“You know what’s right. Just do right. Right may not be expedient, it may not be profitable. But it will satisfy your soul.”
– Maya Angelou
As it stands, I have two jobs. By which I mean I’m self-employed with two online companies that pay next to nothing and don’t always have work available. But still, for the purposes of this post, let’s say I have two jobs. One is as a transcriber of audio files, the other is with a content mill.
A content mill, if you don’t know, acts as a middle man between clients and writers, offering a platform for people to request articles or blog posts or e-books from a variety of writers for a very inexpensive rate. Often, the clients (at least on the site I have seen) give little to no detail about the job. Sometimes they give only the title of the article or a keyword they’d like you to include. The accepting scribe then produces the article for a couple of dollars and the client gets to release it. Under their name. To my mild amusement, these sites often make a big show of using software to verify none of what their writers produce is plagiarized. God forbid they try to take credit for someone else’s work.
Now, perhaps I’m naïve, but I thought ghost writers were fairly rare. I thought they were predominantly used when celebrities or politicians want to write a book and hire a professional to work with them. The ideas originated with the name on the cover, the execution was aided by a more experienced wordsmith. My idea of ghost writers was similar to a stage manager, working behind the scenes to make sure the actor’s show went smoothly.
“I need a 300-500 word article on the best kind of office chair, and I am willing to pay $1.62.” This felt more like bullies in an 80s teen movie, demanding the geeks do their homework.
When I was accepted onto the site, the idea that people could put out articles, blogs, even whole books without writing a word of them stopped me in my tracks.
Then it made me sick to my stomach.
I accepted a job rewriting an article, trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. There was a line in what the client had provided which began “[i]n a popular post I wrote last month…” A bitter voice in my head said: Do you mean, in a post someone wrote for you last month? I didn’t like the cynical side of me this site was bringing out.
As much as I tried to rationalize it (I’m getting paid to write, it’s not hurting anyone), it still felt wrong to me. But I pushed the feeling down, until I watched a video with Maya Angelou and she reminded me, “[y]ou know what’s right. Just do right.”
I thought instantly of the content mill. I thought about my blog that I put hours of work into each day, making sure every post is from the heart, something I’m proud to put my name to. I thought of the bloggers and writers I love the most, of how connected I feel to their material, and to them. To think any of it may have been carelessly bought and tossed out like a product would be heartbreaking. I don’t want to contribute to a world that says writing talent and meaningful content belongs to the highest bidder.
True, the deeply personal essays and spiritual blogs I read make for a lot more emotional investment than a piece on the best kind of office chair, but it still seems like lying to me. I want to make an honest living, even if for now that means two dollars an hour transcribing audio files. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I have to make money right now, and the freedom to not do this job I don’t feel good about. I’m now in the process of closing my account on that site. I’m a little sad at not making money from writing as I hoped to, but of course, Ms. Angelou hit the nail on the head. It gives me so much peace to know I’m doing what I believe is right for me.
You can’t afford this.
This rainbow of orbs
that hangs like pearls on my spine.
Make promises – if you like –
of wealth and adoration,
success and elegance;
the still small voice
of my heart is worth more.
I will follow its call through
decades of desert, if necessary.
The fortune it leads me to
is far greater than you can give.
This soul is a pair of ruby slippers;
you, my friend, are just
a man behind a curtain.