Would you write for free?

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today I discuss an article that appeared in the Guardian newspaper describing novelist Philip Hensher’s unwillingness to write for free. 

Do you expect to be paid for the work you do? I suspect your answer will be “yes, of course.” Unless, perhaps, you’re a university student, toiling away at an unpaid internship.

But people who work in the arts — whether they’re writers, visual artists or musicians — are frequently asked to do their job without any pay. I think this happens because their work — our work — is perceived to be “fun.” The hundreds of hours involved in building the skills involved are under-appreciated and  others seem to suppose that the “publicity” associated with publication should be recompense enough.

I side with novelist Philip Hensher who recently argued that he should not be expected to write for free. I was particularly taken by his comment that writers have a duty to place a value on their work. “There is increasingly a culture of consumers not paying for cultural products, whether it’s downloaded music or free newspapers,” he wrote. “You can have writers who do it in their spare time, who have independent means, or have literature written by people in institutions, but it’s not going to lead to an improvement in literature.”

Interestingly, Hensher wrote his first two novels while working a day job, but said: “I always had an eye to when I would make a living from it.” His principled stand is going to lead me to buying one of his books. I can’t decide between: Northern Clemency, and Scenes from Early Life.

Scroll to Top