The days of August. They are the dog days, are they not? Feet up naps and circuitous strolls through shady parks. Bike rides are a good idea in August. So are matinees and mimosas and myriad delay tactics at work.
Problem is, September is an expensive month. What with back-to-school, soccer equipment and fall maintenance checklists… The disconnect between billable hours and bank deposits is sobering. So, alas, here I am in my faux Aeron chair in between conference calls and data entry, thinking that it sure would be nice to get paid (well) for the sort of writing I most like to do.
Yesterday I read a piece by Steve Almond in the July/August Poets & Writers. (I’m a little behind—you should SEE the towering stack of NewYorkers by my bed). The article (which he probably got $300 or so to write...) is called “Will Write for Free.” Almond laments the lack of pay for creative work, time spent promoting creative work, and the attitude of small press publishers and anthology editors when a writer deigns to broach the subject of fee-for-service.
Almond left journalism to become an “artiste” and pledged to turn his back “on the commercial world.” After writing, publishing and hawking several critically-acclaimed books, the guy is living hand-to-mouth and now has a wife and kid to support.
He wraps the piece by relating some tough-speak he had to employ to get a kill fee from a food glossy when they tanked an article. Evoking the litigious possibilities when you get stiffed, he claims, is sometimes a necessary evil when you’re trying to make your nut with words.
When I finished my MFA program I was all set to do the adjunct crawl. Write, teach, and patch together a literary life. Only problem was, even to get an interview at a community college for a part time slot I needed two years teaching experience, a published book and connections I really didn’t have in place. I began the process of prerequing myself for the crumbs of academe when an opportunity to write for a marketing company bubbled out of the ground.
Through this opportunity, I wrote copy for various financial services companies (think Wall Street…think Hedge Funds…think Bullshit) and made some pretty hefty bank. Talk about selling out. I think it was over the Thanksgiving holiday a few years back when the principal of a Hedge Fund IT company called with a request that I immediately fix a minute glitch on a banner ad for a disaster recovery product that caused me my existential crisis. Not only was I abstracting myself from my family during THE secular fest of the year, I was sweating over the font size of a phrase I’d invented likening a life preserver to ensuring the uninterrupted flow of more money than could choke a major metropolitan sewage system.
Oy fucking vey.
So I declined continued work from said company and similar verticals, and cozied up instead to food companies, yoga studios and other lifestyle businesses that sold actual services and products. My particular pact with Satan was mitigated by contingencies that reduced my culpability as a marketing slut. For instance, I won’t write copy for big, scary corporate banks. Or private financial services smoke-and-mirror organizations . Or individuals who want their web sites to have lots of red and “but wait, there’s more” messaging. But I do have to continue to write marketing copy for a living, and I am putting the kybosh on little journal pieces that pay less than seventy-five cents a word. Time may not be money, but it is time, and I have a Happy Hour to get to…it’s August!