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The Value of You

Can you afford to work for free?

I get paid $25 to write my column. I used to get paid $50 to write my column. And, when I first started I got $100 (unheard of) to write my column. And, telling you this may very well lead to this being my last column.

But, for those of you who have been regular followers of mine for the past year-and-a-half, you will understand that I have to write from my heart. Write what I know. Write honestly and as uncensored as possible, even if it means I'm making myself vulnerable to hate mail, angry comments, or, worse—the end of my column.

Now, I am well aware that most columnists, bloggers, etc. get paid nothing for their hard work. ZIP. I suppose just seeing your words in print on the Internet is payment in itself, and so the fact that I've received any money at all for my column is something I should be grateful for.

And I am.

But, why shouldn't people be paid for their work? Why should it be that we say "That's okay, I'll do it for nothing even though I'm putting in time, energy, thought, personal stories, pictures, videos, etc. I'm drawing readers and traffic to your site and sharing my links on Facebook and Twitter. But, hey, there is someone else who will do it for no money so I will do it. Thank you for this opportunity."

Really? Does that make sense? It just doesn't seem fair. And, yes, I know, life isn't fair.

I never liked that saying. It always felt like a way to sit and do nothing.

Now, for me, the truth is I'm extremely blessed to have a job today that pays me so I am not dependent on my column to put food on the table. However, when I started writing for Patch and only up until to six months ago—Studio City Mom was my only source of income. That's right—ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME.

No matter how much I was pounding the pavement, selling what I could, and putting it out there to everyone that I needed a job—my Patch paycheck was the only money I knew I had coming in.

Patch helped put gas in my car, food on the table and a grain of self esteem in my soul. Patch paid it's writers when so many other sites did not. And it helped me feel good about what I was doing.

Growing up I watched my mother volunteer for everything. Give of her time and talent and never receive a paycheck. As a result we were broke and she was often in a depression. Always worrying about how to keep us from losing the house, car, and just about everything else.

I used to ask her, "Mom, why aren't you getting paid to direct that show? Why aren't you getting paid to teach that class? Why aren't you getting paid for your time?"

She would sigh and say, "They asked if I'd do it for free and I said yes. If I don't they'll just get someone else and it's better than doing nothing."

If that were true than why was she in fetal postion nearly every night?

My belief is everyone should get paid for their time and work. Whatever it is. We need to take care of each other. Getting paid for your talent, your energy, your very being not only helps you financially—it helps you mentally and emotionally.

I know that when I am asked to do something for free (usually by someone who has three houses, a garage of luxury cars and flies 1st class) I feel depressed. But desperation and fear of not being wanted at all has led me to do many things for free. And I've ALWAYS regretted it.

Now, this isn't to say I don't believe in volunteering, donating or doing charity work. Not at all. I'm all about being of service and giving back—but one can do so much more of that if their own personal life is in order.

I once heard a very spiritual man say that the best way to be of service to man is if you've made your riches first. You can do greater things for humanity if you're not living in fear, depression and despair.

I want to teach my daughter to value herself. Her art, her creativity, her wisdom... her existence.

She and her girlfriend once set up a lemonade stand. They made batches of lemonade and cookies and worked their tails off in the hot sun for hours. They made good money and when they were done they said they were going to give all the money to charity.

I looked at them, both wiping sweat off their cheeks and sipping the last bits of lemonade, and said, "You worked hard. Pay yourselves first. You earned it. Once you pay yourself we'll send the rest to charity."

They beamed. The thought never occurred to them. They each took a small portion of the money and put the rest in the charity jar.

As we cleaned up I heard them talking to each other:

"What should we do with our portion?"

There was a long pause, then,

"I know! We can use the money we paid ourselves with to buy more supplies and do another lemonade stand next week and give a portion again to charity."

High-fives all around.

We're all worth something. Let's not forget that.

Susan McMartin January 30, 2012 at 08:12 PM
haha! michael, thank you!!
Susan McMartin January 30, 2012 at 08:58 PM
jan, thank you! and it's amazing how some things just haven't changed. imagine if we told a mechanic "i won't pay you, but just think you can tell people (and so will i) that you got to give a tune up on a car today." thanks again so much for sharing a bit of your history with me. ;-)
Linda Rubin January 30, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I have an article in my archive from 2010 in which AOL announces it plans to become the biggest employer of journalists in the country. I guess employment does not include wages.
Bob Blanchard January 31, 2012 at 12:01 AM
I have been reading Patch articles for some time and unfortunately, they don't all rise to the same standards. Some ego driven "writers" think the world can't live without them. I'll let you judge which ones they are. If you need a comparison, reflect back to your school newspaper days and remember how self centered some of that writing was. I know good writing when I read it. Good writing jumps out at you, The author doesn't need to repeatedly remind me how good they are.
Jan Leasure January 31, 2012 at 12:23 AM
"Pick Me Bob!" (Just kidding/sarcastic) ;)
Marie Fairman January 31, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Thank you for such a thoughtful and inspiring column. I hope you continue and you are well compensated for your obvious and extraordinary talent.
Susan McMartin January 31, 2012 at 03:16 AM
marie, thank you. your words just inspired me!
Don Helverson January 31, 2012 at 05:58 AM
I have always had teaching, dog training, and professional tire hurdling ("it's not a stupid sport") to fall back on during the lean writing times. I love your journey, but, of course, I don't have to live it. Except when I do. All my love, support, and admiration.
Jeffrey January 31, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Bob - I am not really sure what you are trying to say here. Are you referring to Susan? If so, I am not really sure which of the possible points to bring to your attention. If you want to talk about the economic marketplace that puts value on writing then we could discuss how the current market values Susan's work fairly highly. If you want to talk about her discussing how good her writing is I could point out that one of the themes of her columns is her insecurity and need for validation as a writer (fairly normal for writers, academics and others who put their ideas out into the marketplace). If you want to discuss her value to patch we can also have that discussion. But before we can have any of these discussions, you need to make your point a bit more clear. As for Susan, her column is the only one on patch I read. I read it every Monday and enjoy it.
Laurie Freitag January 31, 2012 at 03:25 PM
I am loving this topic! Susan, this was my first article I've read by you. The world needs you to be yourself...so keep on writing. You inspire.
Susan McMartin January 31, 2012 at 06:39 PM
don, please teach me tire hurdling. ;-)
Susan McMartin January 31, 2012 at 06:41 PM
laurie, thank you! so glad you found me and enjoyed what you read! i will continue to write indeed! thank you!
Bob Blanchard January 31, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Jeffrey, My comments are intended for anyone who professes to be a writer and feels compelled to share their life's burdens with anyone in listening or reading range. You said you didn't get my point. You also said that Susan is the only one you read. She may be a wonderful lady, but i think part of your problem is that you will never know good wine if you spend your life drinking Thunderbird. As far as economics goes,good writing sells itself and thus the publications they are in. I suggest you broaden your horizons and read some of the work done in Patch by Ilona Martin, Irene DeBlasio and Linda Rubin to name a few good wordsmiths. I like validating them. I have had my share of writing and editing experience and I "speak from the heart".
Jeffrey January 31, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Bob - Thank you for clarifying your remarks. I have a couple quick comments. First, Susan may or may not be a "wonderful lady" as I don't know her. I do think that she is able to convey the essence of a character (in this case 'Susan') through the written word and that takes a certain talent as a writer. Second, the economics of writing is what the market will pay the writer either directly or indirectly (e.g., an academic who writes a book not to make money from sales but to increase her/his value to corporations who will pay to hear about the ideas in the book). It seems that Susan is being paid under the former system and my guess is that she is being paid quite well - especially for a 'professed' writer. Third, you seem to have misunderstood my comment about Ms. McMartin being the only person I read on Patch. You seem to interpret my comment to be that I do no other reading. I actually do more reading of more writers than most people given my job is to stay current with a variety of literatures. Susan is a guilty pleasure who I read for one reason - enjoyment. My comment was meant to address her value to Patch in that she does bring people to the site. While my incremental value added may be little, there may be more like me. Fourth, "Thunderbird"? Really? The anonymity of these sites does encourage such personal and dismissive comments but let us be above them. Finally, I hope Susan continues to write on this site as I like the "Susan" in the articles.
Marie Fairman January 31, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Ms. McMartin is compensated (as she states in her piece) but not nearly well enough Jeffrey.
Jeffrey January 31, 2012 at 09:22 PM
I was thinking of her day job writing for a hit television show.
Bob Blanchard January 31, 2012 at 11:20 PM
HI Ilona, Forgive me for misstating your last name. It is Saari and not Martin and I enjoy YOUR writing.
Ilona Saari February 01, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Thanks, Bob - I hope I make you smile, maybe LOL, w/ this Sat's opinion piece re: ethnic diversity in movies, et al in honor of the upcoming Oscars. <g>
Nicole Kristal February 01, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Hey Susan! Couldn't agree with you more. Check out this site: http://paythewriter.org/ and sign up. People need to know as long as we keep working for free we will continue to be exploited.
Ilona Saari February 01, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Regarding tv/film, Nicole - this is what the WGA should be doing - but, alas, it really never has followed up and support writers in this after they made the "rule" against it. At times the WGA is toothless and as a proud WGA member, that upsets me. They really don't protect the writer as well as they should, imo.
Susan McMartin February 01, 2012 at 01:07 AM
jeffrey, just read the exchange between you and mr. blanchard and i simply wanted to say thank you. it seems mr. blanchard just doesn't like my writing -- which is fine. i'm happy to read that you do (i love being your guilty pleasure). thank you, again, for your kind, insightful, generous words.
Susan McMartin February 01, 2012 at 01:08 AM
thanks, nicole!
Linda Rubin February 01, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Bob, thanks so much for the shout out, I appreciate your appreciation. But please don't be hatin' on Studio City Mom. I wish I had her chutzpah.
Jeffrey February 01, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Susan - You are welcome. I just had problems with the dismissive and personal nature of his comments. Were I to read all the writers on Patch I would undoubtedly find some who were interesting but whose writing style I didn't like and some others who were uninteresting but good writers (and others who were overall great or terrible of course). All it means is that I am not their audience and not that their writing is necessarily flawed. Regarding this week's column, Mr. Blanchard may read it as whining but I read someone articulating a personal reaction to some very sophisticated concepts ranging from extinction (a form of behavior modification), pay as a hygiene factor and not a motivator, the economics of writing on the web, how childhood creates a frame for understanding the world and what it means to be a professional (as defined by sociologists). As someone who reads a lot of theory and data on this stuff it is wonderful to read someone who gives it soul. Thank you.
Susan McMartin February 01, 2012 at 03:02 PM
thank you, jeffrey! that was my purpose for this particular column -- to shine a light on a problem that affects not only writers (including the writers mr. blanchard IS fond of) but anyone who is asked to work for free. mr. blanchard seemed to want to just attack me as a writer -- but i think in doing so he missed the point of the column. i'm glad you did not. thank you for your comments, jeffrey. i truly appreciate them.
Cathy Flynn February 02, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Susan, I have been enjoying your column every Monday since I discovered it a year ago. I can really relate to your stories of motherhood and struggling to pay the bills. It's also how I found Patch in the first place (I googled something and you came up). Your contributions to Patch have been a real inspiration for me to join. I've been contributing stories for Patch since February about events in Valley Village, and I started Very VERY busy mom when they opened up to bloggers in May. I've never received a dime from Patch, which doesn't bother me so much since I have a day job as the dialogue editor for "Once Upon a Time." However, my goal in my articles is to get the word out about community events, mostly for Colfax Charter Elementary School and Neighborhood Council Valley Village. I never really followed blogs before Patch invited me to start my own, and I have to tell you, I'm having a blast! Although I don't get paid, my goal in my blog is to entertain and make people laugh. It inspired me to start my own blog in September at veryVERYbusymom.com, and I've already had 5,684 hits (as of today). Even though your Patch pay keeps going down, and you definitely deserve more (especially since you're getting paid as a real bonafide writer on "Two and a half Men") I hope you continue to write your column, purely because you have a lot of regular readers who will miss your weekly dose of humor and honesty. Maybe you can get a tax break for your nearly nonprofit status.
Cathy Flynn February 02, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Geez, that comment was long. Sorry.
Jan Leasure February 02, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Susan; I hope you are able to continue. Remember, most of us writers don't make decent money until it is "Posthumously" so I guess it is never too late? Keep your dead-on kernals popping! -Jan Leasure, www.jan-leasure.com
Susan McMartin February 02, 2012 at 11:29 PM
thanks, cathy! i love writing my column and have no plans to stop any time soon. however, i do think that it's okay to have fun AND get paid too. i'm glad we both have day jobs that make it possible for us to continue our columns/blogs but imagine if we didn't? you're a busy mom (as you pointed out) and, in my opinion, deserve to get paid for what you contribute to patch or anywhere else. your articles about community events are helping generate business/income for those events -- well, why shouldn't you be compensated too? my point in all this is that if people got paid for their time and energy and talent there might be a little less fear, stress and despair in the world and bit more joy and abundance. thanks again, cathy, for being such a loyal reader and sharing your thoughts!
Susan McMartin February 02, 2012 at 11:31 PM
thanks, jan! love the 'dead-on kernals popping' image!!

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