Today’s post is written by writer, college teacher, indexer, and speaker Lisa Rivero. Thanks, Lisa!
Samuel Johnson famously said:
No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.
What most people don’t know is what his biographer James Boswell wrote immediately after the oft-cited quotation:
Numerous instances to refute this will occur to all who are versed in the history of literature.
“But all I do is write for free!” you might object.
Yes, we blog. We write guest posts. We send unsolicited articles or short stories to magazines that—if they pay at all—may do so only in contributors copies. We work on books for months or years at a time with no guarantee that they will ever earn us a penny.
We also write for free as content marketing or as a way to build our web presence.
What I have in mind is something different, especially if you are frustrated with your writing career at the moment, or dejected by yet another rejection slip.
Write to Give Back
In these days of high gas prices and slim pocketbooks, we writers have an extraordinary opportunity to help others that is ours for the giving.
Regardless of how often or even whether we are published or how much (if any) money we make from our writing, all of us have a love for written communication and at least some skill with words, and we can use that love and skill in valuable ways, big and small.
Here are just seven ways to think about the writing you already do in a new way:
- Help a non-profit organization to write brochures or grant proposals, or offer to proofread.
- Write articles, edit, or design a newsletter for your favorite school or community organization. If your group doesn’t have a newsletter, start one, whether online or in print (or both).
- Write short book reviews or reading lists (with or without a byline), and ask if you can make copies for distribution at your local library.
- For birthday or holiday gifts, write a story or poem or essay. Consider recording an audio version or formatting it in a special way.
- Spend some time writing a thoughtful thank-you comment to a blog post or article that has touched you, and publish it anonymously (a welcomed change from the usual type of anonymous comments).
- Teach a teenager how to write effective and professional emails, complete with capital letters and salutations other than “Hey!”–much appreciated for those important requests for letters of recommendation or later communication with college professors.
- Write or re-write instructions to make them clearer and more effective for an elderly computer or technology user (for example, “How To Keep Track of Emails”).
Is it possible that, in the end, we will benefit financially from giving it away?
Perhaps, and that’s great. Perhaps not, and that’s great, too, because we’ve already benefited in other ways.
Of course, if we want to meet our professional writing goals, we can’t give away all of our writing. Knowing that our writing has value is important, and only when we realize that value can we use some of it in altruistic ways.
Writing Our Way Outside Ourselves
I began to write before the connectivity era, before Twitter and Facebook and blogs, before the emphasis on platforms and author publicity and branding. Sometimes I miss the old days, in part because I could more easily focus on the exciting aspects of writing rather than on myself and my presence.
A sure cure for the ego-driven blues is to write for (as a way to benefit) someone else. Not only do I get the satisfaction of helping someone, but I often experience the creative flow state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about, when we become so involved in an activity that we lose track of time and, more importantly, forget ourselves.
Recently, for example, I learned how to format ebooks, and I spent most of yesterday working on creating an ebook for a non-profit with which I’m involved. I forgot to blog. I forgot to exercise. I could have continued all night long if I hadn’t had to make dinner and otherwise interact with my family. It’s no coincidence that I had so much fun working on a writing project that will not bear my name. Creativity often thrives when we stop worrying about our own success.
If that makes me a blockhead, then I’m happy to be one.
*Editor’s Note*: What an inspiring post! What other suggestions can you give readers here on how to use their writing skills for the benefit of others? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Lisa Rivero lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she is a writer, college teacher, indexer, and speaker. Her professional and writing interests include creativity, literature, gifted education, home education, the humanities, and the challenges faced by all families in this fast-paced and often perplexing 21st-century life. She is the award-winning author of four published books, has written a middle school historical chapter book, and is currently writing a book based on the Great Plains diaries of her great-aunt Harriet E. Whitcher. Learn more about Lisa at lisarivero.com