No, I will not write a free blog post for your company

Earlier this year, I was unemployed for three weeks. It’s not long to be out of work, and it certainly wasn’t my first, second, third, or even fourth time in that uncertain, demoralizing position, but day-to-day life didn’t feel great.

I hated seeing my boyfriend off to work every morning knowing I didn’t have a job to go to. I found myself constantly checking Gmail, lighting up every time my phone downloaded a new message but dying a little inside whenever it turned out to be spam.

Even worse than the “Congratulate [this person] on her new job!” emails from LinkedIn, however, were the requests for free blog posts from various companies. I got these at least a dozen times and never replied, although I was tempted on several occasions to tell these businesses how tacky it made them look to ask strangers, especially unemployed ones, to work for free. But I kept my mouth shut, as I needed to save all the fight in me for job searching.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to blog for a well-established co-working space with a prominent NYC presence. The company has more than 20,000 Twitter followers, millions in funding, and billions in value, as I learned from a quick Google search. Because I’d worked in one of their spaces before, I was willing to hear more about the opportunity, but only if it paid.

Then the community manager gave me some rather disheartening news, “Unfortunately, this is not a sponsored post – like I said, it’s really just a little project of mine to get some fun conversation started about work spaces. I know our social media team has tweeted some posts in the past, but I don’t control who they choose to tweet about unfortunately. So I could certainly get the post over to that team, but can’t guarantee they’ll share it.”

OK, so not only do you expect me to draft up an article for you, pictures and all, without compensation, but you’re not even sure it’ll be shared on your social media platforms? That’s the best you can do for people you’re bothering out of nowhere? Your company has more than $350 million in funding, but you’re brazen enough to scour the Internet for talented writers only to present them with an underwhelming, insulting offer?

I know younger companies say budgets are tight and they can’t fairly compensate all involved in the process, but if you’re unable to pay someone for a service, you can’t expect anything in return. What do we tell little kids who throw tantrums about lacking the allowance funds to buy all the toys they want? If you don’t have the money for it, you can’t have it. You have to earn my labor, and you can do so by paying me.

Luckily I work for a company that pays its writers because it’s, you know, ethical to do that, but many businesses get away with this by preying upon newer bloggers who may think this can be their ticket to a paycheck someday. And I have advice for these budding writers: it’s not. Providing unpaid labor is no way to begin your career. If you start out hearing that your work is unworthy of compensation, you’re going to think getting paid for labor is a privilege. No, it’s a basic part of doing work. We have enough people in our culture who just don’t understand their value, and that has to change.

These companies don’t seem to understand that writers need money too and aren’t simply wooed by the honor of having an online platform. Just look at this email I received around Christmas:

“Would you be interested in writing a post on your blog detailing your best advice for staying healthy throughout the holidays? Whether it’s the winter sneakers you live by, a pre/post workout smoothie or a flu-fighting, superfood recipe, my goal is to inspire good health throughout the holiday season.

To help encourage healthy habits, our Social Team will share some of their favorite posts on our twitter account throughout the holidays!”

And this:

“We’d love to hear from you on your travel must-haves. Everyone has their own travel essentials–especially for those sticky airport situations or just-in-case moments while en route to their getaway. We’d like for you to create a post on your blog highlighting some of your travel emergency picks, so feel free to include a mood board/collage or dive into some hidden tips.

The travel community is all about inspiration and our social team will be shouting out some of their favorite posts.”

And this:

“On your blog, share pictures of your first home if you have them, show us how you made it your own, and write about what it meant for you to have your own place!

We’ll be sharing some of our favorite Starter Stories on Twitter, so we look forward to seeing what you come up with. Please let me know if I can count you in!”

Again, the only promise is to “maybe” share it on the company’s social media page, thus exposure alone should be compelling enough for me to say yes time and time again.

Have I written for free before? Oh yeah. But always by choice. I once turned down a job at a website with regular contributors, and because I wanted to stay on their radar, I offered to write a few blog posts for them on my own time. I’ve written blogs for various friends as well. The difference is I knew these people and offered to help. They didn’t send unsolicited messages asking for free blog posts. They have class.

I genuinely want to ask each and every company with this kind of approach a question: Why in the world do you think a complete stranger is going to do you a favor? Are you naive enough to think strangers always help each other for free, or are you hoping I’m naive enough to be exploited? What if I wanted to use your service but refused to pay, arguing my input as a consumer should be enough of a reward for you? Would you allow me to take advantage, or would you laugh me out of the room?

It’s clear you understand the power of writing and blogging in our social media age, but you devalue the work of writers by telling them their contributions aren’t worthy of payment. You recognize that blogging can get you a lot of traffic, but you don’t want to pay the people who help you achieve this.

The next time a company emails me of nowhere requesting free labor, I will send them this. It’s important to remember that some people make a living off writing.

I happen to be one of those people. It’s how I pay my portion of the rent I share with my boyfriend and buy our groceries every other week. Recognition from your company isn’t going to cover my gasoline costs, health and car insurance, or monthly parking garage fees.

Stop diminishing my life’s work by expecting me to give it to you for free.

Don’t ask what I used to do

A creepy diary entry from sophomore year of high school
A creepy diary entry from sophomore year of high school

In high school, I frequently went to a secluded bench on the trail behind my house to write in my diary. I could always use the bench on my front porch, but our suburban street was anything but private and constantly swarming with rambunctious children, so I turned to the trail to write in peace. Every once in a while, moms with strollers and power walkers would pass me and wave, but for the most part, they left me be — until one day at the end of summer 2004.

Junior year was about to start and I was feeling pretty bad about it. I didn’t want to be around my parents or friends, who kept plaguing me with questions about a guy from another school that was blowing me off, so I let everything out on paper. I was a big diary keeper back in the day, and though I have no interest in reading my old entries now, I was convinced I’d eventually want to relive my teenage experiences and laugh.

As I went on and on about my confusion, a hefty man emerged from behind a tree and stomped over to me. He had a large, towering presence, and I felt uncomfortable around him immediately.

“Hello,” he said. “I see you’re writing in your notebook. Do you come here often?”

“What is this, a bar?” I joked.  “I don’t know. I’m here now.”

“A beautiful girl like you shouldn’t be alone on a trail,” he said, moving closer to me. Pale, freckled, and thin, no one besides family members had ever complimented my looks, but even I knew there was something sinister and totally unflattering about what he’d just said. This guy couldn’t have been younger than 45, reeked of whiskey, and was popping out of his tight cotton shirt.

“It’s fine,” I replied. “I need to get back to my writing now. So bye.”

I looked down at the pages in front of me, expecting him to walk away. He took a couple steps toward the bench, cornering me. I avoided eye contact, praying someone else would walk by and give me an out.

“I want to see you here tomorrow,” he said. “We should get to know each other. I hope you come back for me.”

I scribbled the same word over and over again in my journal, pretending to look busy. He repeated himself, froze, and eventually left, and as soon as he was gone, I sprinted back to my house. Throwing open the front door, I shouted for my dad.

“Someone was bothering me on the trail!” I screamed.

I relayed the story to my dad, who called the police to report a potential harasser in the neighborhood. They searched the area with no luck, and I never saw him again. Regardless, my parents said I wasn’t allowed to go to the trail to write in my journal ever again. I could retreat to coffee shops or hang out on our porch, but the trail was too isolated and risky. After a few months passed without any sign of the creepy guy, my parents got rid of the rule. I could return to the trail, but I needed to carry my cell phone at all times.

I certainly went back that year, but it was around the same time that I decided to stop journaling in public. People on laptops aren’t exactly approachable, but a person with a notebook in hand is apparently inviting all sorts of unwanted attention, maybe because they’re so hard to find in today’s world. I learned this once again the other day, when I stupidly decided to write in my diary at an Upper East Side coffee shop.

As many of you know, I was a huge journal keeper growing up. My mom has something like 50 of my old diaries collecting dust in her garage. I once told her to just throw them all out, as they take up a lot of space, but she assured me they’re worth keeping. Before they were shoved into a box to be enjoyed by no one at all, this is what they looked like:

Roxy with all the diaries I kept as a child
Roxy with all the diaries I kept as a child

photo

From second grade
From second grade
Second grade journal
Second grade journal

I was all about my journals as a kid, but decided at the beginning of college that I’d tone down all the diary-keeping. It felt childish — only for sad teenagers and awkward girls with braces who’d never been kissed. I gave regular journaling a break and used the extra time to hang out with new friends.

I never stopped owning diaries though, and every once in a while, I need one to record the things I simply can’t talk about online. Now that I’ve shipped all my stuff home, I have some serious downtime in NYC, so a couple days ago, I took my journal to a coffee shop down the street, ordered a banana (I’d had three cups of coffee that day), and started writing. I miss journaling — I can be completely honest with myself and write about what’s really on my mind. I treat this blog like a filtered and screened journal, but my real diary is much more personal.

As I was writing on the coffee shop couch, an old man approached and sat next to me. Ten minutes went by before he asked about my diary.

“Looks like you’re writing a book about New York,” he said.

“Not yet,” I replied, laughing.

Though this guy wasn’t predatory or bothersome like the man from nine years ago, he started to push my buttons after a while, perhaps because a lot of my California warmth has fizzled and I just don’t like conversing with strangers anymore. Regardless, I was cordial until he asked about work.

By then, I’d already explained I’m going to UCLA extension to study screenwriting, which is hopefully in my future. I said I was excited to do that, but my demeanor changed the second he threw his next question my way.

“So what did you use to do?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said. “It’s in the past and doesn’t make me happy, so I only want to focus on what’s next.”

He said he understood but walked away moments later, chatting up another young woman across the coffee shop. I figured he was a lonely widower trying to befriend and coach as many girls as he could in a paternal way, but it kind of ruined my night to be reminded of my former life.

As much as I enjoyed having a byline when I was still editing for the internet, I wasn’t doing what I really wanted. I’ve always wanted to write, and I thought there was only one clear path for that. Thankfully there isn’t, and while I learned a lot on my journey to becoming an online writer/editor, I couldn’t be happier about what’s ahead, so what I used to do just isn’t relevant, important, or even worthy of discussion anymore. Let’s just move forward and forget about my years in media.

How I almost fell off the bleachers at a screenwriting workshop

Screenwriting in the Car
Screenwriting in the Car (Photo credit: JenGallardo)

We all know writing is a big risk, but who would have thought it can be physically dangerous too?

I found myself in such a mess at a screenwriting workshop last night, which I talk all about in the video below. As I note in the clip, I chose to sit in the back of the room out of sheer intimidation even though I used to always pick a seat in the front row during college. I’m not a “front row” student anyway, at least not until I become more confident with this particular form of writing. Anyway, a boisterous old man took the open seat next to me and nearly sent us off the bleachers when he scooted his chair, causing mine to fall back, break, and get stuck between the ledge. Had the chairs moved any further, we both would have fallen seven feet backward and probably broken our necks. It was a weird note to begin on, but as some of my friends later pointed out, it certainly provided fodder for good material, and screenwriting classes should never be boring.

The workshop itself was very informative and helpful. I wasn’t nuts about the first half of the class, as we were required to write and talk about our feelings. Let’s be real: I do enough of that already. The last thing I need is to write about what’s on my mind because I’m constantly doing that. I loved the second part of the session though, as it focused on structure and storytelling necessities. Every strong screenplay, she said, needs a clear measurable goal, and the issue with many scripts is a deficiency in this area. It got me thinking about the nature of my own scripts. I had to submit a screenplay for that screenwriting fellowship I mentioned, and the clear measurable goal there is for the main character to start fresh and divorce herself from her former life. As I say in my video, I do worry there’s too much of an emphasis on running away than actually running toward something, but that’s also part of her development.

Let me know what you think about the clip itself! Sorry to keep these new entries short, but so far you all seem to be responding well to my videos.

New articles, millions of story ideas, all before a big vacation

For the past two weeks, I convinced myself that I was struggling to come up with good story/article ideas. In reality, I was merely overlooking my story ideas, all of which were actually quite valid.

So, today I wrote a piece for The Daily Caller about Maureen Dowd dubbing several conservative females as the “Republican Mean Girls”. Go read it, please.

I have lots of other news pieces I’d like to write, but I’m also open to your suggestions.

All this happens right before I am to travel back to Tucson, Arizona for the University of Arizona Homecoming.

Oh, how I am dying to reunite with old friends again, roam my college campus as a graduate, and accidentally bump into awesome people. Before I started interning in DC, all I thought about was UofA Homecoming, but now that I’ve got something to look forward to daily, I’m much less focused on my former life. Things are excellent in D.C., where the weather is getting chillier.

Back at UA, I was the girl who had multiple groups of friends. I had my “dorm buddies since freshman year,” Daily Wildcat co-workers, friends from specific classes, crowd from Alpha Phi Omega co-ed fraternity, and various friends that I’d met randomly on campus.

Things are different in D.C. Work is essentially my only source for friendship, so I socialize mainly with my co-interns and certain employees. For the first time in my adult life, I don’t have millions of different people to hang out with (don’t hate me for that!), but I actually love it that way.

I’m closest with Jessica and Hillary, both of whom intern with me. It’s nice to have a solid foundation, and I’m truly happy about the fact that I am developing really strong bonds with people.

So, it feels great to have a handful of worthwhile friendships rather than dozens of connections.

It’s a shame that Hillary is moving back to Arkansas in two weeks, but I’ll never be able to thank her enough for being the first person to make me feel at home in D.C. (aside from my awesome roomie, who is adorable, but I thrive off new friendships when in a new environment.) Jessica is amazing, and I know we’ll have each other’s backs until she returns to Baylor University for her senior year this December.

Why must everyone I love leave me? 😦

Anyway, life is great for me, and I’m sure I’ll be glowing when I go back to Tucson on Thursday. Expect a blog post about that.

About two weeks ago, I went to an amazing San Diego wedding. One of my closest childhood friends married her college sweetheart, and I loved seeing them tie the knot. I was also pleased with the location of their ceremony. The weather was perfect and I literally baked in the sun for about ten minutes. But, I wouldn’t raise my kids in California. Having grown up there, I feel I was cheated out of the seasons that easterners experience. So, my future children won’t be Californians like their mom.

Going back to the wedding, I had an awesome time. I met some great people, many of whom were good friends of the groom. They were all Nebraska boys, and I kind of fell in love with them. *Sigh* Why are all the nice men living in the Midwest? Is God trying to tell me to move there? Not going to happen, sadly.

At war with the kitchen, in love with words

I’m sorry for the long hiatus, but you can rest assured knowing that all is well in my world.

On Wednesday, I began interning at an exciting 24-hour news website. I absolutely love the newsroom and staff members, and this gives me something to do while I job search. Who knows, this may even turn into a job (that’s what I’m hoping for). After all, some of the current reporters started off as summer interns, but let’s not get too excited yet.

Anyway, I’m the happiest I’ve been in four months. I realized this when I met up with my co-interns/co-workers on Friday night. It’s so nice to be around people again. Ever since I left Tucson in July, I’ve been kind of lonely, being that the majority of my college friends have either moved to other parts of the country or stayed in Arizona. I kind of got used to just doing my own thing, but it wasn’t very fun. As much as I adore my roommate Anna, I missed having group interaction. Whether or not this is a good thing, I thrive off social consistency and large groups.

I’m glad to be working around people who love new ideas and opinions, and the interns are all really smart. Some of the interns are recent grads like me and the others are college seniors. Everyone is nice and excited about their work.

It’s too bad I can’t bring the same kind of enthusiasm to the kitchen. As I’ve said before, I really, really, really hate cooking, mostly because it’s time consuming and I’d rather be doing something else. I can cook, I just resent it like crazy.

So, you can imagine the fury I experienced when I nearly got scalded the other night.

I got home from a night out with my co-workers and decided I wanted some pasta. Unfortunately, this ended up being a dangerous endeavor on my part.

Somehow, I dropped the pot of boiling noodles into my sink, sending a few droplets of water onto my face.

I wasn’t in pain, but I immediately ran to the bathroom and splashed cold water onto my cheeks and eyes.

Thankfully, my face wasn’t red and my vision was perfectly fine. I looked just like I did before, and I had no red marks or scratches of any kind. I was merely shaken up.

I’m lucky that my eye was fine and that I didn’t get any marks at all whatsoever on my face. The water wasn’t all that hot, I guess.

Even so, I cursed the kitchen all night long. If I have to get hurt somehow, I’d rather be in pain as a result of a rock climbing accident or something else I enjoy doing. But really, if I had to go to the hospital in the aftermath of cooking, which I loathe infinitely, I’d be livid for months on end and probably assume that karma was punishing me for despising the Betty Crocker lifestyle.

If I ever make lots of money, my first big purchase will be a cook because I absolutely cannot stand spending any time preparing food. I respect those who love doing this, but I find it rather dangerous, boring, and tedious. I’d rather be writing an article, talking to friends, doing yoga, practicing French, or interviewing a story source.

So, pots and pans of boiling water, you can all go to Hell.

Buzz off!

In two weeks, I’m going to a wedding. In 3.5 weeks, I’ll be at the UofA Homecoming, which I can’t stop thinking about. Except when I’m interning. Thank you, news site, for giving me something other than my former life to focus on. I finally feel like I’m moving on from college. Good riddance.