Learning How to Spell 5: Pay the Writer

This is a job. Let's be professional about it.

October 27, 2010

Art is one of the deepest, most personal things in the world. To create art, to make something that moves people or makes them think, is an act with few equals in this world. It’s the act of creation on a personal level.

And it’s damn hard work.

I’m a writer. That’s my art. But I also have bills to pay, and I’ve invested time and money in my craft, so if someone wishes to hire me for these skills, I’m more than willing to lend myself out. For a price. I’m not talking about money, although money is part of it. I’m talking about time and effort.

Say it like you’ve learnt it. by ~ForgetCassettes on deviantART


Three months ago, I met with someone who said he needed a scriptwriter for documentaries. He needed someone to edit two books and help write a novel. I would receive percentages from the sale of these items and, seeing as how he has a loyal fan base and would likely sell hundreds of thousands of copies of each, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

The first work we did was featured right here on Randomology.org a few months ago and I was very proud of it.

And then the proverbial fertilizer hit the fan.

For the last three months, I’ve taken calls, edited emails, written sales pitches, delivered DVDs, checked mail, made sales calls, and been on call all day, every day, for whatever small job or errand needed doing. In short, I’ve been doing everything but what I joined to do.

The final indignation came two weeks ago. I was tasked with Photoshopping images of deer to look like the work of Marco Grobe. Understand that I use Paint Shop Pro 7, an eight-year-old piece of software that is eight versions out of date, and use a computer that is four years old. My boss, a professional graphic designer, uses the latest Photoshop software and has a state-of-the-art Apple computer that makes mine look like a graphing calculator.

He couldn’t figure it out in one day. I figured it out in one hour. And he still had the balls to accuse me of forgetting what I was supposed to be doing when one of the more than fifty pictures I needed to alter didn’t come out quite like he wanted. He then wanted me to learn Aperture, a program I’ve never used and requires a Mac, a computer with an operating system I haven’t used since high school.

In short, I had to start from scratch, do his work, my work, and get berated when my work didn’t quite match the $3,000 worth of professional photo-manipulation he would have otherwise had to pay for. Combine that with a monthly salary that’s, frankly, a joke for everything I do and bring to the table, and I decided on only one course of action.

I quit. Sent a letter expressing my dissatisfaction. Told my boss where and when I would return the DVDs I had to mail out, the receipts, and as well as the company phone. It was as professional a letter as I could write seeing as how I was stressed, tired, and filled with what I can only describe as soul-crushing frustration and regret.

I thought that would be that, but I did receive an email from him. He was, and I’m using his own word, “insulted” by my email. Apparently, it’s insulting to point out facts.

I’m lying by ~AnkaaaaPORR on deviantART

The Honor Was Mine, Sir

He has a loyal fan base. Members of the US military oversees use his documentaries when they’re homesick. I know that. It’s why I had faith our products would sell and I would make a healthy profit. I should have been honored to work for him and be a part of this, he said.

Except that it’s not an honor to be someone’s lackey. Like I said, I am a writer. If I did errands, deliveries, and all this work, received no percentage and we sold a hundred thousand copies, I get nothing from it. My effort gives others praise and payment and I’m left with a month of sleepless nights and wasted time.

McDonald’s sells millions of dollars worth of product a month. Do you think the janitor that cleans corporate headquarters wakes up and thinks, “Geez, I’m so glad I’m a part of this multinational enterprise. I sure hope my mopping the floors helps the boss rake in a few extra million”?

Hell. No. I don’t care if he’s Steven fraking Spielberg. If other people do the heavy lifting and save your professional butt, you thank them and give them their rightfully earned rewards. If a painter designs a book cover, the author doesn’t get the credit. The artist does.

Annoyed artist by ~Eneko on deviantART

The Truth Hurts

I didn’t say anything in my original letter that attacked him. Whether he lied when he hired me or things simply changed, the fact remained: I wasn’t going to do what I set out to do. That was it.

If you hire a teacher and then tell them the school’s not built yet and he or she must build the building and work registrar until the students arrive, you’re going to lose the teacher.

I didn’t join his company to do office work and errands. I joined to do what I do best and make a mark. If that possibility is not there, there’s nothing for me to do. As for him being insulted, I can only imagine he thought I should have been grateful he gave me a job. It’s a tough economy and he paid what he could (even though there was apparently money in the budget for other things like an assistant we didn’t need since that was part of my new duties and new furniture for his apartment).

Really? I should have been thankful for the work he gave me because I had nowhere else to go?

Within 24 hours of quitting, I got two job offers, one of which I had to refuse, and am now teaching two classes at Texas A&M International University, will start tutoring again soon, and have the possibility of more writing classes next semester. I didn’t need his job. If his ego is so frail that the thought of him not being essential to my survival hurt him, that’s his problem. Not mine.

EGO by ~vimark on deviantART

Lesson Learned

A lot of people hear me say I’m a writer and they have one of two general reactions.

“Wow! That sounds cool!”


“Yeah, I’ve thought about writing a book. I just don’t have the time.”

What I realize now is that I was hired because my boss just didn’t have the time. It wasn’t a matter of talent. He asked me to write what he said and change it to make it sound better. That’s not writing. That’s secretarial work and editing. Writing is hard work, and those of us who do it well take it very seriously.

If you hire a photographer for your wedding, don’t expect said photographer to help clean up or drive the guests back to the hotel when they’re sloshed.

If you hire a painter to do a portrait, don’t ask said painter to cook dinner while they’re at it.

If you hire a writer to work on scripts, don’t expect the writer to stick around on the off-chance that opportunity comes back when there are other opportunities at the door. Respect your artists. We’re professionals just like in any other job. We love what we do. It’s the kind of job that often doesn’t pay well and often has years to go before we get any sort of recognition.

It’s not that we have egos that big. It’s that we crave the satisfaction of being able to do what we love.

Respect the work. Respect the writer.

And now, for some feel-good brain morphine in the shape of links.

  • This was kind of corny at first, but here are some pics of smiling animals. Keep scrolling down, though. Even I had to admit they were cute. And that’s saying something.
  • Japan’s weird. Let’s just get that out of the way. If you think kids in America dress oddly, check out some fashions from Japan. Hey, I’m glad these kids get to express themselves like this, and some of these outfits are really cool. I’m just wondering as to their day-to-day practicality.
  • And finally, from Eli Roth, we have a fun little treat: Clown. It’s not for a real movie, at least I don’t think it’s real, ut it’s fun either way. Why can’t we have more movies like this?

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