Monday, 23 September 2013

On the topic of being paid

for work I have a little more to say. The first is that both Nicola and Chris have missed the point I was making. I was not missing theirs. No, I wasn't. Oh yes, it was probably my fault. I was not making myself clear. It seems I rarely do. (Nicola I apologise. We always seem to be at cross purposes.)
I do not disagree with Nicola or with Chris.  Writers should be paid for writing and talking about writing and for encouraging others to read and write. What is more they should be paid well and not just for the publication of a book.
But (you knew there had to be a but didn't you?) there is something else I want to say.
Those of you who know me in real life know I knit. I never knit to order. I do not take on commissions. That would turn knitting from something that is enjoyable to something which is stressful. It would mean following a pattern and doing what someone else wanted when I prefer to do my own thing. I do make things for other people but only if I think they will appreciate them or use them.
I recently made something for someone else. It was a small item but it involved a lot of work. It was fiddly and, for me, it was particularly difficult. The person I gave it to wanted to pay me for it. That disappointed me. I did not want to be paid for it.
I had offered to make it because I thought they could use it and not because I wanted them to pay me for it. They could not have paid me what it was worth in terms of the time I spent on it. Nobody would pay that much. Even at a dollar an hour it would have been more than anyone would be prepared to pay. I had thought they might understand that.
The Senior Cat finds the same thing with his woodwork. People have very little idea of what is involved or how much is involved. There was a model of the Milan Cathedral at the recent RAHS Show. The Senior Cat understands how the thousands of internal cuts were made into the timber used for the model. He explained it to me some years ago when a similar model of another building was put on display. They were made by the same man. The Senior Cat admires his work. He is aware of the amount of planning and the hours of extremely skilled and patient work involved. Both of us have tried to explain to other people how it is done. On the whole they simply have no understanding of what is involved because they do not know even the basics of woodwork.
Being undervalued and underpaid is not just a problem for writers. (And I am not for one minute suggesting that Nicola and Chris do not understand that. I am sure they do.)  I think almost all individual art and craft is undervalued. It is undervalued even by people who should know better.
I think that we, as a society, have to learn to revalue such things. When books were individually handwritten, magnificently illustrated and richly bound they were considered to be works of art. The young hero in the last book I wrote at least has some understanding of that but he would, no doubt, treat most books the way we all treat books. We pick them up. We buy them or borrow them. We read them. We almost forget people had to write them. Even when we do remember it is like the knitting or the woodwork, we don't really understand how much is involved in writing them unless it is also our craft.

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