Perhaps every aspiring writer imagines that they are some manner of ‘wordsmith’, hoping perhaps to be recognized among such masters of craft as Shakespeare, Milton, Faulkner, and Hemingway. The term is a good one – writing has always been more a technical exercise than ‘purer’ arts. Good writing is often as much about laborious editing as it is about brilliant inspiration and tend to reward knowledge and experience over raw talent. The image of a smith masterfully creating something practical yet elegant merges beautifully with the image of a writer honing his craft, patiently revising draft after draft until his works shines like burnished silver.
Unfortunately, the smith has gone the way of the buggy-whip maker, and so too, perhaps, has the wordsmith. There are still masters of craft out there, but the paths to those careers are closed or impossibly difficult to traverse. Most new writers must, unfortunately, play the role of wordmonger.
A wordmonger does not have time to delicately craft his words. He is paid by the piece or by the word and not very much at that – his product is cheap, accessible, and aimed at the lowest common denominator. Many freelance writer imagine themselves living a glamorous, well-paid Hunter S. Thompson lifestyle, paid in advance for their short, brilliant, article on a topic of their choosing. In practice, content mills pay pennies per word for astonishingly tedious articles on wheel flange maintenance or supply chain management.
In essence, there is nothing wrong with this, except for the way that these writers tend to get paid – by the piece, well below minimum wage, and with no benefits whatsoever. The abundance of aspiring writers with savings, educated homemakers, and English-speaking foreign nationals (often with advanced degrees) means that content producers can pay an insultingly low rate and have no shortage of writers more than happy to produce.
This is a high octane race to the bottom, and the quality of the writing on sites like Ask.com, Examiner, and Suite101 is at best inconsistent and at worst, awful. When the writing and editing isn’t abysmal, the facts are poorly or simply not checked. More words are being written than ever before, and a growing quantity of them are crap.
It’s not all bad. Many writers graduate to work that pays for quality articles and there is more good writing than ever before. But it is worthwhile to remember at the bottom of the heap, where there used to be boring but rewarding jobs for talented writers, there is now only the wordmonger, churning out shlock at unsustainable rates to help pay the bills.