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Giving it away just don’t pay.

Posted in Life & Love

0000526338_20I got a call today from someone I knew slightly. After a bit of flimflam, she got down to business: ‘Would I be prepared to write an article for them about what life was like after retraining. Didn’t need to be long, a thousand/ maybe fifteen hundred words or so. They would use it online and in excerpted in their prospectus and marketing. Would be a nice opportunity for me to get some exposure, and possibly some new clients?’

Which meant they had no plans to pay me.

I went back to college in my mid-forties. The general idea was to reset my mind, retrain it to think outside of the music- box. I enjoyed that part. The part where I sat in my lounge listening to middle-aged men tell me how stuck they were in life … that part just got my goat. People seemed unwilling to do anything to change. And I couldn’t be assed to push them up the hill.

So I was thrilled when my pal Gavin offered me a job at Positive Heroes. I accepted gleefully. After all, I met him at College. So my education had, in fact, paid off.

Over the weekend camparigirl sent me an article Tim Kreider wrote for the New York Times. She and I have been mulling over how to earn some more money. We don’t expect to make fortunes – but we both have a horror of penury. And different bio-rhythms: so the subject is bound to crop up every few months when serotonin levels are low.

Kreider wrote about people expecting him to give them illustrations or articles for free. And how that irritated him (he also referred to Ariana Huffington as “the man”, which made me laugh nastily): “I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing. I have to admit my empathetic imagination is failing me here. I suppose people who aren’t artists assume that being one must be fun since, after all, we do choose to do it despite the fact that no one pays us. They figure we must be flattered to have someone ask us to do our little thing we already do.”

I’ve seen the look that goes with the last sentence. It’s the same one that adults get when a child presents them with a badly decorated, home-made cupcake … ‘oh sweet, look what you did with ingredients someone else gave you. We know you didn’t really make it yourself. But, hey, it’s yummy.’ 

6340718320_8d0484da97The flattery was also galling, it was almost as if she thought she could bribe my ego into giving it up for free. She thought I was that person.

I mumbled that I was pretty busy, had a lot going on and she rejoined with more goo. How she knew I was able to pack things into a day, how my insights would be invaluable, how they were proud to have had me as a student etc. I wondered how she felt, pimping me out for a free lunch. I suspect Krieger would have loved it: “My parents blew tens of thousands of 1980s dollars on tuition at a prestigious institution to train me for this job. They also put my sister the pulmonologist through medical school, and as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.”

I needed it to stop, so I told my caller I would think about it – and get back to her. And then I sent her an email.  Hey, she wanted something I had written. I used Krieger’s template, which he offered his readers in the NYT for free. Per his suggestion, I have amended it slightly to better fit the situation: Thanks very much for your compliments on my counseling skills and writing ability. I’m flattered by your invitation to write a piece describing my life after college. You are right, it would give me an opportunity to tell people how I went about getting a job, especially in the absence of of the promised assistance from the college. But writing is work, it takes time and in this economy I can’t afford to do it for free. I’m sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words.

I couldn’t resist making the point. Needless to say, I haven’t heard a word.

(Tim Kreider is the author of “We Learn Nothing,” a collection of essays and cartoons. All images in the public domain.)

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14 Comments

  1. […] the point that creativity is, in part, fueled by a simple word: No. sofagirl recently wrote of the plague of being asked to contribute writing material for free, thus devaluing the work of the wordsmith. But, while […]

    November 12, 2013
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  2. I’m feeling it too. It is hard to put a value on creativity and ideas and yet they are the most precious things that we can provide for the development of the world. I also find it hard as a woman to stand up for what is owed. Men seem to want everything for free….or don’t pay! I am still chasing money from over a year ago and turning to claims court now. Bummer.

    November 6, 2013
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  3. I’m feeling you on this one! You can’t imagine how many peeps there are here ready and willing to take advantage of the fact that I speak, read and write English. I learnt to say ‘yes, for a fee’ or ‘not for free’ a long time ago. Not easy though!

    November 6, 2013
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  4. Totally get you, in fact I wrote a similar blog post a few months back (Where’s the Free in Freelance). I honestly think that people believe our occupations are “soft” (artistic, “easy to do”, more like hobbies) than “hard” (9-5, “complicated”, more obviously trained for). If only they knew the training and blood, sweat & tears that goes into our work…well…they’d probably still not appreciate it 🙁

    November 6, 2013
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  5. We chinas in China will happily accommodate our old/new chinas if they ask nicely – particularly when they are not making money from our work.
    I send out a regular quiz to various friends and friends-of-friends around the world. It is just a bit of fun no money involved. Then I discovered that one individual passed it on to a friend who then sold my quiz to the local paper every fortnight. Well I soon put a stop to that. The irony is that if they had asked me and the money went to charity I might well have said yes.

    November 6, 2013
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  6. silvia
    silvia

    Many years ago when I was in the PR system someone I worked with, a very smart manager older than me, once told me ” remember that the only TRUE way to show appreciation of your work is how much they are prepared to pay for it”.
    As simple as that. Right choice sofagirl

    November 6, 2013
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  7. Ah, the promise of greater exposure. That’s one that crops up even in 9-to-5 paying jobs, when a particularly tedious, unglamorous assignment is in need of a home. If it’s not “But think of all the EXPOSURE”, it’s “But you are so GOOD at stuff like this!”

    November 6, 2013
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  8. Yeah. I have this old china who started a blog. She asked me to writ something for free, and I did. If writing is hard work, then don’t write.

    November 6, 2013
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  9. As always, you’re spot on! Love your honesty. Perhaps you make what you do look too easy?!…and that’s why they ask…even though it’s not. I remember being asked to write articles, give interviews, do tv appearances…all for free…with the suggestion that “x was going to help me further my career/business”. Rubbish. After a while, I did the same as you and Tim Kreider just did…I stopped saying yes. Eventually they stopped asking me and started asking others. I remember seeing the “others” and thinking “suckers”! I’ve just taken the last 12+ years out to be a full-time mom. I’m only now sticking my toes, slowly, back into the “waters”. Last week someone asked me to write a blog post for them and for a split second I thought about doing it…but then realised, I’m only barely getting my own posts out right now. No doubt there will be future opportunities to help a friend (or even help myself) with some free words but, in this moment, I’m going to copy Tim’s letter and keep it in my computer. Thanks for sharing it and your story with us!

    November 6, 2013
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  10. These people intend to make profit from YOUR work – bloody cheek!

    Talk to your medical friends – I’ll bet a pound to a penny that they can tell you of times when they have been at some social event and someone has said to them something like – ‘I’ve had this pain in the butt for the last few weeks what do you think it could be/what should I do about it/is there any over-the-counter medication you’d recommend?’ One of my doctor girlfriends says that at cocktail parties and receptions she often lies about what she does for a living because she is so fed up with it happening.

    November 6, 2013
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  11. So true! It continues to amaze me how many times people have expected me to work for free since I went out on my own. I love your example about patients not asking the pulmonologist for a quick lobectomy; I’ll have to use that some day. 🙂

    November 6, 2013
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  12. Good on you!
    Ever heard the one about the accountant doing stuff for free? No? Well, that’s coz we’re still waiting for the punchline. Hasn’t happened yet 😉

    I did write articles for free many years ago, while I was cutting my teeth. It was appropriate then (I’d also just finished re-training as a mature student). But I wouldn’t do it now. I’ve no problem with writing a guest post for blog buddy, that’s totally different. But if somebody, who stands to derive a commercial benefit from the fruits of my labours, and who’s not a friend, asked me to deliver an article, I’d do the same as you. Writing is bloody hard work!

    November 6, 2013
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