Stephen Elliott Uses the F Word

Free, that is -- here's something Stephen Elliott posted this week about writing for free.

Elliott -- "I think it's worth pointing out that people have always written for free for literary publications, or close enough to free that there's not really a difference. If you spend months on a short story, say six months on three short stories, and one of them gets picked up by McSweeney's and they give you $500, you're basically writing for free anyway. And if you're publishing in The Alaska Quarterly, or Zyzzyva, you're getting $50, or nothing."

On the face of it, placing stories in magazines only makes economic sense as a step towards publishing short story collections -- but short story collections are in any case unlikely to make money... yet even if we aren't in it for the money, we writers still think that what we do is worth money...

Elliott -- "I went through a period of publishing for free, and then a period of being insulted that people wanted my work for free, and then back into a period of writing for free. And then I started The Rumpus. But that middle part, where you think people owe you something for your art, is very uncomfortable... You're supposed to get paid for writing what other people want you to write, for being able to plug in and push out content, for widgeting. To only write what you want is a luxury."

The explosion of free content that is the Internet has us all bewildered... we still half-suspect that if it's free it can't be good. We experience a lot of cognitive dissonance about this. What use would Poe have made of the Internet, given the chance? What use if any would Kafka have made? Is the writing I do for free a brilliant-or-perhaps-stupid way of promoting the writing I'm trying to sell? Or is it a way of transcending the capitalist system in my last few months before becoming homeless? And is blogging a luxury or a form of slavery?

5 thoughts on “Stephen Elliott Uses the F Word”

  1. i see blogging as a way of being in the world, a community and yet another way for us to perform self. it's less about money or publication than it is about identity.

  2. Hasn't writing, like most art, always been an act of the ego?

    The problem with free writing in the internet age is that while those of us who do the writing may not be getting paid, those who sell the web ads most certainly are. I've spent hundreds of hours blogging. My best return, so far, came from a lifted photo of a shirtless, pec'd up Christian Bale. 43 cents, to be exact.

    Google has made a fortune off of our collective egos, professional and amateur content-creators, alike. Others as well. Twitter is monetizing.

    There are hopeful signs that tech people and others who compensated for their high-paying, low-ego gratification, careers by blogging and using other forms of creative output are waking up (FYI, Google lists that second link as a malware site).

    Whether or not they'll go back to using their unpaid creative time for other purposes before all the magazines vanish is anyone's guess.

  3. Thanks for those informative links.

    I just googled a writer who I once heard say “real writers get paid to write,” and googled him — and sure enough, he has a blog now too…

    There are many ways blogging might pay off for the individual writer IN THEORY. As a way to keep promoting one's books – although the self-serving repetitiveness of this could get a bit old. Or to increase one's name recognition, build a “platform,” target a niche, "leverage" the blog into something else as per that second link Mary provided, etc.

    An editor sometimes reads a blog post and asks the blogger to develop it into a longer, paid article. This has only happened to me once so far, in three months of blogging, but still.

    Then there's the market research angle – by issuing thoughts, and reading the comments, I can improve my understanding of which of my ideas others find interesting.

    Doubtless the true benefits of blogging are spiritual, however, which is an idea for another post… maybe that's what Olga means by being in the world, hopefully not in a Heideggerean sense…

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