because we were women

who met in the time of struggle

– from “Why I Call on Artemis, Not Aphrodite” by Eloise Klein Healy

“I don’t need to be paid.  I’m just doing it because I love it.”  I hear writers say that a lot, and I know exactly what they mean. I love writing, too; I love supporting other writers. I love watching small businesses thrive because, in part, I wrote something that was helpful to their business.  I get it – I understand the way “helping” feeds the soul.

But “helping” doesn’t usually feed the body, at least not the way most of us think of it.  And if we can’t eat or pay our bills or buy clothing that fits, well, then, we will have to turn our time and attention away from our real work – that writing work – and do other things.  Every time we do something for free, we give away not just the time to do that one project but at least double that time because, now, we have to take more time to earn a wage.

So we have to stop. We have to stop giving away our work.  You hear me, right?  Women, you especially, I hope you hear me.

Most of the men I know don’t give away their work because they believe – and they are right – that their work has a fiscal value.  Our culture has taught them confidence in their work and the ability to ask for the pay their deserve.  Our culture has taught women the opposite.  We are supposed to help, not earn.

But culture has also taught many of us that our work does not have fiscal value, that it’s superfluous, gratuitous, excessive.  And many of us writers have believed it.  Even when we see a culture who barely blinks in the face of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s – NASCAR’s most popular driver – $25.6 million salary.  So this lack of pay for writers is not about available resources.  The resources are there.  It’s about cultural value, and for our work to be more valuable in the culture at large, we have to expect to be paid for it.

We have to charge for ALL our work – researching, writing, editing, speaking. (And likewise, we should expect to pay for the work of others – editing, formatting, proofing, marketing, etc.) If other people are being paid to do it, we need to be paid to do it and not in good feelings or gratitude either. When we are able to support ourselves and have surplus time and money, we can accept gratitude as earnings – but until then, we need to be paid in currency – cash or barter.

This isn’t about selfishness or lack of generosity. It’s about self-worth, and it’s about all of us as writers.  The more times one of us does work for free, the more it’s difficult for the rest of us to charge.  If a client can find someone who will not charge, then why hire someone who does?  You see how that works, right?  Your generosity can hurt the rest of our community.

Start charging for your work – begin with a lower rate until you prove your work and build credentials, but still charge something.  Or barter.  I’ve bartered classes for website design and SEO, editing for books (just be aware that bartered items are taxable, just like cash income).  The key is to value your time, your work, AND yourself so that other people value you, too.

Few of us will be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – although I’d love to see a writer get a NASCAR-like endorsement contract – but maybe, just maybe, we can actually make a living doing this work we are called to do.

What do you think about being paid for your work? Do you feel strongly about giving your work away? Why? 


Many thanks to Jane Friedman for this post that got me thinking about this idea more fully today. If you don’t know Jane’s great magazine Scratch: Writing+Money+Life, I really recommend it.