Writing for Free: Does It Pay?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Since my writing pays the electric bill(and all the other bills)I’m not a big fan of writing for free. Instead of working on a free project my time is better spent searching for the job that does pay. But occasionally a project comes along that even I can’t resist. Several months ago a member of my writer’s group told us about a family that had recently lost their son. They wanted to know if our group could write a children’s book for them, a sort of memorial. We were given some details: his name, the names a few of his friends and his dog. They also had a plot in mind. Ever since he was a little boy he had wanted to build houses. They wanted the story to be about a little boy watching a house being built and what all the different workers did to create the house.

It sounded sweet but I had work lined up, a novel to finish, children to raise. I had no time for free work. Not to mention I had never published a children’s story. Was I really the best writer for the job? But I couldn’t resist. I found myself volunteering to complete the electrician section since I just happened to be married to an electrician who spent many years doing “new construction”. So I wrote my short section(with the help of my in house expert) and submitted it to our editor.

After several months of pestering, the editor managed to collect all the book’s sections from various writers. We received our first drafts back with a few notations and then disaster struck. The editor received a huge paying job and couldn’t continue. The project would have to be abandoned unless someone else took over. Again, I had some experience with editing but no experience editing children’s books. But again, there I was raising my hand. After all, I did have my in house expert to help correct any factual errors made by a bunch of non-house building writers.

It took just a couple of “breakfast meetings” with my hubby/expert to iron out any mistakes and a bit more time to ensure that the sections written by different writers were all consistent. Truthfully, the original editor had done all the heavy editing(not to mention the tough job of corralling a handful of writers and convincing them to meet deadlines). Now the manuscript is with the family and we’re all hoping to hear their reaction at our writer’s group meeting this month.

Sure, my bank account would be in better shape if I had used that time on paying work. But in a world where I spend much of my time on boring but profitable assignments this book made me excited about writing. It also gave me the opportunity to branch out into writing specialties I don’t usually delve into: children’s writing and editing. Maybe I am a fan of writing for free. Sometimes!

Do you ever write for free? What do you write and who do you write it for?

You can get updates about the children’s book Jodi contributed to at her blog Words by Webb. Stop by for her book giveaways also. This week she’s giving away Bill Bryson’s At Home.


Unknown said...

So glad you shared this experience, Jodi!
As a relative newcomer to more full-time writing, in a transition period, it is great to get an in-house perspective on this aspect of writing.
Recently, I wrote an essay about a person who lived by a motto to "give the best of yourself to the world and you will receive the best in return." Sometimes, decisions like this work out for the best!

LuAnn Schindler said...

While I say I'm against the "work for free" idea, I will admit there are times - or special projects - that provide such a feel-good experience.

I think each writer has to weigh the pros and cons of the project and determine if they can afford to take time away from regularly scheduled writing. For some, a project like this can be squeezed in AFTER "writing time" - like after the 8 hours I'm usually in front of the keyboard.

Sounds like you made a great choice, Jodi.

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