In this season of giving, it seems apt to talk about our writing as a gift.
“Hold on, now,” you say. “I was kinda hoping to make some money at this whole writing gig, so are you saying we have to give our words away?”
Whether we’re paid or not, isn’t viewing our words as a gift…isn’t that how we begin the process of connecting with people? We toil over our message and send off something for a reader to consider.
“Here. I wrote this for you.”
I recently published a blog post about the longing we writers have for applause—not for how amazing we write or how heroic we might be for sharing the depths of our heart or pain, but to hear the sound of someone responding to the words we’ve composed and offered. We long to build a bridge from writer to reader. To connect.
Author, poet, and essayist Scott Russell Sanders explains his motivation. In an essay entitled “The Singular First Person,” he says, “I choose to write about my experience not because it is mine, but because it seems to me a door through which others might pass” (p. 8, Earth Works).
If we share that mindset, we write to solve someone’s problem or ease their pain or show them we know what it’s like, how it feels. And in writing that down as best we can, we build a door “through which others might pass” or a bridge over which a reader might cross. We create a threshold. Or a safe passage.
All of our writing in that sense seems to be a gift, even if we receive payment for it.
Now the funny thing is, literally giving away our work for free can have a literal payoff.
Science fiction author Cory Doctorow partnered with Litographs in an article published on Medium, where Doctorow writes, “I’ve been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has it ever made me a bunch of money…”
When the print version of his first novel was published, he made the electronic text available for free at this website as a digital download—a gift—and within a day he saw 30,000 downloads. People “met” him through that free copy—it introduced them to his work. He created an instant audience that suddenly knew him and wanted their friends to know him as well.
“My problem isn’t piracy,” he explains, “it’s obscurity, and free ebooks generate more sales than they displace.”
Getting known by readers is a challenge for all of us; obscurity is indeed a problem for those writers trying to build a platform. Giving away some of our work to introduce ourselves could pay off in the long run.
So if you’re kinda hoping to make a little money at this whole writing gig, never fear. View your work as a gift to the world—as a bridge built to create connection or a door opened wide through which others might pass. Pour your heart into it, knowing you might make a difference in someone’s life.
You can sell it. Absolutely. Or you can give it away, expecting no particular gain. Either way, you’re holding it out to the world, to a reader, as a gift, saying, “Here. I wrote this for you.”
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- What Do Writers Dream About?
- Why Give Away Your Work for Free? (Medium article featuring Cory Doctorow)
- Your Writing Platform episode collection
- Earth Works: Selected Essays, by Scott Russell Sanders (includes “The Singular First Person”) affiliate link
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