As a pop culture writer, it’s not often that I get on my soapbox and try to change people’s perceptions and attitudes: it wouldn’t really fit in an article about, say, the S Club Juniors. That means that when I have something to say it’s usually fairly important, like this URGENT PLEA TO EVERY WRITER I KNOW AND EVERY WRITER WHO STUMBLES ACROSS THIS. A plea so urgent I’m going to have to go into the HTML and use the WordPress header font to write it:
STOP WORKING FOR FREE.
We’ve all done it: a combination of wanting to write about things we enjoy and being drawn in by shiny words like ‘exposure’ and ‘building your reputation’. But recently I was listening to the great A Little Bird Told Me podcast (a serious must-listen if you want to write) and they dedicated a whole episode to debunking this myth. Writing for free, they tell us, will not bring you exposure and will not lead to paid work.
More than that, though, it is actually damaging to your fellow writers who actually want to make a living in this bitch of an industry. Not only because it means websites can get free content, completely pricing anyone who wants to make a living out of the market, but it also devalues writing as a whole. If you are paid nothing for work, it tells everyone that that is what online writing is worth: nothing.
It is especially tempting to write for free when you’re a student. I know I did: I didn’t need the money, I got to write about the things that interested me, and I hoped it would lead to paying work in future. But let me tell you all something: it didn’t. It just means that employers see that you will work for free, and why would they pay for something that they’ve seen other people get for free? I mean, would you pay for a Metro? No, because you know other people are getting it for free. if anything, it’s harmed my position as I try to make a living from writing having recently graduated.
So stop doing it every one. Right now. Don’t think I can’t see that review on your hard drive.
Are there exceptions to this rule? Usually I will write for a friend’s blog if they ask nicely (read: I can be brought with even the cheapest bottle of cava), and I guess some people with hearts might want to pro bono for charities, but I think the rule the ‘A Little Bird’ women state is the best to follow: if the website is making money for itself, don’t write for them for free: a business plan that doesn’t account for paying for content is a bad business plan, and you will get none of that exposure they promise when they go out of business in six months.
It is important that we all stop working for free RIGHT NOW. After all, if we all refuse, the companies will be forced to pay up or suffer the consequences of terrible writing.You’re better than working for free, blog fans.
Do you work for free, and have a good reason for continuing? Let us know in the comments below. And while you’re on a ‘communicating with this blog’ kick, check out our first freelance writing lesson.