To write or not to write for free – the dilemma of the Romanian Copywriter

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Hello, honored and honorable readers. Today I am going to scare (or delight you, depending) with a grand article, fit for the Holy Week we are in, gathered from in between sponge cakes, red Easter eggs and fake promises such as „to mark this holy celebration, I will be a better person.”

If you’ve worked in the content industry, on any level – online editor, ghostwriter, content writer/copywriter, marketer, blog article writer, journalist for a specific niche, you’re most definitely aware of the most persistent scam that affects all of us, from top to bottom – writing for free.

But...is it 100% a hoax? Should we write for free or yell profanities at the next whatever who demands it? Let’s see...

Article writer - for money or for the inner satisfaction it brings?

For starters, guys and gals, I am going to bring forth my experience/expertise, just so you don’t think I’m talking out of books or rehashing motivational mottos from Ogilvy or other wise men who, although I respect, I don’t always copy (no pun intended) or follow on everything they say or do in regards to content/copywriting.

I won’t tell you that writing for money or writing for free is wrong or right. I will however share my opinions as a result of the many diverse situations I’ve encountered, as well as the arguments to support them.

In the last 3 years, I can say this is pretty much everything I’ve done. I wrote, in any and all forms, with all purposes – voluntarily, for money, on a work contract, I wrote for nothing, almost something or for everything, wrote on a laptop, on a notebook or the walls.

And, the most important conclusion that I’ve reached is this – only you can answer the above question. Why? Because determining whether or not to write for free starts with a simple question – what is my purpose? In other words, where do I want to be and what am I looking for at this point, personally and professionally.

When to write for free....or should we ever?

I’ll just flat out say it, I do NOT recommend writing for free in the following instances:

  • When company X insists that you need to write a test article...unpaid, of course, to „verify” your skills. Trap – run, go get a cup of coffee or something, you’ll earn more
  • When blogger X or God knows what phantom online news or entertainment platform sweet talks you into believing that writing for free for them is the opportunity of your, up until that point, insignificant life, that they’ll offer you “exposure” and “traffic” and “ranking” and some other fancy English word that sounds like marketing, so it’s gotta be convincing, right? To be frank, it’s the content industry equivalent to earning…”experience.”. Run again.
  • When company X doesn’t want to see your portfolio even though you’ve written about their niche in the past and insists on you writing a custom, unpaid material for them because why would you even need money in capitalism, boss? Just write for passion. Again, it’s a shady excuse to take advantage of your expertise and it shows lack of trust from the get-go. Aaand…you’ve guessed what I’m about to say – run.
  • When you’re a beginner, you’re gullible and think you’re unprepared, without too many words attached to your name. Yes, you’ll probably think that people won’t take you too seriously and you’ll have to build a presence first so free letters it is…for now. That’s what I thought too, about a million light years back. And this is where you’d be tremendously wrong, guys and gals. Repeat after me – lack of experience is not a pretext for online slavery and it should never legitimize gross disrespect. We all learn everyday and we all deserve equal chances to start somewhere – never let anyone make you believe that the entire arsenal of amateur words at your current disposal is worth between 0 dollars and 0 cents. It might not be worth much (debatable) but it’s definitely worth more than a big nothing, whether you’re an article writer, an online magazine contributor, a passionate content writer who loves to write about lifestyle, fashion etc. or even a junior copywriter who is merely looking for a chance to “junior” a little. Don’t feel discouraged by the word “junior” attached to your name at first and don’t let it be derogatory to you. No one is born a Hemingway.

So, to summarize – I do not recommend writing for free if, behind this requirement are third parties looking for the perfect pretext not to reward/acknowledge your work in any way. It’s not ethical, it’s grossly disrespectful and it’s the content industry equivalent of the HR bullshit we all know and love such as „motivating salary” or „dynamic team.” You can do better, darlings.

In the above cases, we’re talking about a type of conditioning, as opposed to something voluntary, more like indirect, shady tactics through which you are obliged to silently accept some terms you’re not comfortable with. All for the sake of getting the chance to take your first baby steps as an article writer or content writer in the Romanian (or international) online jungle defined through mottos such as „we want everything to be great, awesome and for free, if possible.”And all because „others write for free, what are you, a special flower, what’s with all this yapping about having bills to pay, can’t you just write for passion?”

Many content writers and copywriters fall prey to the above traps – remember one thing, though. No one is going to put an accurate price tag on your work if you agree it’s worth as much as they offer you – which is nothing.

What are the exceptions?

My darlings, there are some situations in which we can be down with writing for free, in my opinion. But again, you don’t have to agree with me:

  • On your personal blog – obviously, at first, no one is going to pay you for it. You might never get paid. But a personal blog is your space – whether you vent, inform, educate or complain, writing is a good exercise for everyone. Moreover – you never know who you can help through what you write. Also, niche blogs can help you obtain the finer things in life such as – a personal brand, collaborations, offers, exposure (the real kind, for yourself, not for someone else’s brand), building a community etc., if you’re good at what you do
  • For projects you believe in or resonate with on a personal level – here I’m referring to writing texts for social or volunteering projects or for magazines you contribute to because you have the chance to change something (mentalities, prejudice) through the use of a specific editorial etc. Here it is a simple matter of choice depending on what matters to you but, if you ask me, there are projects that bring you money and projects that bring you change, help you evolve or feel like you make a bigger contribution than the text itself. These ones, however, are unfortunately pretty rare.

Conclusions

Don’t forget – before accepting or declining an offer, getting involved in a project or not, ask yourself what you want – prestige, money, fame etc. and weigh your options very carefully. Also, don’t forget to pay attention to who the offer is coming from, what are their interests and what they are trying to get from you.

Respect your work, whether you’re an article writer or a simple contributor, regardless of whether you wrote over 100 000 words so far in your career or just 500.

At the end of the day, you are the ones who put a price tag and a value to your work, whether you measure it in terms of money, effort or hours it takes to bring it to fruition.

Remember all of the above before making the decision to write or not to write for free. No matter what you choose, I support you, as long as you’re happy.

With that said, keep letter-ing on and happy Easter!

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