by Pamelyn Casto
Sometimes writing for free can be the best a newcomer to writing can do. In my own case, I had no intentions of actually being a writer. In the beginning, I was mostly dabbling, mostly exploring to see what activity might interest me so I turned to writing to see what might develop in that area. I wrote a lot online (for free) by participating in various writing discussion groups. Such discussions with others helped me learn more about writing in general and helped me learn a lot about effective ways of expressing myself. I got plenty of writing practice by participating in those many discussions and I met a lot of fine writers and editors too.
I started writing essays and articles when an editor with an online publication asked me to write something for her magazine– on a particular topic. So I did, scared and trembling all the way. I did NOT consider myself a writer. The online journal was a relatively well-known publication at that time so I definitely felt out of my league. I was new at this! To write the requested article I did all sorts of difficult and time-consuming research to make the essay strong and because the essay was on a topic people wanted information on it was popular and ended up as a reference in all sorts of places. Then other editors began asking to reprint that essay so I said yes to those editors too (free again).
Before long I had developed a reputation as someone who knows her topic (and I do) and then I got the opportunity to write for Writer’s Digest. (Again, it was someone else’s idea– in this case my co-writer’s request that he and I co-write some articles). We ended up co-writing three articles for Writer’s Digest and they published those articles in Writer’s Digest itself and re-published them in some of their other publications. So I was paid well for the articles themselves then paid extra when the Writer’s Digest editors re-published them in their other magazines too.
I then began getting invitations to write more on this particular topic . . . for pay. So I did and my work ended up in all sorts of interesting (and paying) places. So in my case, on that particular topic, writing for free was a good step into writing for pay.
On the other hand, I like writing poetry and I resent there being little money for poetry. So I discovered a way to earn some money with my poetry. I found some annual contests where my poetry fits and began entering frequently. And began winning. Sure, the prizes were only $150 or $100 (or less) but I was pleased to have earned something for my poems. I worked hard on them.
As best I can add it up, I’ve so far earned about $1,200 from my poetry (plus publication in poetry anthologies/journals). That’s not a lot of money, but it makes me feel good that I can earn at least a little money for my poems (when others declare there’s no money at all in writing poetry). So I plan to keep going in that direction (at least until I stop winning) and hope to publish a collection soon. I’ve also had a great break with an online publication who has re-published some of my prize-winning poems and has twice selected my work as their Editor’s Choice/ Featured Poem (and I got some additional pay for that honor).
I guess we each have to choose what might be our best strategy for becoming a writer who is respected, who is paid for her work, or who earns her living from her writing (if any of these is our goal). I would guess the paths vary greatly.
Pamelyn Casto, a Pushcart Prize nominee, has published feature-length articles on flash fiction in Writer’s Digest (and in their other publications), Fiction Southeast, Abstract Magazine, and OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her essay on flash fiction and myth appears in Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips From Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field and her 8,000-word essay on flash fiction is included in the four-volume Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. Her latest 5,000-word article is the lead essay in Critical Insights: Flash Fiction (2017). She’s a contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters