Unpaid Writing Work; Opportunity or Curse?

After yet another fruitless search for some form of paid writing job to keep me occupied while I finish my degree, I have found myself once again applying for yet more unpaid work. Why do I do it?! I ask myself that every time.

I’ve taken on loads of unpaid writing work that eventually I have drifted from and stopped writing for altogether because the desire to just do what I’m passionate about without caring about money dissipates. At first, the promise of ‘published experience that will look great on your CV’ was enough, knowing I would need lots of published experience to ever even have a hope of getting paid to write. But three or so years on the fact I am still being promised published experience for my CV is almost insulting.

The simple solution is of course to ignore anything that’s unpaid. Don’t like that they don’t want to pay for your labour? Don’t apply! It really is that simple. But I want to write, I want to be able to make a career of it and I search for ages for writing jobs to keep me occupied and to keep my writing ability fresh. It is a sad truth that these creative roles, be it writing, acting, singing or any number of other creative skills, are often exploited. We are passionate about something, so people exploit your passion and you end up being manipulated into agreeing to work hard at what you enjoy for nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the opportunities I have had when it comes to writing and these unpaid roles that have allowed me to develop and improve my writing and build a good portfolio of published work have been invaluable, but there comes a point when you feel like you have developed as much as you can with the help of unpaid work and your abilities are finally worthy of payment of some kind.

I feel like the unpaid workΒ wasΒ a great opportunity, and now it’s not. I feel like I’m at a standard where I have a right to ask so called ’employers’ what’s in it for me? And I also feel like the answer should be more than just ‘experience’. I guess I just thought that by now, after working deliberately hard to pave some sort of career, I would be getting somewhere; i.e. making some money. As it stands I hardly have any of my overdraft left and I can’t even afford a cheap bottle of wine to drown my sorrows in!

Maybe it was never realistic to believe I could do what I love and get paid for it, and perhaps the unpaid work is the truth of it all…maybe there was never a promise of making a career out of my writing. As frustrated as I get that all these job ads I’m finding sound great until the inevitable ‘by the way this position is unpaid’ bit at the end, maybe I should just find something else to aim for, something that’ll actually…you know…pay!

After all, this blog isn’t going anywhere and there’s a lot more satisfaction to be had from getting no money writing on a site you’ve created and nurtured for ages than writing for some randomer who’ll happily demand what and how you should write and how frequently without giving anything in return.

What do you guys think? Fellow bloggers, is unpaid work a curse or a good thing?

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20 thoughts on “Unpaid Writing Work; Opportunity or Curse?

    1. It’s all good building for a while, I agree…and I still do it just because it’s fun. But damn I do wish making money was easier! Mind you, don’t we all πŸ˜‰
      So far unsuccessful finding a way to monetize my blog without paying for a domain or pro account…maybe one day!

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      1. If it was easy everyone would be wealthy in money. It’s necessary to buy your own domain name, it looks official and drops the .wordpress.com. Also updating to pro account helps with analytics to funnel more traffic to you site and your writing. Gotta spend money to make it and that right there is the truth

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  1. You hit the nail on the head. For most writers trying to make it today, taking unpaid work is pretty much the only way to get started. When I was first starting out, I was willing to write anything for almost anybody just to get a byline. As you say, in the beginning that’s more than enough motivation to keep going. But once you do start getting paid for your work, those unpaid positions become a drag on your daily duties. You don’t even have to get paid for your work to experience that drag if you write for any one place long enough.

    The problem, really, is that there are so many people trying to make it as writers today that employers know they can offer nothing in return and they’ll still find writers willing to do the work.

    In my experience, the only employers willing to pay real wages for writing are those employers that actually care about what’s being written. Most sites out there are just looking for content – and it doesn’t matter how well it’s written so long as it contains a few searchable keyphrase (I’ve worked on the managerial side of this and I have some horror stories). But if you’re working for an organization that actually IS trying to hire quality writers, they know what that work is worth. Unfortunately, most of these organizations have no trouble pulling professionals.

    My two cents: Doing unpaid work is necessary to get a foothold in the industry, but you should quit doing it as soon as you have enough of a portfolio to show potential employers. Hold out for better pay, even if it means passing up a job that seems fine. Writing your ass off for the sheer joy of it is great, but it will burn you out.

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  2. I think unpaid writing work has lost its charm. Yes, it gives you experience, but me and you now have the ability to use our blogs to convey that experience to potential employers. I only take up unpaid writing work, when it is a subject that interests me but I cannot cover on my blog.

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  3. I completely feel your discontent. That’s exactly why I started my website; I realized that it was such a specialized niche that I’d never be able to get into unless I created it myself. I do it solely for fun, although it’d be fantastic to get paid to do it. That’s why us bloggers must stick together to support one another and our work πŸ™‚

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  4. I’ve never really thought about unpaid work, I wouldn’t even know where to look for it. Although I did look at a job advert for a writer at quite a big publication and the pay is so much lower than I expected. It was a big shock so I’d like to try and go down a different route. You’re lucky you’re so young and have time on your side so don’t worry too much about making everything happen too quickly πŸ™‚

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    1. I tend to find them on Indeed, I often browse for jobs on there when I’m bored and you can guarantee most of the writing jobs have ‘this position is voluntary’ right at the bottom. Or they’ll say they’re a start up company so there is no pay at first but eventually they hope to pay their writers πŸ˜›

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  5. Ah yes, I’m in the same situation. It’s really difficult as a writer because most of the people take our work for granted. I often find myself not being able to get out of this circle of unpaid jobs. The only reason why I’m doing it is because I need experience and I like the topics I’m writing about, but you know what? My resume has enough experience right now and I can ask for money..well..at least..I should ask for money and refuse those attractive jobs which cannot offer me any financial appreciation. Lately I’ve been thinking that I should create my own website because if I can write for all those people for free, then I should invest my imagination and time in my ideas, not theirs.

    I also have that idea that if I have a website I might need people to write with/for my at some point. Here’s the thing: I will have my own website and if I ever need people to write for my little online place, I will pay them. I don’t want to be one of those people who can offer only experience. NO, I know what writing articles means and I will pay them if I can, If I can’t offer money, then I will learn to survive without them.

    It’s hard, but I think we should stop accepting these jobs. They are taking advantage of us and we are letting them. Maybe it’s our fault that there are so many unpaid jobs. If most of us wouldn’t accept to work for free, maybe they would start appreciating our work. Oh yes, I hate this and I’m in that point where not receiving money for my articles is not fun anymore.

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    1. Yeah I agree, there comes a point when it’s definitely more than ok to ask for money, or at least to ask what’s in it for you and expect more than just experience.
      It’s a vicious cycle though, I can’t get out of it either, and I like having my articles published on other websites too much to stop doing it, even though like you say it probably would be a good idea to stop accepting unpaid work.
      Just got to keep at it and hope it all pays off one day I guess! The waiting just sucks though 😦

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  6. I know this feeling well. I do a lot of unpaid work at the moment and it is very frustrating, whilst as you say full of great experiences and is helping me to develop.
    In an ideal world writing for free just wouldn’t be something we have to experience, but in this one I’m not sure what the answer is…

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  7. This is something that I feel strongly about. Unpaid work is a pain in the arse at times, but like everyone says, it gives you some great experience. Until, as you quite rightly say, you feel you have built up enough experience, and feel like it’s time that you should be earning some hard money.

    I’ve had one paid job in my time blogging, but that didn’t last long & I feel the website I wrote for led people on with the promise of continual work, only for them to never get back to you once you’ve written the mandatory two posts they asked for.

    I also agree with Luke, and feel that if you can cover it on your own blog, then why publish it for someone else? Some sites offer alternatives to payment & have some other benefits, but I suppose it all depends on what you are looking for from things. While some sites are more professional than others and if you can get in with them, then you have a better chance of eventually getting paid.

    Sorry to ramble on Natasha, perhaps I should write a post of my own on this subject. I hope you have better luck in the future.

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