The Economy of Craft: How Writing in Community Serves Us All
Once upon a half-empty glass of boxed wine, I cold-emailed the founder of a well-known content-aggregator site. I had a story, and to be frank, a hankering to go viral. Though I had seen my name in lights on a couple of other large websites (none of whom paid their writers), my articles had not yet reached the threshold of Facebook shares that I was sure would “get me the book deal.”
The founder responded curtly, like she was assigning me to some secret mission reserved for attention-hungry stay-at-home-moms with a penchant for Pinot Grigio: “We’d love to add you as a parenting contributor. The blog team will be in touch shortly to get you log-in credentials.” I spat out my glass of wine and dialed a writer friend. This is it. I’m about to be seen. One step closer to the CV of my dreams.
A few weeks passed, and no word from that ever-elusive blog team (I imagined them in matching khaki jumpsuits, living in a micro-colony of SEO-friendly content). True to my only-child-ENFP core, I got aggressive, emailing managing editors across several departments until someone graciously responded with the login credentials I coveted. I was in, by the grace of God and a generous helping of my own impatience.
I probably published six or seven articles there over the next few months. Some were more popular and well-received, while some were like a gauntlet of deprecating comments calling me out on undiscovered vices (haters mean I’ve arrived, right?). I wasn’t making money, or even really getting more followers, but I didn’t mind. The exposure, I thought, would someday surely augment my growing freelance writing business, and let’s be honest, I felt pretty damn cool name-dropping this publication in casual conversation at library playdates. It was a stepping stone, I decided. Next stop, New York Times.
It could have been the cross-country move for a full-time job or the sudden constraints of funneling all my writing time into a two-hour block after my toddler’s bedtime, but I stopped writing for this site pretty quickly. The buzz had faded, and not even a hint of an afterglow remained.
I wouldn’t say I exploited my talent, or that sites like that one take advantage of writers. I wouldn’t even say it’s bad to want to write for a site that might increase your visibility. I am saying that for me, kindling hope in a smaller venue of likeminded creatives just feels better than pumping out confessional blog posts for an audience who couldn’t care less about who I am or why I write.
There, I was just a number with login credentials. Here, I am a purveyor of something eternal. There, it was about quantity. Here, it’s quality. There, I had street cred. Here, I’ve found humility. There, I wrote for worth. Here, I write from it.
In her (mind-shattering, life-altering, must-buy-it) book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre compares language to currency, a resource we must protect. If we’re not careful, she says, we might deplete truth and meaning altogether, as we sacrifice creativity and precision for generalizations and pre-packaged phrases gleaned from mass media.
Craft, I’m thinking, is similar. Let’s compare fast food and that local, farm-to-table haunt you frequent. When I choose to invest my work in a content mill, sure, I get a quick and satisfying rush--a few shares here, a few follows there. (Much like the instant gratification I get from the pillowy breadsticks at the Pizza Hut inside Target.) But long term, that kind of habitual eating has potential to be not only unhealthy, but destructive. In the world of fast-paced, content-focused outlets, no one is invested in my growth as a human. There’s no community, no empathy, and if I’m being honest, no vibrancy. To pour my heart and my gifting--my currency--into a place like that leaves me feeling diminished.
On the flip side, when I sit down for a meal at the local joint, I might spend a little more money, and my order might take a little more time. But I get what I pay for. Nourishing food. Friendly conversation. The warm feeling that I’m being taken care of and that I’m contributing to something bigger than myself. It’s rewarding. It’s genuine. Investing my craft into a community of writers that count my words as valuable as I do just feels good.
I don’t know about you, but that’s why we’re here. To offer something wholesome in an internet that so often leaves us feeling dry and depleted. To serve you something that will both nourish you and surprise your palate. To protect the dying resource of language by offering true and colorful stories, even if they accrue fewer clicks. To peddle craft over content in an age of self-promotion. To stir hope.
Will you join us?