Is there anything wrong with writing ‘for free’?

£ I write for money.

$ Writing, and all the stuff I do connected with writing (teaching, judging, speaking, appraising) is how I earn my living.

£ But that doesn’t mean that I think that money is the only reason to write. I’m writing this post because I occasionally get asked, ‘Is it OK to write for free?’

$ Sometimes writers write for ‘a byline’ – I’m not keen on the practice because the editor’s usually getting paid. However, the author gets a clippings file out of it, which might help him or her get paying work in the end. If you can see that working for you, then why not?

£ Writers write for connections, too. If they produce something for nothing, possibly the editor will remember once there’s budget to pay writers. I feel that there should always be budget to pay writers, but still …

$ Once in a while, I’ve written for exposure. It means giving someone a short story (usually one that’s already been published, if I’m honest) and, in exchange, they publish it with details of my latest book, with the cover. It’s a way of paying for advertising indirectly, that’s all. On the other hand, I often manage to get paid to write the short story and get the advertising thrown in … which seems a much better deal.

£ And I completely understand why people would write for the plain old pleasure of it.

$ Back in the day I wrote two novels in the evenings. They were rubbish but I didn’t know they were and I’ve honestly never enjoyed writing anything more. It was self-indulgence, but in contrast to some other self-indulgent hobbies, writing’s cheap and doesn’t bother anyone. There’s no commitment to a regular class or club (unless you want to get involved with education or a writing group) and the people you meet in your imagination can be nicer/more fun/hotter/more interesting than any you meet in real life.

£ Most importantly, they never ask anything of you and they never get upset if you don’t see them regularly. Their relationship is with your imagination rather than with your corporeal self so they never judge you, either! Perfect.

$ So although I write for money … that doesn’t mean that I think everybody has to.


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13 responses to “Is there anything wrong with writing ‘for free’?

  1. Great post. I’m not keen on the very hardline ‘you should never write for free’ mantra that I’ve heard from time to time. Generally I try not to write for free, but occasionally there’s a good reason (eg. I’ve agreed to contribute a short story to a charity anthology later this year) and, so long as you have time, it’s ok write something because you love the idea even though you might not be able to sell it later. What is important is that the fact that we might occasionally choose to let a story go without payment, shouldn’t be interpreted as implying that it’s ok for publishers/publications not to offer payment.


    • Agree completely, Alison. I’ve got quite a few stories in charity anthologies, too. One was fresh copy (which I’ve since sold elsewhere) but mostly these are stories that I’ve already sold.


  2. angelabritnell

    You make some good points Sue and everyone has to make their own choices.


  3. Reblogged this on madalynmorgan and commented:
    This is a topical, and very interesting, article by the fabulous Sue Moorcroft.


  4. What a super article. I enjoyed it very much, especially as it was written by Sue Moorcroft, someone I respect as a writer – and who has had a great deal of experience. I earn from my novels and from speaking about the British theatre, my acting career and being a writer. However, I write articles for my old church review in London, St. Peter’s Review, and I have never been paid. It’s a professionally put together magazine which published me when not one else would. I could never repay the editor for what I have leaned from him over the years, and consider it’s payment in kind, the writing kind. Thanks Sue.


  5. Great article, Sue.

    Let’s face it, nobody likes working for free 😉 I’m the first to get out on time on my ‘paid’ job (which one day I hope I can give up, being a paid full time writer.)


  6. Melanie Hudson

    Loved this (I”m still a self indulgent evening writer!). X


  7. beverleyeikli

    Some great points are made here and I totally agree with you, Sue, and Angela, when you say it’s one’s own choice. Writing for free, however, got me my first paid job.

    When I was an out-of-work graduate during a big economic slump in the mid 80s and desperate to get into journalism, it was an invitation from a country newspaper – The Murray Pioneer – based in a small town on the River Murray in South Australia, to do a week’s unpaid work experience, that launched my career. Apparently it was their ‘standard’ rejection to job-hunters but I was the only one who’d ever packed a bag and taken them up on it.

    The upshot was the most amazing week at it coincided with one of their three journalists being on holiday. That meant I got a desk, and to use the company car, a camera slung around my neck as I drove around the red dusty roads beneath the gum trees ferreting out stories of triplet sisters marrying twin brothers and their best friend, etc. After five days I had a folder of articles with my by-line and, shortly afterwards, my very first paid job as a cadet journalist on the Ballarat Courier in the next state.

    Writing for ‘free’ that week gave me an adventure I’ve never forgotten.


    • That’s a brilliant story, Beverley. Work experience and internships are how a lot of people get into the publisher side of publishing in the UK, too. Uni students spend their holidays in work experience and it’s experience that pays off when it’s time to apply for jobs.


  8. Christine

    It’s always good to gain experience whether paid or not. Although if something is printed it’s nice to appreciate the person by offering a small token payment for there effort.


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