Should writers expect a steady paycheck?

By Katharine Swan On Monday, August 06, 2007 At 10:12 AM

A blog I sometimes follow, the Writer's Confidant Blog, posted last week about whether writers should expect a reliable paycheck -- and the message the blogger sent was a resounding NO. This irritates me, so I am going to blog about it -- but first, a little background:

"scriptgirl," as she calls herself, has been freelancing for nine years. More recently, she started working as an editor for a paper, in addition to her freelancing. It sounds like it has been stressful for her, but she has blogged a lot about complaints she has about her freelancers, some of which I have disagreed with somewhat.

Last week's post, however, goes too far. The paper she was editing went down, and a certain writer's work was never published. Apparently, the guidelines stated payment was two weeks after publication, so scriptgirl was not going to pay this writer -- even though she had done the work. She complained that the writer then "went over [her] head" and got the publisher to pay her anyway. When there was a mixup with the paycheck, scriptgirl then received a nasty email from the writer.

scriptgirl goes on to talk about how the belief in a living wage is "ruining the pool of freelance writers." She tells a story of another writer who was apparently just as happy not to receive payment when the paper went down because, as the writer said, she "just loves to write."

scriptgirl finishes up by saying, "If you want a regular paycheck, go to Wal*Mart. If you want a job you love, stick with freelance writing."

EXCUSE ME????!!!!!

I have SO many things I want to say about this, but I am going to stick with the more polite (and more logical) rebuttals.

First of all: While it was totally out of line for the writer to fire off an angry email over the paycheck mixup, I do think the writer deserved to get paid -- she just should have gone about it with a little more tact. It's not the writer's fault the paper went down -- she still did the work, and I think that counts for at least a kill fee.

scriptgirl's comment that expectations of a living wage are "ruining the pool of freelance writers" also angers me. It actually makes me think of the historical struggles to unionize workers, where employers want to keep the labor pool uneducated and powerless. I can see why editors who want to take advantage of their writers would be upset: The growing awareness that fair wages do, in fact, exist would make it more difficult to find writers willing to work for slave wages and unfair terms.

And finally, I find it highly insulting to suggest that working at Wal*Mart is our only other option. That implies that a company famous for mistreating and underpaying its employees is an improvement over what writers have a right to expect. Ridiculous! Writers have just as much a right to expect a living wage as anyone else (including, incidentally, Wal*Mart employees).

What is most irritating about scriptgirl's post is that she is buying into the whole myth that writers have to choose between doing what they love or earning a real income. That is simply not true. There are plenty of writers out there who earn "thousands of dollars" writing. There's nothing wrong with the fact that some publications don't pay writers top wages; there is, however, something wrong with insulting writers because they expect professional wages for professional work.

I think I am so upset about scriptgirl's post because I feel she is turning on her own. Just eight months ago, she actually commended me for an article I wrote for WritersWeekly. What happened to the writer who believed that "writing for a living can be quite fulfilling"? And why is she now claiming that if you want to earn a living, you'll be better off working at Wal*Mart than being a writer?

In another recent post, scriptgirl mentioned that she was burned out and backing off. I sincerely hope that stepping down from the editor position will enable her to reconnect with what it's like to be a writer again -- and remind her that, in fact, writers do have the right to expect a living wage.

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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