So I just read this pretentious-ass post called “Why I’m writing this for free.” Responding to someone who dared to suggest that writing is work and ought to be paid for, this guy says that no, no, no, it’s creative expression, it’s part of the human experience, we can’t put a price on it, live free or die, whatever whatever.
As someone who’s currently on a fancy writing fellowship, here’s what I have to say about that.
First, he totally misses the point. The person he’s responding to clearly made an exception for writing for yourself, so all the tweets and Tumblrs and diary entries he’s talking about aren’t even part of what she was criticizing. It seems to me she was looking at all those “literary magazines” that don’t pay writers because they don’t have to. If the writers will write for free, why bother? I know they’re not all rolling in money themselves, but this is a basic economic principle we’re talking about: if you treat something as valueless, it has no value.
Except it does, clearly. People love good writing, and smart writers know how to get paid for providing it. If you’re sending shit to some magazine and just giving it away, you will never get paid and neither will anyone else who’s doing what you do. This is why people form unions: to keep from being exploited. Right now, people who write for free are like a million scabs who are telling themselves that they’ll somehow be rewarded in the next life or whatever for their tireless devotion to the Muse.
Fuck that shit. I’ve been sitting here on my ass for four months doing nothing but creative writing, and let me tell you that it’s not solving my problems and it’s not bringing me any closer to the cosmos. Maybe it’s like a cheap form of therapy, but there’s a reason people who can afford it pay for therapy.
Why are we in the middle of goddamn nowhere? Because there’s this American idea that people who get away from the big cities and out in the country where they can see the stars somehow have privileged access to the pure spirit of writing, undistracted and undiluted. No. It’s just boring out here, and Tanner doesn’t know how lucky he was to be rejected from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Writing. Is. Work. It’s work you do for a purpose, whether that purpose is to get a grant or get a guy or communicate some point that someone can’t get through his or her skull. If you want to treat your writing like it’s nectar from the gods dripped down your skinny little arms and oozing out over the keyboard, I can’t stop you. If a link to your Twitter is all you need to get by, good for you. But do me, and yourself, this favor: acknowledge that good writing takes time, and takes work, and stop judging other people for having the cojones to suggest that when Person A does some work for Person B, Person A has the right to insist on getting motherfucking paid.
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