How Writing for Free Made Me Want to Give Up

Source: Pixabay

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a writer.

I’m not sure when the bug bit me. But I remember finishing the third Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel and hastily scribbling my version of a fourth on a pad of blank paper. That was before I’d heard the term “fan fiction” — and before I knew there was a fourth book.

Since then, writing has been in and out of my life. At university I wrote a lot, most of it bad, pretentious fiction aping whichever more talented writer I had read that week. But then I got a mind-numbing job, accepted I would never be Stephen King or Terry Pratchett, and gave up.

Meeting my now-wife a few years ago reignited my writing passion. Because she believed in me. I had plans…but those plans came and went. I would be a journalist. No, a freelance writer. No, an author. No, an author, and a journalist, and a freelance writer, and hey, maybe an editor thrown in for good measure.

Safe to say those plans have not come to fruition. Sure, I have a Facebook page that defines me as an author. I have two short story collections available. A few articles dotted here and there online. But that’s it. The important thing, though, is that I’m still trying — and that’s amazing, because my desperation to become a writer almost made me quit.

During hours of online boredom, I would Google search terms like “writers wanted” or “write for us” hoping to find freelance gigs. Unscientific, sure, but it worked — to an extent. Sadly, such openings weren’t the traditional “write an article and we’ll pay you” jobs. It was more like:

Write for us for exposure and maybe you’ll get a paying job in a few years


Write for us and for every 1,000 views your article gets we’ll give you $1.

It was clear: these were the only jobs going. Or at least, that’s how it appeared — so I put my name forward for a few. Soon enough I was writing about popular culture for two websites and sport for another (and also editing for the latter).

All for pretty much nothing.

The big payouts I could (theoretically) get if millions of people viewed my articles seduced me to write for one site, while another didn’t pay but boasted of previous writers who had netted paid gigs at prestigious publications.

Another site even dangled an actual job offer after reading one of my articles.
After several articles for them, the job didn’t materialise. The editor who had made it left the company, and no one else had any recollection of any such offer. Meanwhile, my articles on another site weren’t viewed anywhere close to enough times to get me anything beyond pocket money, and my unpaid contributions elsewhere went unseen by any eyes at prestigious websites who might want to offer me a job.

Writing, editing, researching or some combination of all three took up every spare hour of my evenings and weekends. That was on top of a full time 9–5 office job. After going to bed in the early morning I would wake up a few hours later to trudge to my actual paying job.

I told myself I enjoyed it, but it was exhausting. It wasn’t all bad — I’ve always loved writing — but it became a real slog. And it wasn’t for anything. My dreams of quitting my job, of becoming a full time paid writer were just that. Writing gigs online were limited, and there are better, more qualified writers than me out there.

So I gave up.

Well, kind of.

One site went under. The other carried on without me (and probably hasn’t noticed my departure) and I left my position (officially a contributing editor, though still a voluntary gig) at the third.

I took a break. Took stock. At the time I didn’t know if I would ever write again.

I still write, obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this, and still harbour pipe dreams of being an author — but I refuse to let it take up all my free time. My writing fits around me and my life, rather than working my fingers to the bone for someone else’s schedule, and to allow someone else to make money. I won’t burn out like I did for the year I went to work and came home and wrote until I almost fell asleep at the keyboard.

I write every day unless there’s a good reason not to, even if it’s only a five or ten-minute burst quickly tapped out on my phone. The constant, crushing pressure to keep abreast of the latest news in film, TV and sports, always seeking a slightly different angle for a piece, wondering how on earth I could find five or ten things to “learn” about whatever was the big story of the day, has gone.

It’s all on my terms now — and the exciting writing bug is back. Who knows how far it will take me, but this time I won’t give up.

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Navigating parenting with a disability and trying to write a novel. Email:

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