Whores wanted!

A few weeks ago, I wrote what was arguably my greatest and most accurate Facebook status ever:

This revelation came from weeks of checking Craigslist every day for random writing gigs, in the futile attempt to find a winning combination that would allow me to quit my current job and throw myself into what I really love. Once in a while, I’d find something I could see myself doing, only to scroll down to the Compensation section to see: “no pay.” Then I’d weigh out in my head if my time was worth the experience it would give me, much like I imagine a prostitute weighs the pros and cons before getting into a john’s car. Oh, wait. Except prostitutes get paid. Whores do it for free.
But it’s Craigslist, I reminded myself. Craigslist is shady; I shouldn’t even be considering ghostwriting someone’s shitty memoir for free, but I am, because there’s nothing else. If only I had another place to look for writing jobs, a place that values writing and writers as indispensable members of society. 
So I started checking AWP and Poets & Writers: two sites that are routinely referenced as great resources during my twice-yearly writing residencies. These sites regularly post writing-related jobs from across the country. What did I find? More of the same.

Internship (Unpaid)

With a wider lens, a pattern emerged before me: what writers do isn’t worth paying for. We’re expected to work 40-60 hours per week, offering up our creative process and product, for nothing. And be grateful for the work. But how are we supposed to clothe and feed ourselves, get around or have a place to sleep? Apparently, these are just annoying and impolite questions that a whore doesn’t deserve to ask.

This got me thinking about the music business: more specifically, about the musicians who are pissed about their songs being pirated online. How much of our shit do we writers give away for nothing, in the name of experience or recognition? Who decided that their art was worth millions, or billions of dollars, while I sit in front of my computer trying to piece together 10 different freelance jobs to make ends meet, lowering your standards and rate of pay to steal the job away from another struggling writer? If that doesn’t make you feel like a whore, I don’t know what would. And, just like in the world of prostitution, there’s always a whore who will do it for less, or even for free in exchange for college credit.

In the end, all I can say is this: your work is worth paying for. Respect it and cherish it. Stop giving it away for free, because you’re fucking it up for everyone else.

4 thoughts on “Whores wanted!

  1. I was an undercutting whore. I don't feel guilty about it, because for the time I put in writing, I got about minimum wage, which I felt was decent. I'd worked a lot harder for less money, and made a lot more money doing less…but I undercut and felt okay with it. Plus, my work really wasn't worth that much, average-ish. Also, I didn't have another job at the time and it was better than nothing. I strongly believe I'd been turned away from undercutting by illegal immigrants for a lot of busing and back of house jobs, while three departments were begging me to 'stay available' until their hiring freezes ended…a result of overpaying. Eat or be eaten, I suppose.

    I also believe that your work is only worth what people are willing to pay…regardless of how much time it takes. I understand that people may be willing to pay more when they have to, but it could easily be considered an 'extra' and budgeted away.

    That said, I think there's a big difference between a start up business, charity, or genuinely small/narrow profit margin business looking for cheap assistance and what some people have the audacity to ask for for free…AND take the tone that instead of being a potential win-win with the win skewed in their favor, they actually act as if this is an amazing opportunity that you'd be totally ungrateful for not accepting.

    If I could actually get another job doing it, for about any amount of money, I would.

  2. Very true, Kate! Writers are definitely undervalued in our culture. I was just at a group job interview (finding ways to make ends meet) half of the candidates interviewing openly stated that they don't read when they don't have to and the other half said variations of “oh yeah, I'm gonna write a novel too one of these years, you know, when I get some time off” just like in that article you posted. I fumed politely to myself but karma does eventually count for something: I got hired, none of them did. 🙂

  3. Really? This time? I'm saying that I did writing work for less money than most writers would accept for their work. Sure, it's part of the problem of undervaluing certain lines of work, but I didn't really have the luxury of idealism. Also, I know I've been guilty of paying low wages (in the form of buying cheap goods) and also have struggled to get work in the back of house (non waitress/hostess) as there's plenty of undercutting going on there already, with no end in sight. Meanwhile, three different health departments asked me to “stick around” hoping that their hiring budgets would be reinstated for newbies, while I would have been thrilled to be making what others balked at. So I was already pretty jaded about the whole thing.

    I know we differ ideological in that I support more capitalist tenets (as in, the worth of your doesn't depend on effort, time, or quality, but rather what it's worth to whomever is buying it), even when it doesn't benefit me. It doesn't mean that I'm not frustrated with how we value arts. I feel guilty for going to the library instead of buying, streaming television shows*, and getting free songs from friends. I also think it's good public policy–ideologies be damned–for people that have something to contribute and the will to do so can actually be able to afford America. Even writers! And that when naming a price, a simple “would I do this work for that?”/”would I spend this much of my money on that?” will go a long way toward making the world a less shitty place for all workers and consumers.

    Also, Craigslist scared the shit out of me. That's where I was totally put off by the tone of the posts. If you're asking for pro-bono work in exchange for networking, references, and experiences… fine. But be upfront in that you're gaining as much– probably more– than the writer you're soliciting or at least just try to not twist it around.

    What kind of writing gigs are you interested in? I would never have flat out approached a business and said “hey your flyer/website/menu of service is atrocious, did your 3rd grader write it? I can fix it for $” But when I saw businesses were looking for other similar 'revamp' services, I contacted them about doing some rewording. It helped that even though I doubt it made a difference in their bottom line, they definitely appeared more professional and like they had their shit together. Also, I could never cold call a business; it's just not something I can do. So I was lucky to have some casual lead in conversations first.

    *Wow, what a terribly convoluted funding scheme with television. Also, I always stream from the official sources when available.

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