Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Divinipotent About the Worth of Good Writing

"Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

~ Red Smith

For professional writers*, the Internet is becoming a digital sweatshop. It's not uncommon for experienced writers to be asked to do their work "for the exposure" — a euphemism for "free." Most traditional publications now have two pay rates; if the rate is $1.50 a word for the printed version, the Web site is likely to pay $1.25, $1.00 or even less. Things are far worse at online companies where articles are known as "content"; there, the going rate is usually less than $0.10 per word.

Writer Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman), who has been writing for Wired and other national magazines for years, put it this way on Twitter: "We're all 22 year old interns again."

"One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment."
~ Hart Crane

When publishers buy articles, what exactly are they paying for? Assuming they care about good writing, it's a lot more than words. The best writers draw on a lifetime of experience with words. They have learned not only the rules and craft of writing, but the art as well. They can use words the way composers use notes, forming them into phrases, sentences and paragraphs that pull readers along. They can make complex concepts simple, understandable and even interesting. They can deliver information painlessly and convince the reader entertainingly.

"Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them."
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

It's a strange paradox that a time when writers are arguably in greater demand than ever, their work is so little valued. But perhaps the problem is that so much of today's "content" is meaningless drivel commissioned to fill up space. And perhaps, also, many freelance writers lack the experience to do a professional job.

"All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath."
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Divinipotent Daily would like to make this radical proposition to online publishers:
  • Restrain yourselves. Stop piddling away reader interest and goodwill with articles about nothing that have been dashed off in 15 minutes by a desperate person earning $0.06 a word. Insist on content that provides actual value to your readers. And pay a professonal to write it properly.
"Easy reading is damned hard writing."
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

*Full disclosure: Divinipotent Daily is a professional writer.


  1. I so completely agree with you about internet writing. It is really degrading to writers to be paid so little. I am part of an organization in Canada dedicated to getting equitable rates for writers, and it's an uphill battle. The problem is that so many hungry writers are agreeing to work for a pittance that they're making it more difficult for those of us who are very professional and experienced to maintain a decent rate of pay. I've been a full-time journalist, author, editor and book coach for over 25 years, and quite frankly I'm appalled at what's going on in the writing world today.

    I do love the word "divinipotent". I'm glad you rescued it! One of the other "hats" I wear is that I am an intuitive "six-sensory" (what many people call "psychic" but I hate that word). I am divinipotent and use my sixth sense in my writing work all the time. I also do intuitive readings for people.

    Thank you for your great blog posting about writers' rates. We need to continually raise awareness about this.

    Divinipotent blessings,
    Sharon Lindenburger

  2. Great post and thanks for drawing attention to the appalling lack of compensation for experienced writers. Degrading is the perfect word.

    I've been writing, in print and online, for 23 years, and I can't believe how little my efforts are worth. I've been turning down "jobs" for .01 or .02 per word… who can afford to do that?

    Thanks for brining attention to this for all of us. Great work!

  3. & then there's the reader's POV. When Googling, I pretty much ignore anything from Associated Content - experience has shown me I won't learn much more past the Google description. If you're dashing off quick but useless articles, keep your reputation in mind.

  4. A coming to birth! Congratulations! We need
    divinipotent to remind us readers that while
    we enjoy the fruits of talented writers, perhaps
    we are not aware of the "laborer being worthy
    of his/her hire." Would that the world would
    spontaneously reward talent, but I shall be
    dead and buried before that happens.

  5. Sharon and Susan, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I'm glad to hear that other writers are resisting this insanity. As Anonymous notes, it's not only exploiting writers, it's boring readers and damaging reputations.

    Joan, thanks, Sis. Much appreciated.