7 Responses to Writing for a living

  1. Terry Kirkpatrick August 1, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    I’ve been freelancing for several years — mostly what’s known as “thought leadership” for consulting firms — but the work has dried up.

    One reason is that this field, once the province of a small community of top notch writers, has now been overrun by “content marketing,” which essentially is inexperienced writers creating words for people who wouldn’t recognize a thought if one knocked on the front door, these words appearing in obscure, unread websites. This stuff has no value, and writers are paid what it’s worth.

    Some years ago I interviewed Seth Godin. He’d just published a book for free on the Internet. I asked him, If information wants to be free, how can I make a living as a journalist?

    He answered: “Who says you have a right to make a living as a journalist?”

    I suppose I’ve been lucky to have pulled it off for four decades. Glad I don’t face four more.

  2. Constance Hale August 4, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Thanks, Terry, for weighing in. The issue of so many people writing for free–whether or not they have the chops–is a huge one. On the one hand, I celebrate all this writing. Nobody should own language or writing–it comes with being human.

    On the other, it’s distressing to see talent, conscientiousness, and even accuracy so undervalued. I’m not sure how everything will shake out, but for now I’m looking into “alternate revenue streams.” For me this means editing some of that inferior copy, but also thinking creatively about packaging material as an ebook and selling it myself and applying for grants, in the hopes that some funding organizations will actually care about credentials and a writer’s ability to get a compelling story out into the world.

    • Terry August 6, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      Information has become a commodity. A dirty little secret: I don’t pay to read anything, and I read everything on a screen. I did pay for the Wall Street Journal, but I dropped that, and I really don’t miss it.

      That’s the essence of it, right?

      The challenge for publications is to be a brand in a sea of commodity. People will pay for a brand. That is also the challenge for writers.

  3. Stephen McGrath August 7, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    Whoah! What? One dollar a word? Seriously? That’s going to leave you with plenty of free time unless your name is Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or (gasp) Tolkien or Shakespeare. Could you be a little out of touch with modern supply and demand, or is this article actually intended to comment on how S&D has dramatically changed?

    Perhaps if you reconsider your minimum, create a table of fees with alignments to client/audience, with premium corporate work earning the big bucks (yes, $1 a word is big bucks), you might find it easier to make a living. Sure, that might take a lot of joy out of writing, but your creative (fun) efforts are either going to gain public interest or not, based on their own merits. You can’t expect to be earning from them on a rate per word basis.

    I wonder if you’re getting caught up in a need to be paid up front for creative work, which you might consider to be your strongest skill (or most enjoyable one), rather than looking at where the money for writing actually lies these days?

    Anyway, just my two cents worth. The deep intake of breath I took when I read your first sentence over-oxygenated my body, so I needed to vent some of that into this reply, in order to regain physiological normality.

    PS – I was once a photographer before I changed course. I lived very comfortably by choosing once a week corporate (non-creative) gigs, whilst my occasional business partner struggled terribly with his preference for creative shoots. He loved doing them and he was very good, but simply couldn’t find a way to pay his mortgage via what was, in essence, his hobby. I assume writing fits the same bill these days.

  4. Constance Hale August 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm #


    Glad to hear you were able to get your hyperventilation under control. 🙂

    I’m happy to report that there are still publications and Web sites willing to pay $1 a word, or more–just fewer of them. (Since writing that post I got two $1-a-word assignments from IDEAS.TED.COM.) Too many publications that aren’t willing to pay that at all, so they must settle with inferior writers and inferior copy, and we all suffer the consequences. There is a lot of drivel out there.

    I’m also happy to report that witty, intelligent writing is appreciated by many in the reading public. Those articles are the ones that get recirculated, and those books are often the ones that get bought.

    Writers in demand can say no to fees that are too low, and should.

    My two cents. Or, rather, given that I spent a few minutes on this, my two dollars.

  5. gard August 10, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    There are so many factors involved, but one that we cannot reverse is the death of the small newspaper. When they were viable, and there was no internet, the occupation of “journalist” was a defined, respected member of every community. There was a clear path – J school – to becoming one. You knew what you’d make, and that if you did well, you might move up the ladder into books or ____ or even, if you dared dream, to be an editor.

    When the small paper began to be wiped out, that occupation lost all its street cred. The salaries now paid to entry level reporters are so small they’re not worth pursuing. There’s no respect left as everyone has a blog and every succeeding generation is going to think blogging is real journalism.

    It’s hard to watch. I was surfing with a buddy last week, another old newspaper guy, and we both agreed, wow, we miss that work. The fact-finding, the hunches, the interviews, the fact-checking, the pride of the byline on that printed page…. We both want to quit what we do and go back to it, but who can afford that choice?

    I’m glad to hear you have good work. It’s a shrinking market. There’s too little respect for those who know what they’re doing.


  6. Constance Hale August 10, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    Thank you so much for these reflections. My favorite part: “The fact-finding, the hunches, the interviews, the fact-checking, the pride of the byline on that printed page….”

    Yes, all of that has tremendous value, and it will be interesting to see how or whether it is valued–and paid for–again.

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