What are words worth?

An asshole recently asked me why some writers think they should be paid when there are so many competent writers willing to produce content for free.

“Writers shouldn’t just think they should be paid,” I spat.

“They should expect it." 

This kind of ignorance about creative labour boils my piss, as it should boil yours. Let’s just say they’ll never find his body.

Words are free; a glorious price for such a valuable commodity. Words are free for anyone to use, and many choose to. Some better than others.

In truth, most people never really think about words, their relationship extends no further than a passing encounter with whatever falls out of their mouth.

But a writer thinks about words. A writer studies words, collects them, hoards them for later use. For a writer, words are an obsession. But a mere fondness for language isn’t worth anything; it’s what a writer does with his words that counts.

What the assholes don’t understand is that a writer shapes his words, crafts them, combines them into a cognitive whole that both enhances meaning and communicates what words alone cannot. 

A writer uses his words to shape not just meaning, but subtext, so that a simple story about animals in a farmyard becomes political allegory, or a story about groups of men fighting in basements becomes a treatise on the modern male condition.

Some writers are very good at what they do. Some not so good. The best writers can shape words that describe the collective mood of a generation in ways no-one else could. 

The best writers can inspire and motivate, they can devastate, they can plant an idea in your mind and make you think it is your own - make you feel they just described something you’ve been thinking for a long time.

Yes, writing is simply putting words on paper, but simply putting words on paper is not writing. For every good writer there are a thousand people quite adept at putting words on paper, at stringing together blocks of text.

The difference is the way a writer speaks, the way they deliver, the way they craft and shape their words. The difference is competence versus composition. 

The old adage is if you’re good at something, never do it for free. The assholes encourage it. They say things like "You’re new, no-one wants to pay for your work,” or “I’m doing you a favour,” or “It’ll look good on your CV.”

If you’re good (and you are, really) you should expect to be paid because the way you use words is both entirely unique and adds measurable value to an idea, concern or message.

I expect to be paid for my words the same way I’d expect to be paid for a day’s manual labour, or any other work I choose to do. 

The assholes can probably find writers to produce content for free the same as they could find people to help build them a house for free.

But when their house falls down, and they’re lying there crushed under a pile of rock and bleeding to death internally, they’re gonna wish they paid someone. 

Words are free, but don’t give your words away for free. Your words are your craft, and it’s your craft you’re charging for. 

Twitter • Facebook