WWW – Writing without whoredom

Liz Craig, Writer has a great rant on her blog. She refers to penny-a-word writers as “word whores” and stresses the importance of creative professionals standing up for the value of their work. It’s a fun read, especially if you’re a writer. She says in part:

The blogosphere is a gaping maw that demands to be fed with words. Like a coal furnace in a ship’s engine room, it must have fuel shoveled into it continually to keep it “hot.” The blog-fuel is the “articles” these speed-typing drones crank. Their work is not, shall we say, of the highest quality. But quality is not a concern for most owners of monetized blogs. The writing is just the obligatory filling between pay-per-click advertisements.

Liz, you are so right. Seth Godin, in Small is the New Big, which I’m reading right now, called the internet an echo chamber. Dididididid youuuuu sayyyyy youuu nneeeeddddd aaaa wwrrriiitttttterrrr?

Liz also included this delicious video rant by Harlan Ellison:

As a creative guy I agree emotionally with Liz and Harlan. But for those of us who haven’t written dozens of books, movies and Flying Nun, Outer Limits & Star Trek episodes, there’s a collossal yeh-but that keeps us from being able to throw our weight around while negotiating. As Vizini put it, we are absolutely, totally, and in every other way caught in the maw of that beast Liz writes about, the disadvantages of globalization. So while I’d like to think folks hire my services because they love me, the truth is all they care about is my body of work. And for all of us who scribble on the cave wall, if we’re not writing our own words but the thoughts someone is paying us to express, it really is just a business proposition and the only real question is how much they will have to pay.

Fortunately, there are more opportunities to make a decent living in creative pursuits than really any other part of the economy — if we “do hard work” as Seth puts it, or use our right brains, as Dan Pink puts it. But I think I know where this movie plot is heading.

Here’s what I posted on her Linked-in discussion:

Great post, Liz, and I loved Harlan’s rant. Personally, as I shift from producing expensive videos for institutional clients to freelance writing while I retool and relocate, I’m resolved not to settle for commodity prices, because I don’t and never will do commodity work.

Here’s the economics of it, though: Adam Smith, Thomas Robert Malthus and Henry George called it the “limits of subsistence”: the minimum that workers are willing to accept in order to gain employment. Average the world, and it turns out it’s rice & beans & a shelter. Or maybe just the rice.

So remember that these word whores might have just graduated from college and are living rent free with mom. Or they’re housebound parents toiling at night to fight foreclosure. Or perhaps they live in Mumbai and can smell the slums from their doorway.

Globalization flattens the entire world, pressing good people against the limits of subsistence in an unfortunate, undesired competition for finite resources. It used to only affect mindless drone work like assembly line factory jobs. For the last decade it has affected computer programmers, accountants and now doctors, who must compete with what highly trained specialists in India and China are willing to work for to review X-rays … or even perform surgical procedures.

And now more creative work than we care to admit can be outsourced. You’re right, the beast of the internet is like a raging furnace that needs constant, fresh “content” in order to continue providing what Seth Godin called an “echo chamber” … a plasma stream of mostly inconsequential words and images.

So while we can prove our value to those who need our skills, and demand what we’re worth from those who can pay us, the cruel fact is that when engineers in China are worth $1.57/hour in the marketplace, a penny a word for writing at home might be a pay increase. And from the client perspective, if a company doesn’t really NEED golden words because they’re marketing to fools, fools gold is a lot cheaper.

Keep your overhead low and your powder dry, my friend. This problem won’t be going away.

There: I just fed the beast with 437 words. Where’s my McDonald’s breakfast? 🙂

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One Response

  1. Write on, brother!

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