On Work and the Valuation of Work

Blogging, as a form of work, is highly undervalued. People who actually blog for a living are treated as hacks and wannabes, even when they are covering things not being covered by other writers. Even when they are doing very well for themselves. Even when large and robust communities have built up around their websites. Even when they are actually very high profile individuals who may be quoted, interviewed, profiled, and featured in the mainstream media, which would seem to suggest that they have something of value to say.

When you are not blogging for remuneration, your work is even less valued. Even when you have large communities and people paying attention to what you say, especially if you blog in the social justice sphere, people can be unbelievably snobby about what you do. People have referred to this ain’t livin’ as “your little website,” for example, and have made a variety of dismissive comments about what I do here.

Let me put this in perspective. I have been writing daily at this website for four years.

Four. Years.

There are over 3,000 posts on this website. They range from two-line posts written in the middle of the night rhapsodizing about doughnuts to extensive critical discussions which stretch on for thousands of words. Some of these posts are, if I may say so myself, rather good. I’ve had requests for reprints for a number of these posts, some have attracted very lively discussions, and many have been widely linked.

Others, of course, are complete crap. They’re poorly written, they don’t synthesize ideas well, or they contain content which I actually violently disagree with now. Going through my archives is sometimes awkward for me because I see how I’ve developed and grown as a person and a writer and I cringe at some of the things I have written. And the way in which I have written them.

But you have to say one thing about this website: It is WORK. Running this website? Is WORK. Creating new content every day requires a huge amount of energy. Moderating comments requires a lot of energy. Responding to emails from readers requires a lot of energy. And I’m not remunerated directly for any of the work I do on this website. The same holds true at FWD/Forward; as a contributor, I don’t bear the burden of managing FWD alone, but I do a lot of work on that website behind the scenes. I don’t have content going up there daily, but I am on FWD daily moderating comments, handling tech fixes, talking about issues with other contributors, and answering a flood of reader email.

This is work.

Social justice blogging is work. And it seems like, every week, I’m reading about another site which is shutting down, taking a hiatus, shifting its focus. Or I’m seeing bloggers just disappear with no explanation. People get burned out. People get run out. I’m saved, in part, by the variety of the content here; when I can’t think about feminist issues for another second I can write a fluff post about making cream puffs, or switch to talking about environmental problems, or have a bit of a rant about politics. I deliberately structured this site as a silva rerum to avoid burnout. Because burnout is a very real problem.

Especially since I write for a living, and increasingly I am being paid for my social justice writing. Which is awesome, and something I hope continues, and something that I hope I can build upon, because being paid to write about what I love is amazing. And I have worked for it. I have worked hard. Just like other social justice bloggers who  have gotten fortunate enough to be picked up by paying publications, and just like social justice bloggers who  have not been that fortunate, who are still writing for no pay.

For every nasty comment I let through moderation here, 100 more hateful comments are never seen by y’all. For every lovely, touching, wonderful email I get from a reader, there’s a nasty one. Or a hateful attack on me on a blog or forum somewhere else. It’s grinding. This is grinding. Even though I ignore referral logs and a lot of conversations taking place outside this website as a form of self protection, because I just couldn’t swallow the shit any more. There are some posts that I hesitate long and hard before publishing, because I know that they are important, but I also know that I am going to end up attracting a hateful element, and I have to decide if I’m ready for that.

And even when I am, sometimes I feel like I’m getting socked in the gut.

It’s a twofold problem: Attacks hurt me, personally, and they also devalue my work. Oddly enough, attacks on my paid work don’t bother me at all. But attacks on the work I do here and at FWD are painful for me. Because I do this work for free. I do  it because I think it’s important and because I love it and because I love interacting with readers. But I am not paid for it. And when people attack my work (or me), it feels like I am being shat upon. Especially since so many of those attacks are structured from the perspective of “what you do is worthless” or “why don’t you go do something better with your time.”

It takes me right back to that idea that blogging is not “real” work and that we are somehow lesser. But, you know what? I don’t believe that’s true. I may be published in other venues, but that doesn’t invalidate my work here and at FWD. And the work of my co-contributors is not devalued because they’re blogging “instead of doing something worthwhile.” The work I do without pay is not lesser. The work that bloggers, in general, do is not lesser than the work of journalists and paid published writers.

It’s not. And how do I know this? I know this because of the huge impact that blogs have, but I also know it because the mainstream media and publishing industry are increasingly turning to blogging models. Most major newspapers now have blogs. And bloggers who blog at them. Does being in The Lede make you better than someone blogging on a personal website? No, it doesn’t. Both are blogs. One just happens to be attached to the New York Times. It’s clear that the blogging model is a solid one, or the publishing industry wouldn’t be offering book deals to bloggers (and exploiting bloggers). It’s clear that this is a good model because people are turning to us, the blogging community, to see how to convey information, and blogging is clearly having an impact on the social justice community. Blogging is, uhm, actually getting stuff done.

It’s not a perfect model; there are blogs that are just bad, there are bloggers who lie and spread misinformation and who are not accountable. But something which people seem to be forgetting is that the same holds true for “real” writing. Numerous newspapers, for example, have been rocked by plagiarism scandals in the last few years. Have been criticized of biased work and misstatement of facts.

Making it, as a writer, is largely a game of chance. There are immensely talented writers out there that you are not reading because they have not happened upon the combination of circumstances which allows them to get picked up and more widely disseminated. This is not to say that it’s all chance: Talent and the ability to work, hard, is also critical. It significantly helps if you are white, nondisabled, heterosexual, and cisgender. But you can be a talented, focused, hardworking writer and never make it. There’s an X factor that passes some people by while promoting others, and sometimes it seems entirely random; blogging is one of the things which has helped to break down this X factor, to give people a voice.

Blogging is work. Start treating bloggers with more respect. Start respecting the fact that many of us are not paid, and are in fact actively losing money as we pay hosting fees for our sites and deal with other expenses related to blogging. Start thinking about the fact that, for some social justice bloggers, blogging is dangerous and can result in death. About the fact that it is emotionally grinding and sometimes tremendously upsetting. You may not see all of that because it doesn’t take place in the public sphere, but it is happening. Every. Day. Start thinking about this amazing gift that we are giving you: We are not charging you, we are not asking you for anything, we are handing you tremendous amounts of amazing content. Every. Single. Day.

3 Replies to “On Work and the Valuation of Work”

  1. Yes. My blog’s readership is tiny, so I have the luxury of posting whenever I feel like it, basically. But for people who commit to posting regularly, particularly in spheres that attract more controversy (social justice blogs vs., say, lolcat repositories), it’s hard! And I appreciate what you do so, so much. And it sucks how many people are dismissive of blogging as a valid occupation, or think it’s easy.

  2. Thank you. I’ve recommended your site and FWD/Forward to pretty much everyone I know who uses the internet; I’m extraordinarily grateful for your voice, your work, and all the rest.

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