This is a bit of a concern to everyone but more so when you’ve just finished university and are starting on that long road that is your career.
In my case, I’ve picked a career path where experience is crucial. If you don’t have a host of it then future employers won’t look at you twice. This usually means a lot of unpaid jobs and, sometimes, doing the shitty tasks that no one wants to do. Of course, you’re also expected to suck it up and do it with a smile.
As I’m currently interning myself, and not getting paid, it’s left me wondering whether this is really fair. It’s a bit of a catch-22.
You won’t get employed without experience but to have that experience you have to be willing to do work for free. Businesses are then able to offer you this free work, as you need it to get a job, but then it’s almost like they’re doing you a favour even though you’re grafting hard. So you have to be grateful for the experience, but at the same time, it’s a lot of effort on your part and it’s not always feasible to undertake this work for free. – I’m not sure if that made any sense.
This train of thought reminded me of the recent advice that a one Mr Oscar Wilde bestowed on a fellow writer. It was in the form of a letter, from one artist to another. The contents advised the recipient to write if he wished but to not rely on it for his income. Oh, and that you need to suffer for your art.
In his letter Wilde wrote, “Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you.”
The keyword of ‘may’ does suggest that some are lucky enough to earn a living from writing without it damaging or diminishing the quality of it. People have managed to earn a living in the past through their art but often when art becomes your meal ticket it is then that it usually starts to become something else.
A person’s debut novel is usually their best. It is the best for the very reason that they wrote it because they had to. As soon as a pound sign is given for the next book it adds pressure and stress. It is no longer writing for the love of writing; it is writing to be fed or to keep up with a lifestyle.
Writing, like any art form, is an expression of yourself. It is a small part of you projected outside to the rest of the world. The best kind of art, or literature, provokes emotions, stirs the senses and leaves you feeling something. Literature is life on paper. How can anyone produce that without giving some kind of sacrifice?
As Ernest Hemmingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Most writers are just being self-indulgent in their own misery: changing it, editing it, until it seems like a sad, melancholy beauty fit for the outside world to see. This pure emotion, this feeling, this inability to not write down and document life is what makes a great piece of work. As soon as a price tag is added to that it becomes something else.
However, we live in a capitalist, western society where everything has a monetary price tag. In order to live in this world we need to make money. That’s the unfortunate truth, you cannot live off of fresh air alone.
We are now also encouraged to pursue our passions and to make them our career. So if society is telling us to do this then surely society should pay for us to do it? I’m not sure whether you should be paid for internships or not – they provide a brilliant learning platform, a bit like a halfway house from university to real life, but they can take their toll.
At the end of the day, it is not the question of whether we should or should not get paid. It is a question of whether someone is willing to pay for it. Just, when you do find someone who is, keep hold of your integrity, as that’s all we’ve got.