Over the last 13 years or so, I’ve been lucky enough to make a living out of something that I enjoy doing – writing. At times (especially in my early magazine editing days) it has actually been mildly glamorous, with foreign trips, expensive meals out, fancy parties, boozy product launches, press outings and even the odd day or two in the company of scantily clad models. And then it was back to the office to write it all up.
It hasn’t always been so exciting, of course. And I’ve spent equal amounts of time at boring conferences and dull press trips. I’ve gone nearly cross-eyed staring at dense technical manuals I was supposed to be proof-reading. I’ve written articles on data centres, floor adhesives and small business tax schemes. But I’ve still been earning a living at something I love – writing.
But that is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to do – at least the making money part, anyway. With freelancers being paid to flood the internet with swathes of uninteresting, poorly-written copy copy for as little as £5 per 1,000 words (in order to meet seo targets), and many new jobs going to unpaid interns, we are slowly reaching a state where in order to be a professional writer, you either have to work very hard for very little return, or work for free. Neither of which seem very fair.
And the question no one seems to be asking is what happens to the quality? When working for such small fees, even the best writers will need to be literally bashing out copy to meet the wordcount quota, without taking the time to ensure what they’ve written is as good as it could be. And when companies give jobs to lesser quality writers, who’ll work for even less, the quality of the editorial will diminish further. The ‘business of writing’ will slowly but surely destroy itself – because people will stop reading.
My latest endeavour has been to try and make a leap to fiction writing, and I am currently trying to get my first novel published – a feat even more difficult than I’d anticipated (and I knew it wouldn’t be easy). It’s taken over five years to write and edit the damn thing, and even if I do get it published, it’s a sobering thought when you consider how little money it is likely to generate
I like to think I’ve written a pretty decent book, but I’m not insane enough to think I’m the next JK Rowling. And in today’s world, where the quality of what you write seems less important than how it can be marketed, or which latest trend it can be pigeon-holed into, what hope is there for aspiring writers who dream of making it their job?
Thankfully I have a fairly regular copywriting gig, that pays the bills. And although I’m currently enjoying the bohemian lifestyle of working from home and making up my own hours, it won’t be long before I have to head back to the boring old 9-5. Oh how I long for those exciting magazine days, with the booze and the scantily-clad models…