I just passed on a writing assignment because it paid crap. Bottom of the barrel crap. My reaction is very visceral and complicated, and I should probably wait to be less angry before writing about this. But I have a lot of feelings to work through.
For starters, I am insulted that the editor was insulted that I should ask for more money. She ranted about her overhead, her limited budgets, her bills to pay and then suggested that my putting a value on my craft, a specific per-word or per-assignment value, was somehow selling out. Why should writing not be a paid skill?
Why should I settle for the joy of having written for this magazine, for the joy I will bring my readers or the joy of seeing my name in ink?
If I applied this same logic, I would have to tell my babysitter she could also earn pennies on the hour for watching my child while I research and write--isn't Miles a joy to behold? And then I could tell the mortgage company I will only pay pennies per month for the space I use to write and the phone company, internet provider, grocery store, etc. because I am pretty cool. Isn't it a joy to support my efforts bringing joy to the world? Let's just set up a barter economy!
The implication here is that because my craft is writing--an art--I should do it for nothing. I should be a starving artist and maybe dumpster dive or go on food stamps to preserve the integrity of my work. Have I sold out in fixing a monetary value to my craft? Is my work less artful because I ask to be compensated for it? So be it.
Sidenote: If writing were not a valuable skill, why do universities charge many thousands of dollars to teach graduate students how to do it better?
There are not many people who can do what I do, and I should be compensated for my time spent doing this complicated activity. This is not opinion. I am continually flabbergasted by people who balk when writers demand a nice wage. If I were a plumber or mechanic, nobody would speak to me harshly or claim I am somehow mentally unwell for asking to be compensated for my work. In my imaginary scenario, I am the plumber. I ask for $40 for repairing a toilet clog. The client balks. I say, "Ok. Fix it yourself then. See ya!"
This morning a magazine offered me $75 to craft a mid-length feature article. The last feature I wrote took me about 20 hours of documented time, including research and drafting. It took me untold hours of shower-time-drafting, before bed pondering, dinner-time aha! moments and other subconscious wordsmithing. Can you imagine doing this for $75? I asked for much more than this. They balked. I said, in essence, "Ok. Write it yourself then." (Actually, I spent a long time thinking of a way to say this politely and came up with, 'I am going to have to pass on this assignment.')
I believe that people think they can offer these piddly amounts of money because people have begun taking this in exchange for writing. Craigslist drips with these sorts of offers because people take them. I hear the following argument all the time: well, I can churn out writing so fast that I end up getting $10 per hour or more!
To this I say, writing should not be churned. $10 per hour still blows.
Many people also imply that any money is better than no money. This bristles my feathers, too. I have a stack of bills on my desk, too, but I would rather pay them with snow-shoveling labor or working at Starbucks or bagging groceries. To do the work of writing for so little money sends the message that this is what writing is worth. The people who take those jobs slowly chip away the bottom of the barrel for the rest of us.
Today, someone knocked a hole in my sub-floor, monetarily speaking. I feel proud that I stepped around the hole. Yeah, I'm out $75 this month. I feel confident that I will find it elsewhere and for less labor.