What Do Writers Make? If We’re Lucky, The Same As Teachers: A Difference

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! And please be patient…I’ll get to the teacher part of this post by the end. But first…

I’ve discovered a new identity in my post-teaching career: community pro bono writer. What began five years ago as a monthly gig, writing the Spotlight on Lopezians for our lil’ paper, has morphed into being the on-call writer for a large portion of the non-profit groups and events on our island.

For example, in the past year+ I’ve written articles for:

  • Earth Day celebrations
  • a rock concert to benefit our school
  • a presentation on Cuba
  • a concert to benefit our local radio station–no, make that two different concerts for KLOI
  • a presentation on fighting climate change
  • the Home Tour, which benefits our community center
  • a brand-new business (OK, this one wasn’t non-profit, but the article was a feature, not an ad)
  • a community kitchen
  • the winner of the community Spirit Award
  • the Dump
  • the dedication of a plaque honoring the founding of our community garden/Farmers’ Market space

All this while maintaining my pace of 10 Spotlight features/year…and oh, by the way, writing my novel.

And none of this has earned me a dime.

I know some champions of writers, most notably Kristen Lamb, who rail against writers giving their stuff away for free. I appreciate hugely this lobbying effort. But do I feel like a turncoat or a wuss for agreeing to write for nothing?

No, I do not–for several reasons. When I said I haven’t earned a dime, that doesn’t mean I haven’t earned anything. Here’s what I’ve earned:

#1, Boldness. No one tricked me into this. The Spotlight articles paid 10 cents a word up until I took on the “job,” but the paper’s editor informed me up front that they were losing revenue and could no longer afford even that minimal $80 fee. I could take the gig or leave it. And I took it because…

#2, Publicity. My articles have created a much larger audience for me than if I had relied only on the few dozen locals who’ve read my books. So when Book #3 comes out, or if/when I apply for a position where writing counts, my work not only speaks for itself, it speaks to everybody here.

#3, Friends. My articles have been a great doorway to meeting new people and learning their back story.

#4, Warm Fuzzies. Pro bono writing for good causes feels good. I struggle sometimes to fit in all the community involvement I feel called to. Driving places, phone-calling…those are harder for me. But writing? Easy as pie–and keep in mind, I’m really good at pie.

All of which brings me back to teachers. All teachers eventually get sent this wonderful spoken word piece by (former) teacher Taylor Mali, “What Teachers Make.” It used to speak to me as a teacher. Now, I’m finding that it speaks to me as a writer as well.

So I’ll say it again: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. If my little articles can make a portion of the difference I once made in people’s lives as a teacher…I’ll take that proudly.

In my PROFESSIONAL Opinion, Holly’s Buns are Best

When I left the teaching profession, I told folks I wasn’t retiring, I was just graduating. “Took me 20 years, but I finally get to walk across that stage!” Cue laughter.

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at desk

Old me (just kidding). Courtesy George Eastman House

New me.

New me.

But really, that is how I feel. Who retires at age 49 except Microsoft millionaires? Sure, I have a new “job” as a writer. But I’m backing that up, financially as well as socially, with my job at Holly B’s Bakery.

Everyone I talk to thinks baking is cool. Everyone shows awe and admiration at how early we bakers have to get up (3:45, for me–make that 3:15 in high summer when we get super busy). And everyone jokes about how hard I must have to work not to gain a million pounds from all those fresh, hot, crusty croissants and scones and…OK, I’ll stop.


Point is, they’re right: baking IS cool, getting up early IS hard, and yes, I exercise my buns off (Ha! Pun!) to stay gorgeous.

But lately The World’s Best Boss, Holly B, has an ample supply of bakers on her payroll and not enough counter people. So she’s put me on counter this month, selling all those yummy treats that my colleagues have risen early to bake.

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

So the conversation’s changed a bit:
“What do you do?”
“I work part-time at a bakery.”
“Oh, you’re a baker!”
“Well, these days I’m just working the front counter.”

Apparently retail–even in the world’s cutest bakery, the heart of our village–is not cool. More accurately, it is not “professional.” That is the (unspoken) message I get from people who knew me in my old life.  Selling muffins? That’s all you do? With a Masters in History and 20 years of teaching? Why…?

The long answer is, Because my boss needs me to, and I adore her, and feel I am more part of a team than merely an employee. Because even though there’s not much skill involved (besides addition, and I’m kind of embarrassed to say how often I reach for that calculator, especially towards the end of the day), I love people and miss interacting with them. Writing is lonely. And because, at the end of the day when I’ve mopped the floor, turned off the lights and locked up, I feel just as much pride in my work as when I tucked a dozen perfectly-twisted butterhorns into the oven.


But more and more I feel inclined to give the short answer: Work is work. I don’t feel any less “professional” selling cinnamon rolls and asking folks how their day is going than I did grading essays. If you care about your job and give it your best attention, you are, in my opinion, a professional.

My esteemed colleague, DianaMy esteemed colleague Diana

I know some of you must have experience with this. Tell me about a time when you felt a huge gap between how YOU felt about your work, and the reactions of other people. How did you–or how do you–handle that? Let me hear!