A long time ago, I wrote a book about using mind maps for freelance writing. Someone told me I had to have a purpose for writing my book. “What is the goal with writing this book? Where will it lead? What other services are you going to sell with this book?”
At the time, I felt the need to respond with an “acceptable answer” in the business world… but over the years, I have learned that I don’t need an answer for wanting to write something, for publishing something, or for putting my thoughts and words out into the world.
I write because I’m a writer. I write blog posts because I want to share my thoughts, and I write books because I’d like to sell those books. Full stop. There doesn’t need to be a service I want to promote by writing a book; I simply wrote the book because I thought it was worth sharing. The book itself is the product and the service; the book is not a marketing tool. It doesn’t have to be, when the person writing it is a writer and not someone trying to sell something else.
But writing for the sake of writing is not always lucrative, and not everyone understands it, especially in a world where writing is viewed more as a selling vehicle than a creative endeavour. Writing has become a business tool more so than an art form over the last decade. Business people know that persuasive writing sells, so they have become writers on various high-profile websites, with the end goal always being selling more products or services, more often than not completely unrelated to writing.
This has had both a positive and a negative effect on those who choose writing as a profession. The positive effect is that many business people realize that words have value, and some are willing to pay high dollar amounts for those who can do good copywriting. The negative effect has been that many outlets that make their money from writers’ words no longer see the need to pay writers, because business people are willing to write for free. This includes high-profile magazines and news outlets, who would collapse without writers in their ranks, whether these writers work in house or freelance.
But writer’s words have value beyond the marketplace. They inform, they delight, and they allow people to escape reality on occasion. Yes, at the end of the day, all writing is selling something. But the difference is that for professional book writers, the only thing the writing needs to sell is itself—meaning the author gets paid for writing the words and the publisher is responsible for promoting and selling those words, whether the publisher is a traditional one or if the writer is doing the publishing themselves.
I’m not completely against writing for free. I do believe there’s a time and a place for it. Some of these places and times are when you’re starting out, to get experience, to help out charities, and yes, sometimes, to promote products. However, I do believe that the majority of major online outlets should be paying their writers for unbiased, non-promotional writing about various subjects.
There are various large, and yes, very rich companies refusing to pay writers on the basis of the “exposure” these writers will get by being published on their platforms. I wouldn’t be the first to say that the outlets who can truly claim “exposure” are big enough to pay their writers, and the ones who don’t have the funds to pay writers won’t provide much exposure at all. Have a look at what Will Wheaton had to say about it; it’s pretty interesting.
So if you’re a writer, write because you are a writer. The service and product we are selling is the writing itself. So write. Write for the sake of writing. Don’t worry about where the writing will lead—it’s not only OK but absolutely wonderful if all it leads to is more writing.
I’ll leave you with the words of a great, successful writer: make good art. Don’t worry about what that art will sell, for the art itself is what matters. Simply make good art. As you continue to make time for working on your craft, the rest will come. And if you do want to sell something, sell the writing itself. That’s why you’re a professional writer after all. To earn money from your creativity. So write. Write every day. And know that your words have value.
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