Writing is work. And for some lucky writers, it becomes a profession, a way to trade words for dollars to make a living. Freelance writers often work by the mantra Never write for free — it tends to lower the amount that publications and sites are willing to pay for content, and it takes time away from paid writing, so the prevailing wisdom is to steer clear.
Yet for those of us who are less established, writing for free is sometimes a temptation and sometimes even a necessity. I’m not willing to give the blanket advice of “Sure, writing for free is no problem!” but here are two cases where it makes sense and two where it doesn’t.
Personally, I find myself writing for free:
When it’s social media. If I’m putting words into my computer that other people are going to read, to me, that’s writing. So I count Twitter and Facebook as writing I do for free. I was on a panel recently with several other authors, and when the conversation turned to social media, they each said they didn’t find social media worth their time. Which is fine! It’s a choice. I choose to use it to connect with readers and other authors, but I’m always mindful that this is writing time, and I’m using it to further my professional goals (while, of course, having some fun).
When I’m expanding my reach. At this point, I’m primarily a novelist, not an essayist, and no one’s going to mistake me for Meghan Daum or Roxane Gay. Pitching essays to highly competitive magazines or websites is both time-consuming and low-yield — it can take two months to hear a no, and it’s almost always no, if I even hear back at all. (Queriers, sound familiar?) So I’m building a portfolio with outlets that pay less, or even nothing, as long as they reach the audience I’m trying to reach. [Read more…]