3 Reasons Why Freelance Writers Should Never Write For Free

never write for free

Writing is awesome. It’s a way for us as a society to spread ideas, tell stories, and be creative in a myriad of different styles and methods. Because of how instrumental it is to share information from one person to another, we’re taught how to write in school. As a result, when you say you write for a living, you get a condescending “Oh, how nice” from your Aunt Myrtle and a “So? I do that on Twitter all the time” from your cousin Leo. While Aunt Myrtle implied it, Cousin Leopold said it.

But even though Cousin Leo annoyed you with his condescending comment, a tiny section of your brain tells you that he kind of has a point. If there’s one thing that the internet is full of, it’s words. You can Google any topic and find thousands and thousands of words written on it. Anyone with an internet connection can jot down anything they want, publish it and voila! More words. More so-called writers.

Combine this instant access to information along with an easily-exploitable crop of desperate “writers” itching to get into the business, and it’s never been easier for employers to find writers willing to work for nothing.

But here’s why you should steer far away from that crowd and never write for free.

1. You make it worse for your future and the rest of us.

First off, by accepting to write for free, you’re telling the employer that not only is your work not worth anything but also that they can get away with not compensating creatives in the future. When you write for free, you’re ultimately saying that the status quo is right and that freelancers can write their hearts out and never have anything in their pockets to show for it.

Not only will businesses or employers likely not pay you further down the line, they’re also probably not going to pay the next person who offers to write for them. And while yes, most people who want to write for a living do so because they enjoy it, the dream for all of us is to support ourselves (and our families) by doing what we love. It’s the idealistic joy of creation combined with the practical happiness of not starving for your art.

2. It kills your confidence.

One of the worst side-effects of writing for free is the simple realization that others are doing the exact same thing that you are and they’re getting paid for it. Do you want to know what helps that feeling go away? Getting paid for your writing. Know what doesn’t? I’ll give you one guess.

While you might be doing a free gig to help your profile or fill out your online portfolio, in the end, potential employers are going to look ten times more favorably on work that you got paid for rather than writing you did for free.

While volunteer work may speak to your drive, paid work tells recruiters that not only did someone want you to work for them, they felt perfectly fine giving you money for the writing that you did. As they should have.

Don’t get me wrong—drive and passion are incredibly important to have in any field, but if it’s misdirected, it can lead to a place that turns your career into a hobby.

Use this handy formula to figure out how much you should be charging as a freelance writer, and then start charging for your work, ASAP.

3. It ultimately wastes your time.

I want to preface this point by saying this: any excuse to practice your writing is worth your time. Working on your own stuff is never time misspent, but working pro bono on what is ultimately someone else’s product and end goal takes away from the time you could be spending on projects that are important to your end goal, or looking for work that will actually pay, or attempting to network to find better opportunities. Once you actually start finding those paying markets, unless you’re still doing it for fun, you’re going to drop that free gig like a rock.

Now, I know some of this might sound crappy, heartless, and greedy, and while the argument exists that this line of thinking is indicative of the don’t-pay-the-starving-artist mentality of creative work on the internet, I would like to make a few caveats towards what I just said.

Yes, writing/working for free can and should be accepted when working for charities and other causes you believe in. It’s okay when you have the free time to dedicate to it. But as I mentioned before, the notion I’m trying to get at is the understanding that freelance writers and other contract creatives out there deserve to be—need to be—paid for their work.

The day fellow creatives stop working for spec and declare that they deserve to be compensated fairly is the day things get better, not just for you, but for all of us.  


Ricardo Castano IV

Rick is a writer, editor, and citizen of the internet. He's written for TV, radio, print, blogs, websites ebooks, and edited all the above. He likes writing stories that make people feel things and barbecuing food that he eats way too much of. He likes having clients too, so check him out over at RicksWriting.com to see what he can do for you. He high-fived a bear once.

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One comment

  • Josephine Bournes

    Well said! We don’ t ask car mechanics to repair our cars for free, nor do we ask the chef at the restaurant to cook our meals for free.