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Where I stand on the writing for free debate

the writing for free debate JF Gibson

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The writing for free debate is huge in writing and blogging circles, and with the continued rise of corporate blogs and content mills, is an issue that isn’t going to die down anytime soon.

As someone who earns a living from writing, I have wanted to blog about this issue for a while now. However, every time I have come to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys as it may be), I’ve ended up with a mess of words. And now I know why.

Last week the lovely and oh, so intelligent Lana over at The Sharpest Pencil weighed into the debate in the most eloquent fashion. You can read her insightful post here.

For me, Lana’s post sparked one of those light bulb moments. I knew exactly why I’d had trouble organising my thoughts on the issue; I hadn’t figured out exactly where I stand.

This follows on well from my blog post last week ‘5 things I’ve learned in the past year‘, this issue is yet another arc in my learning curve.

But now I think I have figured it out for now and it’s quite a simple equation.

Writing for free = the value to you.

Meaning, that it comes down to the individual and the value seen in writing for free.

Here’s part of the reply I posted on Lana’s blog:

“For me, my blog has three purposes: self-development & growth (for myself and hopefully for my readers), to showcase my writing, and to build my author platform for my one-day publishing contract. So writing for free on my blog, is of immense value.

Being offered sponsored content in return for ‘exposure’ or miniscule offerings of $25 spruiking a product I don’t care about, and that has nothing to do with my core values), is more insulting than enticing. The value in this to me is zero.

Having my blog content shared on other sites, may be of value, depending on the site, and again it comes back to the purposes of my blog as to what I get out of it.

However, when writing as my job – freelancing feature writing and copywriting, the value I get out of writing for free at this stage of my career is negative zero. Because it is my day job, and I need to be paid. I don’t go to the chiropractor and ask for a free adjustment in return for telling all my friends how wonderful they are! (probably not the best example, but you get my point.)

However, I did begin my career writing for free for a couple of websites. When I had built a portfolio of about 5-6 articles I then felt I deserved to be paid having demonstrated I can write, understand tone, flow, audience and purpose, etc.

Everybody has to start somewhere, so I certainly agree that if you want to succeed with a writing career you do need to get a few articles out there to prove your ‘worth’ or skill. But after that, writers deserve payment. What the payment is, and what the writer is willing to write for, comes back again to the value they get from it.”

At this point, I will say, the abundance of writers out there willing to work for free on a regular basis does concern me. It devalues the industry. After all, the world doesn’t revolve on ‘exposure’.

So after a lot of thinking and contemplating I’m now confident in my stance on the ‘writing for free’ issue.

When considering writing for free, writers need to weigh up the value they will receive. If they can see the value, in real terms, whether it be useful and measurable exposure or monetary value, then go for it. If not, then don’t. Simple.

Phew! Glad that’s off my chest!


Do you agree?
Would you/have you written for free? Why/why not?

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