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This Is Why Others Get Paid More For Writing Than You

It’s not a theory — it’s economics

By Malky McEwanPublished 6 months ago 5 min read
This Is Why Others Get Paid More For Writing Than You
Photo by Steven Houston on Unsplash

I came home from work to 12 tins of paint. Magnolia, eggshell, white, beige and chutney blue.

“I’m off to my mother’s for the weekend,” she said. “You can get started on the painting.”

What a Week

I’d been working with some talented, decent, hardworking people. I also worked with some lazy, incompetent, paranoid, schizophrenic, spunktrumpets. And none of that mattered to their monthly paycheck.

The problem: I worked in public service. I was a Scottish police officer. Cops with the same service and rank earned the same amount of money — no matter what they did or didn’t do.

It is hard to quantify the effectiveness of a police officer. We can criticise traffic officers for spending all day every day issuing speeding tickets, but you will never know if their actions saved a life (priceless).

A detective can work for years on one case and might never get his guy, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good at his job or is less dedicated than any other officer.

As soon as my wife was out the door, I called Tony. “What are you up to this weekend?”

“What do you need?”

“I’ve got the house to paint before Mrs McEwan gets home Sunday night.”

My Friend Tony

Tony got an apprenticeship with the local council as a painter. On his first day, the gaffer took him and the rest of the team to the local shop where they bought newspapers. Next, they went to a cafe, had breakfast, and read the papers — cover to cover.

They didn’t arrive at work until 10.30 a.m. Tony set to work and was soon pulled up by his gaffer. “Whoa, slow down, Tony. One room a day or you’ll be showing us all up.”

None of the team worked hard. Once they’d painted a room, they sat around playing cards until it was time to finish.

Council painters are paid a weekly wage. It doesn’t matter how efficient they are, one room a day or a dozen, they receive the same amount of money in their wage packet.

It didn’t even matter if they did good work, someone else would be called in to sort out a botched job.

Tony got bored and moved to a private company. The owners were smart. They paid per square meter. If their work was shoddy, they expected them to fix it. The most competent and efficient painters made more money.

Productivity at the company soared. The most skilled painters made much more money and did quality work. The slower, less competent painters drifted away to an easier life with the council.

The company thrived on its reputation. Economists conclude —

Performance pay encourages better performance.

Crucially, to adopt performance pay, you have to be able to measure that performance.

Diageo, for example, pays their coopers a bonus of £1 for every barrel they make. The difference between the guy making 50 barrels a week and the guy who makes 75 is £100 per month.

But, for most jobs, it is much harder to quantify.

The call centre operator who makes 200 calls per day would typically be thought of as working harder than the one who makes 100 calls. But the one who makes 100 calls might sign up more people because they are skilled at thoroughly explaining the product they are selling.

Economists Alexandre Mas and Enrico Moretti explored the impact of coworkers on productivity at work.

They discovered that introducing highly productive team members positively influences the productivity of others. But only if the other slower workers know they are being watched.

Workers put in more effort when surrounded by colleagues who can observe them, especially those they interact with regularly. Mas and Moretti concluded (and I paraphrase): —

Social pressure gives lazy bastards a kick up the backside.

Even when you think performance can be measured, it’s easy for people to get away with gamification and manipulation.

Supervisors can have the wool pulled over their eyes by their arse-licking sycophantic underlings. And they themselves are in an ideal position to blame those below them for poor performance or take credit for their successes.

When the missus got home, she was pleased to see the house looking like something from a showroom brochure. She particularly liked the bedroom I painted in eggshell with a feature wall done in chutney blue.

What’s all this got to do with writing?

I wasn’t as nearly as efficient at painting as Tony. He did four times as much as me in the same amount of time. Yet, I took pride in painting that bedroom.

Mrs McEwan could not tell who painted what. Tony was professional and efficient. I was an amateur but careful. And I preened when she admired that small room with its distinctive look.

Let’s equate that to writing.

I’m a slow writer. I take time to formulate my ideas, I research, ponder, write, cogitate, amend, and ponder some more. I let it stew, and then I edit and cogitate and edit some more.

Another writer could chap out four pages in as much time as I take to write a page. If it is the same quality, she is going to earn four times as much. It’s simple arithmetic. Professional efficiency.

Standards, however, are important. A slapdash painter who leaves paint dripping down skirting boards and blotches on the carpet isn’t going to get repeat business.

Slapdash writers don’t endear themselves to the reader.

The astute among you will have noticed there is no colour of paint called chutney blue. I added this deliberately because some writers end up with walls full of magnolia and others are unique.

Some writers have a colour all of their own.

Some like magnolia. Some prefer grey ink (which is a horrible dark grey nobody likes — the sort of colour Donald Trump painted his soul).

There are other types of painters/writers, too. Those who paint wonderful murals.

They don’t work for the same rate of pay as the guy who emulsions a garage ceiling. Who looks at the garage ceiling?

When we come across writers who paint beautiful murals, we take time to stop and admire their work. We appreciate their talent and creativity. And we come back to them to see what else they do.

There is one other type of writer. The one who spends their time creating masterpieces. These are the writers we revere and share. We adore their work and often return to read their words over and over again.

What type of writer are you?

Malky McEwan

My challenge to all writers

Show me your colours.


About the Creator

Malky McEwan

Curious mind. Author of three funny memoirs. Top writer on Quora and Medium x 9. Writing to entertain, and inform. Goal: become the oldest person in the world (breaking my record every day).

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Comments (1)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran6 months ago

    I'm always for quality over quantity. Like what's the point of having so much of work done when it's low quality, right? Like the call centre operator example that you gave. I'm a slow writer too. I usually gotta get an idea stew in my head first. Only once it's the story is fully developed would I start writing the first draft. The editing and proofreading process takes about a week, lol. As for my colour, lol, if you've been following me, you'd know it's red!

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