I’m tempted to say ‘never write for free!’ It’s tempting because there are so many opportunities for a writer to be tricked into writing for free.
For example, online job postings often result in requests for free samples. I strongly suggest you don’t. Or if you’re tempted, check out the advertiser. Insist on a company name and some references, then check them. If the employer provides that sort of information and the references check out, maybe, and only if you have no credits, it might be worth doing a single article on speculation.
Magazine writing is an exception. Legitimate consumer magazines (the ones you see on new stands) and trade magazines may respond to a query asking you to write the article ‘on spec.’ In this case you’ve got an invitation from the editor to submit your story because your query demonstrated you could write and you seemed to understand what the magazine needed. Now you’re writing on spec, with a good chance of having your article accepted and getting paid for it. Go for it.
It also makes sense, particularly for new writers, to put articles on their own website or blog. In this case you’re writing for yourself and while your not getting paid directly, your demonstrating your skill.
Finally, if you want to donate some of your writing to your favorite non-profit group or for another good cause, do so. Just be sure you’re not spending so much time writing for charity that you don’t have time to write for pay. Any such writing can be used as samples, and if you track your time you may be able to deduct it from any writing income – maybe. Ask your tax person. But it makes sense to track your time on any piece of writing.
When, if at all, do you write for free?
Do you have a writing tip to share? Leave it in comments.
Write well and often,
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