Money for Writing Lies

Louisa Leontiades On Writing, On Writing-General

Most writers struggle. Not for lack of words, but lack of money. The proverbial writer’s block has never yet affected me and indeed countless blog post ideas fade and wither through lack of time or my terrible memory, rather than the fear of an empty page. No, I don’t struggle with verbosity (surprised? I didn’t think so).

But getting paid to write, therein lies the rub.

Yet there is plenty of money nowadays lies in writing independent editorial pieces in high authority online newspapers, and providing backlinks in those articles to client’s sites (if you’re interested in doing it, you can tap into Elance).

Needless to say, this would be frowned upon and banned by publishers if explicitly known, because they expect you to write… for nothing. Huffington, Technorati, Telegraph, the list goes on. They brandish their swords of unpaid, unbiased ‘citizen’ journalism whilst secretly raking the cash in for the shareholders. But hey, I think everyone has a choice, and mine was to use my unpaid writing to earn money in backlinks. Until now.

Thus in one of my alter egos as a copywriter, I relished the challenge of writing about anything and everything… especially those subjects which challenged me the most. These articles, paid $30 apiece, require a few hours of research.

Car insurance companies? I don’t drive and live on an island without cars, why not.
China’s one-child policy? I’m not Chinese and have no knowledge of politics but sure, fascinating topic.
Wedding Planning? I’m divorced and in an open relationship, but hey I’ll give it a go.

My own ethics were appeased by the knowledge that I have never knowingly penned a dishonest line, even if I might be unfamiliar with the subject matter. All articles are my own creation, using the angles of which I have personal knowledge even if the topics are initially chosen by others.

And that was fine until the PR machine of one up and coming American client didn’t like the way their client was portrayed; Their vision of his online persona would not allow any deliberation on whether his overwhelming hunger for success might have anything to do with the fact he grew up in a poor, famine stricken country.

I was asked to take the article offline. But as anyone who has written for major outlets knows, that’s easier said than done. And whether or not it was possible to take it offline, I didn’t want to. I had written my opinion honestly, without slander, and with compassion. What that PR machine didn’t like, was that the admission of an impoverished childhood would harm him in corporate America. The worst part? They were probably right.

My journey to this level of honesty has been a conscious one. A difficult one. But if there’s one thing that is more challenging for me than being honest, it’s being dishonest. So I told the client I would take the link down if possible, but that I wouldn’t be working for them again if I couldn’t write without censorship. Then I told the online newspaper that I’d been paid for the link and that the client was unhappy with it. Could they take it down? No, they could not. You can still read it here.

They fired me, well as much as you can fire an unpaid writer.

I’m okay with it. It’s the first time I can say unequivocally that my need for honest expression is more important than my job, my professional reputation and my earnings.

Even though we claim freedom of speech, there are numerous examples where honest opinion is not considered the best policy. On the contrary, it is penalised.

We make millionaires and heroes out of professional athletes who swear publicly that they do not cheat when we know that they do. We idolize celebrities who lie to us about everything from their sobriety to their fidelity. We say we distrust government and that nearly all of our politicians are dishonest, yet we keep re-electing ethically challenged candidates who talk about their dedication to public service while serving their own interests.

Is Honesty the Best Policy, Guardian

There’s an argument afoot that the changes should come from the top. That we have no chance of making it in this world “when society rewards lying and cheating, and punishes whistleblowers”. Honesty in our society is not rewarded. But even if changes should come from the top, lying starts from the bottom.

“Tell me the truth”, my mother said, “and you’ll never get in trouble.” Half an hour later, and with a smarting arse, I decided that in future I would lie. To lie became a matter of survival.

Of course nowadays – and as an adult – I believe that I will survive in spite of my being honest. In fact, I believe I will thrive. Apparently not financially though, because if you intend to earn money by writing, it usually still goes to those who can lie best.