I was reading an article on an interesting blog that refers to another article on another blog that presents the idea writing or working for free is a practice artists and creatives should avoid. You can check out those pieces for more detailed arguments, but I want to use the idea as leaping off point. Because every artist will run into that question sooner or later: should I work for free?
This question haunted me for a very long time, and there was a good period of time where I gave up on writing and pursued others things that involved pay because I thought it wasn't worth my time if I wasn't being paid. Until the itch to write became so itchy that I had to scratch it, and I started writing for free without any expectation of being paid.
After a while of doing that, I started getting articles published and getting good responses. On a personal level, I was experiencing transformation doing something I loved because that's what happens when I write. I also received messages from people saying the things I was writing and sharing were encouraging, inspiring, and challenging them, which I guess means they were being transformed a little bit too. Then, after a period of writing for free, I started having people offer to pay me for my work.
What I learned from this experience is, yes, I should be willing to write for free and be as generous as possible with my work because it's the generous artists who are doing what they do simply because they love doing it who are the ones who usually reach a point when people want to pay them. Sure, it's depressing to have a day job that is less inspiring, and frustrating at times when you are hoping to have your creative work become your career, but everyone has to start somewhere. Note that I'm not saying the above is a sure formula, but I'm just telling you what happened to me.
Anyway, in a culture where anyone can be an artist with a laptop and an internet connection, I think the somewhere most artists need to start is a place where they are willing to work for free when they are starting out. Because it took me arriving at a place where I was willing to write for free—because I couldn't handle not writing anymore and not sharing what I had to say with others—that eventually resulted in me being paid to write.
Have you given up your art because you're not being paid? Don't do that. Have a day job and share your work for free—until your art becomes your day job. And if you art doesn't become your day job and is always something you do on the side, at least you'll have inspired others and experienced personal transformation by doing your art on the side.
Sometimes I get paid to write. Other times I don't. I'm not sure if I'll ever get to a place where it's 100% the first one. But even if that never happens, I can say my life is better when I am doing what I love to do.