I make things up. That’s the definition of what a writer does. Some things spring from my head out of nowhere, fully formed. Some things come more slowly, coaxed with hours of careful research and focused thought. I move words around the inside of my skull all the time — when I’m reading, showering, running, driving, staring oddly into space while other people are talking. I look at a blank sheet of paper and put down all the lovely, helter skelter chunks of sentences and bits of half-formed imagery, adjusting, editing, deleting until I have something that rings true to my own sharply critical ears. And then I edit again. At that point, it’s ready for public consumption.
There’s a funny thing about writing, though. Because it’s literally described as ‘making things up’, folks seem to think that my words, as well as the time I spend crafting them, aren’t worth very much at all, if anything. On more occasions than I can count, I’ve had people request hundreds of words worth of content at no cost because, as they casually comment, it will only take me a few minutes.
While it’s true that I can often knock out a thousand words or more in under an hour, that ability didn’t arise from the same nothingness in which I find most of the sentences I cobble together. I’m a damned good writer and I enjoy doing it, but I’ve been writing daily since I was in middle school, penning short shorties, articles, essays, and novel length projects, grinding out words that were subpar as well as spectacular. I’ve devoured the work of other authors for decades as I honed my own particular voice — anyone who wants to write but doesn’t read like they need books to live should not be taken seriously, IMHO. I’ve worked for well over twenty five years to get where I am right now, and I’m still working.
I write, I rewrite, I make things up, ad infinitum.
I started with all that so I could say this: creative work product has inherent value. Full stop. Digest it. And here it is again for those in the back who might have missed it:
CREATIVE WORK PRODUCT HAS INHERENT VALUE.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s establish this: if you want someone to write content for you, or take pictures, or paint a picture because you recognize their talent, then you should fucking pay them. And if you reference something they wrote, or use a picture they took, then you should fucking give credit where credit is due. Plagiarism isn’t just a no-no for high school and college students. Another word for it is theft. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Think of what you do for work. Would it be appropriate for me to ask you to perform that task for me pro bono because you are good at your occupation? Or because it would take you much less time to perform said task than it would take me? For some reason, writers and other creative individuals are routinely expected to perform on demand and without pay. And when we rightly request payment, we face short and snarky responses like:
But isn’t writing easy for you?
I thought you liked writing.
Can’t you just throw together a quick paragraph for me? How hard is that?
This is all shit I’ve heard over the years (including this year), y’all. And, it’s true: most of the time, writing is easy for me. I also happen to fucking love it. There’s nothing more magical than having a tiny spark of an idea, sitting down, putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), and whipping that flame into an inferno of ideas, with my words as the kindling. I live for it and always have. But that doesn’t mean my words are worthless things that I should give away to you for free. If you want them specially crafted and on demand, then pay for them.
There’s another fun thing that happens to creative individuals when folks find out what they do best: people request other related services, also for free.
Can you teach me how to write? (NEVER doing this again because no good deed ever goes unpunished).
Would you mind looking over this doc and giving it a quick edit? (‘Quick edit’ always translates to complete rewrite, as well as research to fix gaping holes in the document; I’ve had a ‘quick edit’ end a friendship before, y’all, no joke).
Do you want to coauthor something with me?! (From the grammatical and spelling errors in this person’s various social media accounts, it’s best to back away from this in a goddamned hurry. Don’t just walk, run).
I don’t want to teach you how to write. I don’t want to edit your term paper, short story, or novel length project. I don’t want to collaborate with you on a project if we don’t have an existing relationship that involves a mutual respect for each other’s writing. Even then, I have to be intimately acquainted with your process and commitment to the craft.
I know not everyone can write, but just because I can ‘throw a paragraph together’ rather quickly doesn’t mean I should do it without being paid. I’ve watched mechanics change my oil before and it only takes about 20 minutes. I still pay for the service, because that’s how that person makes a living, and I’m paying for the mechanic’s skill as much as I’m paying for his or her time. It’s really that simple.
So, the next time you approach an acquaintance or stranger who writes, paints, takes pictures, plays music, etc. for a living, understand that what they do has value and takes skill. If it didn’t, you could do it yourself. The fact that you can’t proves my original point. Pay people. Credit work when you make use of it. Be a decent human being. We’re all trying to make a living over here…