Then, why are we expected to “do it all,” for less?
I’m a writer. That means “words” are my arsenal. And thoughts, and ideas. I’m not a mathematician, a designer, a coder, a financier, a restaurateur, or a gynecologist.
I am a creative spirit who draws on her experience navigating this crazy life of ours to entertain, educate, and inform. Like you, I put myself out there and take my licks when they come. That’s what I do and I’m happy with that. If I wanted to be something else, I would have gone for it. But writing is not only what I do, it’s who I am, in my soul, where shit counts.
But all that romantic crap aside, writers, like everyone else, need to make a living. We’re not all sipping tea in cottages tucked away in the English countryside as we spin our yarns for a slavishly adoring public.
Then why, when I peruse employment opportunities that I know I’ll never get a shot at, yet can’t resist the occasional search, do I find that writers are subjected to endless bullets detailing the responsibilities of these positions? Duties that go far beyond the realm of actual “writing?”
Now, when I worked in advertising and marketing, I had a design partner, an art director who put the pictures to my words. That doesn’t mean my partner wasn’t allowed to suggest copy changes or that I didn’t think visually on my own, it just meant we each had our areas of expertise.
When I lost my job, I noticed an alarming trend in the market: Writers were expected to know how to navigate software such as Adobe Suite, or InDesign, or Illustrator.
Why? Because corporate America wants to save money for its own coffers. Employers don’t want to pay for a designer if they can snag a writer who can do it all. If they can get a chump who will happily take it up the keyster for far less than he or she deserves, they’ll take the low road every time. It’s all about the moolah.
Now, this sucks for writers like myself, yet conversely, is great for those hotshots who are proficient at doing everything from designing full-on websites, to selling ad space to solving IT issues.
All I can do is write. Perhaps that makes me “boring,” or one-dimensional, I don’t know. But I do know that I’d rather be top-notch at one thing as opposed to being a mediocre performer at several. If that sounds like I’m copping a plea, perhaps I am…a bit. But, in my experience, and it’s vast, writers are rarely fairly compensated. We’re rarely paid what we’re worth.
Who here can’t relate to that?
When I was still getting freelance gigs, I was routinely low-balled and, because I needed the work, often settled for much less than I asked for, whether it be a project fee or hourly rate.
What the hell is going on? Are we perceived to be weak? So desperate to make our mark that we’ll allow ourselves to be stomped on?
Writers are not weak. We’re anything but.
Corporate America isn’t the only douche bag where we writers are concerned. As a screenwriter, over the last seventeen years, I’ve experienced a head/scratching shift in what we’re expected to bring to the party.
I always thought my task was to deliver a stellar script, a compelling story with kickass characters that viewers could relate to. What a blissful gig I imagined it to be! The freedom to be able to make “stuff” up in my head, to create whole worlds and situations from the germ of an idea, is breathtaking to me.
But it’s getting harder to get noticed. Because a bangin’ screenplay isn’t enough. Now we screenwriters, those of us who want our work to be seen, anyway, are “strongly encouraged” to attach bankable talent, on our own, mind you, and have at least “some financing in place.”
What the heck? If I’m supposed to do that, then what do producers do? Or the financing companies that work with producers?
Should I give Julia Roberts a ring and ask her if she has time to star in my film? Or Reese “I’m committed to helping women filmmakers” Witherspoon, who I’d like to slap?
I know: Perhaps I should beg virtual strangers to help finance my projects on Kickstarter. I can just imagine how that would go. Although, I have thought about it.
As far as paying gigs go, I’ve found that “content creators” are in high demand. Story-tellers, not so much. That said, many of us can do both, turning on a dime if need be.
I can toggle from product descriptions and tag lines to hard-core sell sheets to personal essays if the need arises. But it never does. And if it ever did, I wouldn’t be offered a fraction of what I’m worth.
Instead, if even given the chance to get to “next steps,” I’d be presented with a half-assed writing test that again, has nothing to do with actual word-smithing. I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve taken. They’re humiliating and unnecessary. Either give someone a shot, or don’t.
No. Writers aren’t wusses or saps. We’re tough as nails and we deserve better than what we routinely get which is little to no respect, and even less money.
Perhaps instead, I should say that writers are often perceived as “wimps,” so hungry for approval that we’ll settle for whatever we can get. Even if we have to code emails or create websites from scratch or handle billing or perform the odd bikini wax.
Even if writing is only ten percent of the gig. And that’s BS.
We need to get together on this. Show how tough we actually are by saying “No more chump change for us!” And mean it.
Moreover, we have to believe it.
© Sherry McGuinn, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.