What is Good Writing Worth?

writer-605764_1280Recently, I shared a story about the perils of freelancing with my EN501: Advanced Professional Writing Students: A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist by Nate Thayer.  What I wanted them to look at was not only Nate’s account of how he was asked to write a story “for exposure” by the Atlantic, but also the comments made after he posted on his blog. The story is old now, but the questions remain: What are we willing to pay for quality writing in this digital world?

My students then did a “free write” exercise in which they were asked to answer the question posted at the top of this post. Their answers were very thoughtful and I share them here:

B.J. Brown: Writing is a craft

I consider myself a willing, if modest supporter of the writing I consume. I pay for two newspaper subscriptions, for both print and online access. While I seldom buy books for myself, I often give books as gifts. I will pay in the neighborhood of $30 for a hardcover book, and I shop at independent booksellers whenever I can. I rely on my town library for my own reading; I support the library through my taxes and an annual donation. I also make an annual membership contribution to my local NPR station, which I consider another source of good writing. On the other hand, I don’t pay for the half-dozen podcasts I listen to regularly. I wonder if I’d check The Writer’s Almanac now and then if I had to pay 99 cents for a poem, even though I appreciate the introduction to writers I’d never have otherwise heard of.

Writing is a craft, even an art, and I believe artists and artisans should be paid for their work. Should writers calculate and charge an hourly living wage? Should they put their work out for auction? The first seems impossible and the second too subjective and fickle. I can’t imagine an alternative to the free market, but I do think that writers and artists should benefit more from the sale of their work than market middlemen. I also believe that good writing and art are public goods that merit public support. At the least, access through public libraries and museums, and teaching the arts through public education, should be generously funded.

library-150367_1280Shelagh Dolan: Supporting writers by buying books

I must admit that I get my news on the Internet for free. Twitter is my local, national and global news sources. However, the reporters delivering this news deserve compensation from their organizations(and the organizations deserve compensation from advertisements? Is that how it works?). I have purchased full albums from musical artists I really admire but I have also downloaded songs for free, justifying it to myself by saying that Justin Timberlake has already made enough money without my help. As for personal spending on writing, I’m a sucker for writing as an art form – short stories, novels, poetry, etc. I will spend money to support writers and own copies of their work. The last time I went into a Barnes & Nobel just to browse, I accidentally walked out with three paperbacks (The Circle by Dave Eggers, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo and The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling) and a receipt for about $65. I am aware that libraries exist but I enjoy filling my shelves with books that I can keep, write in and revise whenever I want. To me that is money well spent.

Nicole Jean Turner: Willing to pay what I hope to earn someday 

What I would pay and what I hope to be paid for good writing are two different prices, which make me sit here and ponder why I feel this way. I suppose, if I can more means, I would be willing to pay what I expect to earn for/from good writing, but because of my tiny paychecks and negative student loan balance, currently I won’t pay much for good writing by choice. For example, The New Yorker. Even though I wanted to subscribe for a while now, I didn’t subscribe until recently when I found a link online to subscribe for free through a contest portal. The most I’ve ever spent on a book that wasn’t for school (I can’t think of a specific instance) but I think from $25 to $30 sounds about right. There are times I do go out of my way, such as collecting from eBay copies of old magazines that had short stories in them that I wanted. There is one book – Rage, by Richard Bachman – that I’m willing to spend a couple hundred on if I can find a copy. (Granted, I know I can buy a copy on eBay for $400 but I really don’t’ want to spend more than $200 on a book that won’t even get money to the author because it’s out of print.) But for the most part, I won’t pay for good writing if I can find a way not to, simply because I can’t afford it. If I had money, though, I’d be more than happy to buy more literary magazine subscriptions, etc.

Anne Peacher: Not easy to figure out fair compensation 4379144635_cef5cb5114_o

Of course, good writing has monetary value. I believe the hours put forth in creating, researching, copy editing, and publishing must be compensated. But it’s not always easy to determine what that compensation should be. Enlightening nonfiction and fiction clearly is clearly worth more, especially when I compare it with the poor quality of the erroneous or sloppily written work online.  I do believe the market demand determines so much of what we are willing to pay. For example, I was willing to buy Chris Bojhilian’s book on tape because I had a long car ride in front of me the next day with no Bluetooth connection. His audio book as entertainment for me in the car alone was priceless. I am willing to pay more for books, magazines, and news that I know will be quality work. I keep an online subscription to the Boston Globe and the New York Times because I find them the most credible. I grab magazines and journals more as entertainment for travel or when I have extra time in a waiting room. I believe having some price on these words keeps them more reliable and demands a better standard of creativity, prose and research.

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The Devil’s Dictionary – Updated

imagesThe Devil’s Dictionary – Re-imagined by EN314 and EN514  Students at Regis College

As part of our study of rhetoric, students in EN314/EN514: The Art of Argument have examined a number of forms of satire –probably one of the chief forms of discourse in today’s snark-driven media. We looked into the past, in particular, the work of Ambrose Bierce and his popular  Devil’s Dictionary. Bierce used his dictionary to poke savage fun at the foibles of his era. Example:

VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

I asked the students to use this technique to satirizes today’s Internet culture. Here’s what they came up with:

evil-google-big-620x349

One interpretation of Google

Google

A search engine that produces desired results and today’s valedictorians.

Submitted by Shannon Simonelli

Where you search automatically to find an answer when you don’t have one.

Submitted by Melissa Lopez

Give you information so you don’t have to bother your Facebook friends with your easily answered questions.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

Slowly taking over our lives … and that is fine.

evil-facebook-dangerSubmitted by Maggie McCarty

Facebook

A virtual memory book of visited places, accomplishments, and life milestones viewable by everyone you’ve ever known, even that one guy from Spanish class who copied your homework in the 10th grade. Also a reliable resource for feeling left out of parties, and getting daily updates on an ex’s new life without you.

Submitted by Nicole Jean Turner

A website where you can voice your deepest beliefs and be validated by those who agree and unfriended by those who don’t.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

Snapshot

All fun and games until someone screen saves.

Submitted by Maggie McCarty

A way to make people think you’re cool through sharing photos of the drugs you just bought, that will then destroy the photographic evidence immediately following the crime. Hopefully. Not guaranteed.

Submitted by Nicole Jean Turner

Where you send pictures to anyone and everyone without really having to look good. Where you post a story so people think your life is actually interesting.

Submitted by Melissa Lopez

Tinder

All the fun of dating without those pesky emotional connections.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

Meeting sketchy has never been easier.

Submitted by Maggie McCarty

evil-twitter-bird-with-hornsTwitter

140 characters might be too many characters. #thoughtsthatshouldremaininyourhead

Submitted by Maggie McCarty

A means to feel important by pretending people actually read about how your day is going.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

Texting

A way to talk without saying anything.

Submitted by Meg Reilly

One of the drawbacks of modernity. An action that is increasingly leading to mediocre and incomprehensible writing. A form of communication that has entirely substituted both personal and “over-the-phone” interaction.

Giselle Rodriguez

A form of communication implemented by possessors of cellular telephones, whereby a message can be conveyed to a person without the benefit of face-to-face contact with the proposed recipient. An advantage to texting is the ability to answer at one’s own leisure, usually to decipher the meaning behind the message, in order to answer in a logical fashion. As such, texting stands in as a method of confrontational avoidance towards an unsavory situation, such as the ever-frequent “break up” scenario between couples. Unfortunately, in addition to the aforementioned statements, texting is the “grammar annihilator,” tempting those to give in to incorrect, yet apparently-efficient/Devils-Dictionary-Ambrose-Bierceproductive processes towards conveying a message, much to the ire and angst of “grammar sticklers,” who actually take the time to write out, piece by piece, as if they are under scrutiny.

Submitted by Gerard A. Buckley