“Will work for free” – why do freelance writers grovel for work?

An excerpt from a post I came across on Craigslist. The post was titled “Will Work For Free”, and this is a paragraph from it:

Unfortunately many editorial assistant positions in New York City offer starting salaries for full-time positions so low that I would barely be able to afford paying my rent. Those jobs are great for college graduates still living at home but not for a 34-year-old single woman on her own…I continue to work full time to support myself, but my hours are currently 1 pm to 9 pm weekdays. So, I am offering to work from 9 am to 12:30 am weekdays as well as possibly weekends as well for FREE.

Things like this just make me feel sad. Because, you know what? This woman is right. Editorial assistant positions don’t pay enough to let you make your rent every month. In fact, very few entry-level writing jobs do. It’s an accepted fact of the industry: you want to write? You better prove how much you really want it by working for free.

If you manage that for a few years, hey, you’ll maybe work your way up to a job where you get to work for a pittance, as opposed to nothing at all. So at least there’s somthing to look forward to, no?

Well, no. Not really. Not until we all start standing up to be counted, by saying that you know what? Working “from 9 am to 12:30 am weekdays as well as possibly weekends as well for FREE” is really not worth it. All it does is convince more would-be employers that if they look long enough, they’ll be able to find a great writer who’ll be willing to provide them with great work – for nothing.

Why should writers have to grovel like this? We don’t see lawyers do it, for instance. Or cleaners. “Will clean your house for free! For the experience!” Now, there’s something you don’t see often. You don’t find accountants willing to do your tax return for the experience. Or teachers taking classes to “build up their portfolio”. We only see it happen with creatives: writers, designers and anyone else who has a creative skill to offer. That makes me sad.

How do these other professions do it? How do they manage to gain the experience they need without having to spend half of their lives offering themselves up as slave labour? Because it sure doesn’t seem to be possible for writers, does it? This woman’s post makes me sad, not because I think she’s wrong to be offering to work for free, but because for so many aspiring writers, there really is no other way.

The post was removed by a Craigslist admin. I really hope this woman found her job, and that she’s actually getting paid for it. But I somehow doubt it.

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