) column about blogging for the Virginia Writers Club website. "Becky's Blog Beat" should go live before long; the VWC website is in the process of being revamped.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Roanoke RnR said...

Becky if you don't mind I'd like to include the complete statement that I wrote...

"In my opinion, freelancers once again are being thrown the same ole BS line and taken advantage of by working for free, "for the glory of it" if you will... Glory doesn't put food on my table. Until writers start to take a stand and demand money for their talents media outlets will just keep taking advantage of them. Not me, my time is worth money ;)"

And yes, I have written for "free", mostly for the schools. Actually, I do plenty of things, not just writing, for "free" for my community, but I do feel it's necessary to draw the line somewhere.

Not only will I not work/write for free for any media outlet (unless it's a commentary or op-ed piece), but if they won't pay a fair wage, I'm not interested either. To each their own...

Good luck with your essay!

1:51 PM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

I thought this merited some conversation at our Pen Women meeting and I was sorry there wasn't time to delve into it. Both sides have a point. I have done both, and still do, but I am judicious in what I do for free. I don't do much free work at all any more.

Unfortunately, everybody thinks they can write (they can't) and everyone thinks it is of little value any more. And that's why I am wondering if I need to change my career title from freelancer to ????

8:59 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

RoanokeRnR, I don't mind a bit! In fact, I'm glad you added it. I'll go back and put a link to your blog.

Despite my intentions, I haven't written an essay yet. But today I got an idea for one while I was driving through my old neighborhood in Roanoke.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Mama always said, "They don't buy the cow when they can get the milk for free."

I think we've all done some free writing for good reasons. Beginners who are desperate to see their name in print. Or for publicity or charitable reasons. But writers who always give away their stuff for free hurt the industry. And I have to say that in my opinion, the majority of it is not very good writing. The good writers work too hard and value themselves. Mama had another saying: "You get what you pay for."

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Peg McGuire said...

There are times when writers will write in the hope of future compensation. Poetry, novels, essays and short stories for example. It's only when the creative sells that the writer sees something (usually close to nothing) for his or her work.

I refuse to write for no compensation when it comes to writing essays or columns for media outlets that strive to make a profit.

Any writer who agrees to write with no hope of compensation in the end needs to find a writing coach and a therapist. There are some serious craft issues and low self-esteem going on.

I advise writers who are just starting out to demand something for their efforts. It may not be much, but as soon as you stand by your craft, others will follow.

Wonderful blog post, Becky.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

. . .and a pretty good discussion we have going on here, too.

4:59 PM  

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