How Much Are Writers Worth, Medium?

I’m not a person that blogs for money. I’ve freelanced my work before, but most of the time I simply enjoy supporting people who’ve supported me, often by sharing my work with them. Sometimes, I got a nicely-sized audience; dozens of subscribers back when Myspace was a thing; regular features of my game reviews in the community highlights on GIO; even a blog post or so being featured on other sites for debate on contentious gaming issues. But I honestly, apart from the times I actually freelanced for compensation — usually poetry or short fiction — have never kept writing consistently for long. A part of that owes itself to the means by which I now process writing; other reasons are a bit more complex.

You see, while I enjoy writing — or typing, if we’re going to be pedantic — I also do not enjoy it in several cases, despite its inherent importance. As a Native philosopher once noted, writing often lacks a key element of communication: an active participant. Writing, in the Western sense, betrays this position through its essential passivity and has come to illegitimize other forms by implicitly suggesting, through the way that it has censored and oppressed, that narratives, histories, and memories are only valid if written down. It ignores that some stories are meant to change over time; some tales must die so that they can be reborn in the next generation, able to address new dilemmas that arise.

But some experiences cannot be expressed through discourse, whether written or spoken; some emotions have no tangible words to describe them and are yet a part of another language. There are no metaphors or similes to describe in totality what building my first ancestral altar felt like, nor the chasm filled as my relatives passed down their experiences growing up or the time my mother revealed that she literally does not have a middle name because of how the fucked up system treated gov’t records of Black folks. I can only speak in relative terms, and my ability to convey these ideas depends upon my skill and understanding of the very language I choose to use. Those without equal proficiency are buried underneath; what strangers say becomes what others will soon remember.

Words spoken and ways of life expressed by people who’ve lived a tradition since time immemorial are superseded by “expert opinions” in academic documents filled with mistakes and/or propaganda. Historical documents or written works filled with typos and interpolations by newer writers become the dogma that oppresses millions, if not billions of people. That’s not to say alternative forms of communication are perfect or that writing itself is a waste, as over-reliance on context in some cases can obscure meaning entirely, and in a world where meaning is taught, rather than inherent, being able to efficiently convey thoughts and ideas is paramount. This is especially critical as language, like all modes of communication, conveys and conceptualizes the world in which we live and thus in turn can influence how we perceive it and/or are perceived.

Overall, I just feel that over-dependence on it can stifle an individual. When used at its best, however, writing, as a tool to preserve those narratives, histories, and memories — I use these words a shyt-ton for a reason — is invaluable, as it was in the case I just linked. But enough meandering; that story is for another time.

I’m doing something I simultaneously love and hate to share a story with you; a story of my decision to rant to myself in private through Medium. It’s not exactly complex nor profound; just heard about the place and decided to create an account here. I couldn’t blog about ratchet off-topic stuff on GIO like I wanted to, and I’d drifted out of reviewing games, etc., for quite some time. I mostly snip fanboyish comments and ban trolls — spam included. Thus, I eventually decided to come here. I was actually surprised so many people — especially famous ones — utilized this network at first, and that Medium had been around for as long as it had without me knowing. But, I’m not a journalist, and most of my affairs in writing — editing and offering feedback to other writers for their projects — happen outside of the web.

So I came here. While I still think some aspects of the interface are terrible — the recommendation section for story topics in particular — I still enjoy reading, discovering new voices, and on occasion, posting here. But, as I’ve learned, I’m not like the writers who can blog about every hot topic that crosses their mind as soon as it happens. How my brain functions no longer allows that. I also like to waste an exorbitant amount of time trying to get to points I may not even intend to make, which will probably happen here as well. While that’s obviously not ideal, the kind of life I lead means that the price — we’ll get to that later — of doing so doesn’t exactly come at the same cost it would those struggling to break into the blogosphere or journalism in general.

So. I came here, ranted a bit, got a couple recommends, then got a few “interesting” emails. First was from a publication that liked a piece I wrote. Given my experience elsewhere, I knew what they were selling: exposure and page views. However, I didn’t mind; I hadn’t written that piece to be compensated, after all, and I went with it. Then came another, about a program hosted by Medium; a person was interested in sharing the stories of writers of color and providing tools to assist them. I’d followed the person’s work prior and absolutely loved it so I said, “what the fuck?” — got eem! — and went along with the ride. A few writers I keep in touch with outside of here can vouch for my receipts.

Unfortunately, things changed. I assume the person moved on to more awesome things — they deserve it — and somehow in the process, Medium spectacularly dropped the ball. I have yet to receive a single fucking email from them either announcing that the program was cancelled or that I was removed from it, even despite explicitly letting them know that I was interested in the program via email. This has literally been months and I literally found out the person had moved on by coincidence. So yeah, definitely a red flag. Don’t mind my usage of “fuck” or assume any inflections were communicated beyond the superficial. I use — much to my detriment — the word like my body uses calories. But that’s water under the bridge. That’s not why I began posting here in the first place, and in a rather perverse way, I like the anonymity that comes with it.

Nonetheless, the thing eventually predicted by several more experienced people in journalism happened, and Medium’s model shifted, although people are still allowed to post for free. I got that email about the paid model they were pushing for, and the opportunity to submit my first pitch, as well as a few samples of my work. I’m normally aware of the waiting period that comes with submissions — literally have waited half a year for a response before; it was worth it — and that new shifts and transitions come with the occasional hiccups. Yet, I’m beginning to see a pattern here I don’t like.

One thing I think it’s safe to say every writer craves is certainty. Not certainty that their work will be accepted; on the contrary, rejections are commonplace and necessary when it comes to perfecting our craft and finding the intended audience. Rather, it’s a certainty that our writing, our narratives, histories, and memories we share are worth something and will be acknowledged as such. This worth doesn’t always translate into monetary rewards — it certainly doesn’t for me, although it’s nice when it does — but such can be incentives to continue, as well as a means of covering the physical, financial, and emotional costs of the work writers pursue.

What we do not need is uncertainty; long delays without any input whatsoever; emails that imply you may not respond to us if our work isn’t accepted at all without even granting those who submit a tangible estimate time for response; vague and relatively innocuous discourse that obfuscates how those who do seek payment will be compensated. I understand, given the massive and profound shift this site’s taken, that a lot of things are still relatively experimental and subject to change as the site adjusts to find its new identity, but some of these gaffes are amateur mistakes and don’t inspire confidence.

That brings me back to the seemingly nonsensical and unrelated discussion about my views of writing at the beginning of this long-ass, depressing-ass, cynical-ass post. I told you that story, shared that history -because history, to my people, is an organic cycle of narratives being passed on — and that memory because it means something to me, even despite its paradox when it comes to how I perceive writing. That’s my sacrifice; one I’m fortunate to be able to make. I could literally get rejected and shrug it off, ready to focus on something else — like another depressing-ass, boring-ass, ratchet-ass piece I’m writing that barely anyone will read — but the stakes are not the same for others more talented and ambitious than I. Many of them depend almost entirely upon donations, and in a field that increasingly brainwashes new writers into believing that page views will pay their rent, building one’s brand while being tangibly compensated can be cut-throat.

So, I pose this rhetorical question as I observe how this new transition is being handled from the shadows: how much are those writers worth? It’s great that Medium’s trying to consider this now with its new model, but its execution is beginning to imply that the site wants to be able to have its cake and eat it too. Those writers sacrifice enough and many of them literally built this site’s brand gratis. They need certainty that folk ain’t pissin’ on their dreams and calling it rain.

They’ve told you, are telling you, and will tell you their stories of you. They are not strangers. They knew you when you were a fledgling social media site, and know you now that you’ve grown into a colossus. They were writing before you even had a domain to call your own, and, provided President Underwood doesn’t blow the world into Oblivion with his ineptitude, will still be writing if any misfortunes cut this site’s life short. How do you wish to be remembered?