Monday, January 21, 2013

88. You are not paid for what you write.

You could argue that professors are paid to write, because they’re required to produce publications as a condition of their employment. But that is really only true of people with tenure-track positions, and their annual salaries don’t rise or fall based on the quality or quantity of their writing (though whether they receive tenure is another matter). Adjunct professors and others, writing furiously in the hope of publishing enough to be worthy of a tenure-track job, receive no compensation whatsoever for their labors at the keyboard. Likewise, aside from the lucky few who have fellowships (see Reason 18), graduate students are not paid for the hours, months, and years that they spend writing. The academic journals that weigh down the shelves of university libraries publish a vast quantity of scholarly prose every year, but they don’t pay their authors a penny. Only a tiny fraction of academic writers—including professors guilty of the gauche practice of making their own books required reading—earn any significant income from the sale of academic books (see Reason 34).

It has never been easy to make money by writing, but you might ask yourself if writing for nothing is the best use of your time. Is what you write so important to you (see Reason 35) that you’re willing to produce it for free? The great Samuel Johnson famously said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” In the middle of the eighteenth century, he wrote (among much else) all 42,000 entries in the Dictionary of the English Language. Dr. Johnson knew that writing was work. And while it can be rewarding in its own way, academic writing is an especially arduous kind of work (see Reason 28). It exacts a price. In an essay on his personal experiences under the Guardian headline “Writing is bad for you,” scholar Rick Gekoski observed that “the more I write, the worse I become.” In graduate school, you will likely pay for the privilege of writing a thesis or dissertation (see Reason 59), and it will cost you a hefty chunk of your life as well. If you clear all of the hurdles of graduate school, there is a chance that your academic writing will help you win and keep an academic job, but you are unlikely to earn anything from your writing directly. Incidentally, Samuel Johnson may be the most famous “Dr.” never to have gone to graduate school; his doctorates were honorary, and no one seems to mind.