Recognizing a wordsmith’s worth

Caryn Rivadeneira

Though I’ve never - not in my past as an editor nor today as a writer - been a big earner, I’ve been fine with that. Mostly. After all, I am a capitalist, I understand Economics 101 and I get how supply and demand affects my pay. Beyond that, I get that book-writing is entrepreneurial - no guarantee of big bucks.

What I am not OK with, however, is the increasing number of places that will not pay writers at all. The amount of websites and publications that ask writers – as well as artists, photographers, graphic designers and other creative folks - to give their work, their time, their “product” for free. And it’s done all the time.

I suppose this is why I nearly stood up and cheered when I read Tim Kreider’s  “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” piece in the New York Times.

“People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing,” Kreider writes. “They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it.”

True nuff. I’d venture to say nearly all creative types have experienced this. And the would-be-stiffers get away with it because there are writers who will write for free, who will look at the big name on the website and think the exposure is worth giving away their “milk” while agreeing that their “cow” is not worth buying.

Christians need to ask if James’ words about the cries of the unpaid workers reaching God’s ears apply to writers.

Certainly there are plenty of decent reasons to write for free. I guest-post on friends’ blogs. I’ll write pro-bono for a good cause, for organizations of which I’m a part or that I support. And I put in my dues as a fledgling writer who has traded words for a decent byline.

But overall, we writers need to fight this trend because right or wrong, love it or hate it, this society values trades in monetary terms. It’s not that I support a minimum wage for freelance writers or the idea that the best writers should always make the most (they almost never do). But we have big problems when those who practice a trade do not get paid. Such tradesfolk are rendered worthless, even as others seek to make money off their work. (Writers have enough issues - we don’t need to be told that what we do is worthless.)

It’s a terrible thing to communicate, particularly when it comes from Christians.

When it comes to what and how we pay others, Christians need to ask if the Jesus who asked us to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s and if James’ words about the cries of the unpaid workers reaching God’s ears apply to writers (or anyone).

Of course, as Christians we know that our ultimate worth is not measured in dollars. But, as Jordan J. Ballor recently wrote here at Think Christian, “God has ordained our work as the primary means by which we address the material needs of ourselves and others, and by which we acts as stewards in God’s creation, simultaneously forming our character and our civilization.”

It seems writers should expect that while writing may rarely be well-paying, it ought to at least be paying.

Topics: Online, Culture At Large, Business & Economics, Workplace, Science & Technology, News & Politics, Media