Excuse the title, which I realise sounds like some sort of post-modern funk/jazz fusion band. That aside, I do feel it perfectly apt for what I want to talk about.
Temporary is in the bag as much as humanly possible. I went through once more with a fine-tooth comb to primp and polish it as much as possible with another grammar run through – which felt much like the Death Star run, looking for all those cheeky errors in much the same way Luke sought the exhaust port (is that dirty? It sounds dirty.) All that’s left now is to try and wait patiently for the agencies to eventually respond in kind. Until then I remain on my ‘stepping stone’ home.
In the interim, however, and in an attempt to cajole myself into writing more consistently, turning the practice into a resolute habit, I have taken to writing articles as well as offering my assistance as a narrative consultant to a gamut of differing potential opportunities. None of which offer any pay. Which is fine, to a point. Afterall, one does not simply walk into their dream job. But after years of stop/start chances (video games, anime, wrestling – all the fun, pop culture touch stones, none of the long-term monetary benefits of steady, loyal paid work!), it’s hard not to wonder why one might bother working so hard for nothing in return.
Crafting stories is my dream, so in an attempt to keep my writing muscles flexed and maintained as I begin to get the ball rolling on what will be my second book, I have been scribing columns, opinion pieces and, of course, the humble, warts-and-all account of the peaks and pitfalls in trying to find representation and, ultimately, publication that is Write Steve Write.
The business of freelance writing is something that has piqued my interest for a while now. Sharing reviews, columns, and opinion pieces on subjects you are naturally interested in will always appeal. Everybody wants to feel like their opinion matters, after all. My personal experiences, however, have left a sour, bile aftertaste to the proceedings. The key promise I have received, time after time?
That I would be paid.
For some, free DVDs, Blu-Rays, or Press passes to big events are enough of an impetus and motivation. For some, that is their pay, and they are happy with their lot. Good for them. For the rest of us who live in the real world, it simply doesn’t cut it.
When you look at job websites pairing writers with freelance work, the absurdity of the expectation vs actual reality is akin to a goddamned wrecking ball to the face. It’s a masochists playground where your self-esteem and self-worth can take a beating as you find yourself devalued to a round sum of zero.
You could slave away at an article for days, weeks, months even, and be paid a pittance for the emotional investment you’ve poured into your opus – if payment is an option at all, subverting the norm of the promised mass exposure.
The problem is things won’t change as long as there are people desperate enough to do the damn thing. If you won’t, some other stooge will, and they’ll take their zero dollars and cents and a slap, a smile plastered across their face before they ask for another.
It’s also a primary reason I haven’t pursued freelance work. I have no doubt it could be fulfilling, especially in relation to my comparative reality, but I also enjoy the simple things I have in life right now, like being able to afford food without worrying about my next article accruing enough clickbait bullshit to magically turn that AdSense into a fucking cheeseburger. And not even a decent burger, I’m talking about stacking enough pennies together to afford a bland fucking Rustler’s heart attack.
Which is why I find it so difficult to commit to writing for nothing.
So when can someone who is writing for free be in a position to no longer be taken advantage of? When can they invest into their own sense of self-worth and request a fair fare for fair work, especially when there’s no guarantee that the moment you attempt to do this, the gatekeeper won’t simply cut ties with you for being so unorthodox as to *gasp* ask for pay.
How ungrateful of you for not appreciating this opportunity. How selfish and self-absorbed of you for requiring some sort of recompense for your time.
What a shame then, that all these freelance positions are so easily replaceable and staff-writing positions so rare – virtually non-existent to those that aren’t in the business or already have pre-existing contacts.
I reiterate: what’s the point.
To extrapolate: why even bother?
This is why, as Kevin Smith has espoused, your personal, unique voice is so valuable. It’s why something like a book, screenplay, podcast or song can be so identifiably yours. Your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions. Your voice. It’s your currency, as Mr. Smith puts it.
You work for free in the hope that somebody notices your efforts. Once the effort is recognised, payment is sure to follow, right? This is as true for freelance work as it is to sitting down to write a novel without representation or publisher attention. The hope is to struggle in creative squalor, suffering the proverbial 40 days and 40 nights – though my calendar tells me I’m way past that and still counting – because, of course, you will come out the other end having met the challenge, risen to the occasion and learned a lesson or two on the path to your success. That’s just the way of things, surely, Doc. Hollywood? Being asked to do work, to do it for free, and to tell your perceived superiors that, yes, you do enjoy the taste of this shit sandwich, is all part and parcel of the process. Fall in line and don’t question it, soldier. You’re just a cog. Easily replaced. You’d do well to remember that.
There has been a minor revolt within other creative sectors: musicians, photographers, videographers – all jobs that people expect to be provided for free. Sorry, for ‘exposure.’ A lot of these fine folk have had enough of this broken system and have decided to attribute actual worth to their time and work, even while others continue to devalue themselves by working for zip. Even if it means that they may lose work to these very people. That’s character.
I once did some work for a video game TV show for about the length of a cup of coffee. They provided me with a free copy of a Green Lantern game and requested about five different reviews intended for different platforms and audience types. They then expected me to travel into London in order to play the entire game AGAIN in order to cap footage and edit it into a video review they could broadcast. At the end of this experience, I would be down a lot in trainfare with nothing to show for it. Plus, I wasn’t going to play that piece of shit again. Taking interest and passion and bleeding it dry in exchange for vague ‘exposure’ is the fastest way to sour a person to the things they love.
To be clear: Opportunity, good. Exploitation, bad.
Want to hear the worst kept secret? Everybody that works for free doesn’t want to. Everybody that creates anything – art, podcasts, movies, whatever – all want their work to be shared and celebrated, but for it to be shared it must first be discovered. Hence the overt willingness to throw themselves into the salt mines, along with the thousands upon thousands worldwide who clamour for the same result.
To be candid, at this point in time, I count myself among them. I blog here to capture my roller coaster journey. It’s a public journal I hope you enjoy and can maybe learn from, if only in how NOT to do things.
For the other gigs, I write about topics I care about in between literary agent submissions and putting together the skeletal structure of a new story.
I do this as I enjoy it. I do it, as I stated at the top, to keep my mind sharp and my writing as honed as possible – though I would enjoy it a whole lot more if I were compensated for the time. The moment I no longer enjoy it, when I fail to get anything out of it whatsoever, I’ll stop. What are they going to do, fire me? They don’t even pay me!
Besides, you can’t pay rent with a pocket full of exposure. You’ll probably just be arrested.
– Steve R / @stevetendo