Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

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Ask Rachel: When should I stop writing for free?

Anonymous writes: I write for several publications, and have editorial responsibilities at a couple of these. I understand it’s the nature of the industry and that it’s important to have this experience, but I’m starting to wonder if too many publications capitalise on the fact that young writers need experience and are willing to undersell themselves as a result.

How do you approach this crossover? Am I just being bratty in not wanting to keep volunteering my skills? At what point should you expect to get paid for the experience you’ve already acquired and the ‘dues’ you’ve already paid?

I’ve had a few people ask me this question lately, and after years of long, convoluted responses, I’ve finally come up with a simple answer.

You should stop working for free when you can find someone to pay you. And no matter how early on you are in your career, there’s no harm in at least trying to get paid.

As the amount of paid work you take on increases, the amount of unpaid work you’re able to take on will naturally decrease, until eventually you get to the point where you’re got so much paid work that any unpaid work you continue to do is truly a matter of giving back (or passion for the project in question), rather than “exposure”.

How do you manage the transition? Start pitching publications that pay. Start applying for jobs that pay. Pitch and apply relentlessly, building upon all those skills and experience you developed doing your unpaid work. Write for low paying publications if you have to, as you work your way up - it’s better than no paying, at least. Dream up ways you can make money off your skills without relying on a middleman for approval.

You don’t have to kiss your volunteer commitments goodbye just yet… unless you really, really want to, in which case go for it. Like you said, they do offer valuable experience and networks. But there’s no harm in asking for a little money - you have just to start putting yourself in front of people in the position to give it.

Got a burning question you’d like me to answer? Click here.

Related: Should you work for free? A quick Q&A guide.
Should we write for free?

Elsewhere: Want to be a freelance writer? Act like one. (Musings of an Abstract Aucklander)


  1. treatyoselfartie reblogged this from genpink
  2. genpink reblogged this from rachelhills
  3. elizaboothy reblogged this from cocothinkshefancy and added:
    Nothing drives me more crazy than the fact that because writers are willing to write for incredibly low pay, publishers...
  4. cocothinkshefancy reblogged this from opinionessoftheworld and added:
    Also, find spaces where there is an incentive to get their writers paid. This is hard with newer or even off the map...
  5. opinionessoftheworld reblogged this from rachelhills and added:
    The very question that’s plagued me as I try to parlay my blogging and freelance writing into a paycheck.
  6. journalismnow reblogged this from rachelhills
  7. rachelhills posted this