To be paid or not to be paid?

If you work hard enough at something you love, you begin to feel satisfied about it, regardless of whether it’s earning you any money or not.

“I love sitting down in front of my computer and starting work” is not the most common expression in English. But some people, this correspondent included, genuinely enjoy getting stuck into writing an article.

The next step, of course, is to persuade someone to pay you for it.

I remember the words of a guy I met once at a pub in Exeter, in the UK. He was a freelance artist, teaching and leading workshops as well as doing his own paintings.

It seemed he was doing quite well and enjoying his work. So what had been behind his success?

“Just do lots of stuff, and get it out there.”

To paraphrase the rest of what he said: If you’re an artist, paint. If you’re a journalist, write. And regardless of whether people pay you for it, you will be building a reputation and contacts.

Soon or later, that should help you find paid work.

There is of course the opposite school of thought, which says: never write for free. You will show yourself up as a beginner and create an expectation that you will always write for free. Meanwhile, you’ll be pricing fellow journalists out of business.

There’s value in both of those arguments. But it also depends where you’re writing. A private blog is obviously somewhere you either write for free, or you don’t write at all.

Without one, you’re at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to publicising yourself and finding work.

Things become more complicated when you start writing for other people. Say you make contact with an editor of an interesting new website that looks like it could go places. They invite you to pitch some articles on topics that interest you, but without payment for the time being.

You might get paid at some point in a few months, assuming the site starts to make money.

My instinct would be: go for it. Apart from giving you the satisfaction of seeing your name “in print” and emailing it to your mates, it will get some of your work online besides your blog. It’s time to start building up these “clips” to show to editors.

Besides, it seems better to earn your spurs with the small guys, inflicting your initial mistakes on them. Rather that than going straight to the Economist, making a fool of yourself and never getting the chance to write for them again.

Besides which, writing is great. I’m sitting in my room in pyjama shorts and a “wifebeater” singlet, listening to some fantastic multi-ethnic dance music and gradually draining a pot of coffee. Nobody is pressuring me to do anything. My next deadline is a few days away.

And suddenly, Islamic banking seems like the most fascinating topic in the world. Or at least, I’m determined to persuade a reader somewhere out there that that’s the case, in 700 words or less.

It’s a decent enough life.

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