'Compensated' vs. 'Paid' by jean-francois dubeau

Yesterday, Will Wheaton posted an article about getting paid for your work. It’s a rousing piece. A call to arms for creatives to stand up to ‘The Man’ and demand compensation for their work. No more ‘pro bono’! No more work for exposure! We demand dollars. As the title of his blog post says: you can’t pay the rent with ‘reach’.

The story goes that Huffington Post asked to publish one of Wheaton’s articles but didn’t offer any compensation for it. Wheaton declines and takes to Twitter with his outrage and proceeds to type a blog post on the subject. The ultimate suggestion is that no creative should ever do work for free because. You. Deserve. Compensation. For. Your. Work. (punctuation, his). “If you write something that an editor thinks is worth being published, you are worth being paid for it. Period.” is the quoted advice. And it’s bad advice.

I’ve been doing graphic design for over two decades now and I can say that I’ve sworn off doing pro bono work for over ten years. I don’t need to fill out my portfolio and I don’t need any exposure. I’m not the Will Wheaton of the graphic arts but I certainly can get away with turning down offers that don’t compensate sufficiently. Wheaton is very transparent that he knows he’s in a similar and even superior situation; he can turn down things because he doesn’t need that kind of visibility. Wil is also a very intelligent individual who knows the internet market. He’s fully aware that a new article about not giving your work away, a call to arms to stop stand up to companies that ask for free content and the tweets that accompany that article, are a far bigger bang for his buck then allowing his content to be published without compensation.

However, I’m also an aspiring writer. While I don’t need the money to pay the rent and buy my next meal, as I’m building an audience for my creative content I do need the exposure. If Huffington Post would ask to republish a blog post of mine (this one for instance) but not pay me for it, I would gladly accept and not feel exploited by it at all. How much HuffPo is worth and how much the going rate for this kind of article are completely irrelevant to the bigger picture: I would get unprecedented exposure from it.

Now, I’m no Wil Wheaton and Huffington Post isn’t going to be emailing me about publishing one of my posts. However, I did do a guest post for SF Signal a few months back and although I was the one who went to them with that offer, if they were to come back and ask to publish one of my blog posts about robots on their site, I would gladly accept. I’m at a stage where I need the visibility.

I understand where Wil is coming from and I agree that every creative should be compensated for their work. But compensation doesn’t always come in the form of payment. A subsequent tweet from Wheaton says that anyone who makes something deserves compensation. The missing tweet or the missing paragraph from his article however should state that sometimes visibility and exposure are compensation. The call to arm shouldn’t be to refuse all offers that don’t end with money but rather to carefully consider what is being offered. Maybe offer a checklist of things to ask in return for a free article (how many hits do you expect on this article? What markets are being targeted? Can I promote this project or charity I’m involved with in the article? Etc.)

I don’t think Wheaton reacted badly. In his situation I would have done the same or similar. But it’s still bad advice. It’s a blanket recommendation that assumes that every creative have the same needs, want money above all else or that cash is the only kind of compensation. Perhaps that’s true of someone on Wheaton’s level. I don’t want to assume, but I doubt Wil’s had the same climb from obscurity that most creatives have to face today.

So let me be so bold as to offer an amended version to the advice: Don’t do work without compensation. Make sure that compensation has worth to YOU and improves YOUR situation. Even if you’re not offered money, ask what else you can get. Get any agreement in writing. Know YOUR context and play to it.

The Creativity Feedback Loop by jean-francois dubeau

I shouldn’t be writing this. I have other things to do. Other fishes to fry. However, sometimes you get thoughts in your head that echo so loudly that it’s hard to hear the other thoughts beneath and I need those other thoughts if I’m going to get anything of consequence done.

Lately, I’ve been wasting a lot of time. In a way I’m very fortunate; I won a publishing opportunity with Inkshares but while most others with a similar chance are still working on their manuscript, I have everything ready and in the hands of my content editor. Still, I want to finish the first draft of the sequel to The Life Engineered and to do that I need to write. A lot. Yet, I’m spending most of my weekends putting together a 1:1 scale model of Koalemos, a character from The Life Engineered. I’m doing this because I promised to do so and raffle a copy to my supporters but apart from that, it’s not a productive investment of time. I’m also trying to make time to get some illustration work done for The Life Engineered. Essentially, I’m putting a lot of time into a few projects that aren’t writing the god damn book and it’s starting to make me feel guilty.

This little post is my Mea Culpa and also my list of excuses. It’s my way of reasoning through why these activities aren’t a waste of time but necessary tangents to breed a better sequel.

I can't stop drawing robots!

I can't stop drawing robots!

Forgetting that the model, the illustrations and even this post contribute to my marketing and visibility efforts, there’s a strong creative reason why I’m doing these things. It’s the Creative Feedback Loop. You see, most of the time, unless I’m eating sushi, I’d usually rather be writing. So unless an activity consumes me intellectually, every time I’m doing something that isn’t writing, I’m thinking about writing. I’m pondering my stories, character details, higher philosophical questions about my plot, etc. This is especially true if I’m diving deep into a project that is connected to what I’m writing. When I’m drawing robots, I’m considering the various forms my characters could take. If I’m modelling a character, I’m thinking about him and his relationship to other characters. Even the challenges I encounter while working on these other projects only serve to train me in solving challenges in my writing.

The writing feeds the side projects which in turn feed the writing. I drew a ton of sketches of robots and space ships while I wrote The Life Engineered and in a very real, if difficult to nail down way, it makes the book better. Sculpting and casting Koalemos has made me discover a series of world-building details about my universe that I hadn’t considered before and that will bleed back into the sequel as richer information for the reader to enjoy.

So while the end goal is to write stories, there is value in forcing myself to work on other projects. They can be a welcome distraction but also they help inform the process. Other writers might enjoy free association, or stream of consciousness writing to break down the walls of creativity. It’s the same thing for me except I also like to be doing something else with my hands while I think. I simply wander a little bit further out from the garden to find my ideas and assemble them into a pleasing pattern.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to mix silicone and sculpt some legs.

If you want to know more about my modelling efforts and my book, The Life Engineered, follow me on Inkshares!