The author and journalist Nick Rippington recently offended my sensibilities – whatever they are: I have never been sensible about anything – by making reference to ‘amateur’ writers. By neatly taking his comment out of context, as I have again managed to do here, I rather sniffily replied that I did not regard myself as an ‘amateur’ writer, meaning that the ‘A’ word was a bit of an insult. His point was far greater and more valid than I first realised,
In the literal sense, I am an amateur. I’ve been writing for decades now and have never been paid for anything. I’ve earned more from my 1990s radio appearances than I have for writing. I wrote for the Bristol Rovers matchday programme in exchange for a ticket, I wrote for the Bristol Post for nothing, I have been writing on this website for two years for nothing and I currently contribute to the excellent B24/7 magazine in exchange for nothing. Nick’s point is that writers should get paid for their work and he’s right.
Like many (most?) writers, I write because I love writing. I would love to make a living out of it but I am as far away from being able to do that as I am of playing football for England. In fact, I think I am nearer to playing for England than I am to being paid to write.
I do not know if the reason that I do not appear to be getting rich at this writing malarkey is because I am unlucky or just rubbish. It could be that I am somewhere between the two, bang average with the bang average share of luck. Perhaps there is no market for my ‘stuff’, which is usually free-flow, off the top of my head and see where it goes stuff and that people prefer more structured and, dare I say, predictable writing?
All manner of organisations and companies do very nicely out of people who write for nothing. If someone comes along to install a new computer, or replace the water cooler, then they get paid for it. But if a local newspaper or website asks you to write a thousand words, they offer you a big fat zero in return, assuming that you just enjoy the novelty of seeing your name in print and giving them something for nothing. Never mind that your work may have taken as long as the ‘professional’ journalist’s has done and it will sit alongside his (or hers) on the same page. Someone gets paid and someone doesn’t.
Do I find this somewhat grating? A little bit, yes, although my quality of life does not depend on what I write, which is just as well. And I’m not a young whippersnapper, with grand designs of journalistic glory. I’m still hungry for success and even in my near geriatric state I harbour what are probably foolish dreams of ‘making it’.
I am luckier than the generation that preceded me, though, for they didn’t have the internet. Thanks to a fine company called Godjira (click on the name to see their website), I was able to establish my own site on which I could publish my work. It has cost me money to publish my own work, but what’s the alternative? To not write at all? I can’t be having that.
Nick Rippington was right though. Writers should be paid for their work in newspapers and websites. It is wrong on every level that they are not. Don’t misunderstand me, I am grateful for the platforms on which my work has appeared and I am not going to stop writing for free just yet because I think I have something to say and that someday soon my non paymasters will admit, in their heart of hearts that they are not paying a penny, never mind the national minimum wage. If I ran a company paying below the minimum wage and, indeed, paying nothing at all, I’d be in a lot of bother with the law. And quite right too.