Writing is Labor Too: Our Contributors on What it Means to Get Paid

Five arms meeting to bump fists over a desk with several laptops writing is labor

It’s a strange time to be a writer and cultural critic. There have never been more ways to share your work with the public, and yet it’s increasingly difficult to get paid for it. Unfortunately, with so many places to read for free, it’s easy to forget how much labor goes into producing the articles floating around the internet. Good criticism — the kind we strive for — is a collaboration between a tenacious writer, who spends hours researching and structuring and crafting each line, and a thoughtful editor who reads every draft looking for the right story arc, finding places where an author can dig deeper, and making sure the work is published in its best form. It also requires proofreaders, web designers, marketers, and many others (in our case that’s mostly Sara and Elise). 

There’s a fantasy of what it means to be a freelance writer or public scholar that was probably never true, but for sure isn’t now. It’s the story that writing isn’t a job, it’s a passion or a hobby with a few lucky geniuses who get to do it for a living. Funny coincidence: many occupations that used to be considered work (e.g. retail sales, college professor) become low or no paid hobbies as soon as women and people of color and other marginalized voices demand entry, and freelance writing is no exception. Yes, we’re passionate about this work, but at Dismantle, most of our contributors are women or non-binary, and many are people of color, queer, working-class, managing chronic illness, and living other structural challenges. We can’t actually afford to pursue writing as a “passion” and we aren’t supported by unnamed benefactors. Research, writing, and editing are work. We do it to build community, to exchange ideas, and yes, we do it for money. 

At a time when independent venues for sharp, intersectional, feminist cultural critique — ones that try to model their beliefs — are most needed, they are disappearing from the internet due to lack of resources. Honestly, the landscape looks grim. But we believe the world needs a space for inclusive, critical fashion and cultural studies more than ever. So we decided the only way forward for us was to share whatever we earn from Patreon subscriptions with our contributors.

So what does it mean for writers and public scholars to get paid? We asked some of our contributors, and here’s what they said:

Loring Pfeiffer

“As the parent of two young children and a person who works full time as an adjunct lecturer, I mete out my time carefully. I am more likely to make space for writing when I know I’ll be compensated for it. I am grateful to Dismantle for providing a home for academics to write about culture for a broader audience, and for paying us to do so.”

Maggie Levantovskaya

“Being paid for my writing means being paid for my labor. Writing is my job and it’s one that I can currently do only because I have 1.5 other jobs — a situation that is ultimately unsustainable.”

Sue Brower

“Having written scholarly articles for over 30 years, never receiving payment, I recently was asked by a publication to pay the rights for visuals accompanying my article! Only after I refused did they find a way to publish my piece anyway. Working with Dismantle and being paid for my work offers a new type of professional relationship for me.” 

Cassidy Scanlon

“Writers and thinkers are devalued in society, expected to share their ideas about the world without compensation. Being paid to write, especially about culture, is deeply meaningful to me. I know my words are worth more than capitalism, but I still have to survive in it; so earning money from my work is vital!”

Mikai Arion

“Writing is like running. Although, different from running in that the training, preparation, and the endurance it takes to reach the finish line with a piece of writing is often ignored. Emphasis is usually only placed on the completed product of the writing itself. For a writer to be compensated for writing means everything because it is the acknowledgment of the entire tumultuous and gratifying experience a writer takes on.”

It’s important to us that Dismantle acknowledges and celebrates the extremely difficult, time consuming and vulnerable labor of public scholarship and writing. We’re beyond grateful to the brilliant writers and scholars who donated their work to help us get to this point. Paying for writing is political. If writers don’t get paid, the only voices left will be those who can afford to write for free. Until we can dismantle capitalism, the way to do that is with money! We started with the most we could afford: $50.00 an essay — which is a token, more than actual remuneration. But with your help, it will just be the beginning. 

Join us and show your support for the work and help us amplify more voices and intellectual contributions!

And stay tuned in the coming weeks for stories about the changing YouTube fashion landscape, Fleabag’s feminisms, the surprising history of Dirndls, and much, much more. 

Become a Patron!

Help us make more work like this by heading to our Support Us page! Then follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We’re keeping comments on social media to filter spam. We’d love to hear what you thought and what else you’d like to see.