"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ethics in Writing/Dealing with Moral Issues When Making Money

Some time ago, a former client sent out an "S.O.S." for my assistance.
He wanted to hire me to write a term paper for his wife who was in college, and for whom English was not her native language. He was desperate. The assignment was crucial to her graduating.
After careful consideration, I called him back and regretfully declined.

Though I could definitely use the money and the repeat business, the idea just didn't sit well with me.
I didn't feel comfortable "ghost writing" an essay whereby the student would get all the "credit" but would be "deficited" in what she failed to learn.
Ultimately, this client was able to find someone else to take the job.

Fast forward...it's two years later, and another unrelated writing issue poses a moral dilemma.
Initially, I was tickled pink to finally have an article submitted as a guest post accepted by a hugely popular blog, that boasts millions of followers and Twitter fans.

There was just one condition.
The editor requested that I take out my reference to "God" and a scriptural quote I provided. Reluctantly, I did.
It bothered me, but because this was the first time I had ever worked with this particular editor, I didn't want to come across as unprofessional or uncooperative.
Why should I be ashamed of my faith? I thought.
Still, I felt as if I had somehow been compromised as a result of her "editorial policy."

And just recently, I found myself having to say "no-go" to a site that paid reasonable compensation to its writers, but contained content that I surely would not want my mom to read. :-)

Though many people associate ethics with politics, or religion, or health care-- more and more, it exists in writing too.

Here are some examples of ethical issues for today's writer:
  • Honoring a client's request that causes moral conflict or calls for dishonesty
  • Plagiarism
  • Making misleading statements or misrepresenting one's qualifications (remember James Frey and the Oprah incident?)
  • Providing false testimonials or endorsements
  • Selling links to your Blog
  • Contributing content to projects that objectify women, or promote racism, sexism, or violence

Writing is a business that calls for daily decisions that will make our careers profitable, sound and solid, but at what cost?
"Let your conscience be your guide."

At the end of the day, we each much choose our individual "deal breakers".

What's yours?
Or should personal feelings be put aside for professional gain?

Thoughts here?


  1. I've got one word for you, Jen. BRAVO! You stick to your moral guns. Money and recognition are nice, but not to the detriment of your soul. People like me read you because you have integrity, honesty, humor, and grit. God (yes God) bless you.

    1. Sue,
      Wow! Thanks so much for this comment. It was so moving and kind.
      I am blessed to have you as part of my blog "family." :-)

  2. Jennifer: It is refreshing to hear of your stance on the ethics of writing. I try to choose carefully what I read. I once purchased a book at an author's speaking engagement and after I read it,deposited in the 'round file.' He could not write a page without getting profane and even vulgar.

    1. quietspirit,

      Don't ya' just hate that? Vulgarity is rarely appealing. Thanks for your input today. I appreciate it.

  3. I agree with Susan and Cecelia, I applaud your stance. In today's world it is more difficult than ever to navigate these waters. We reap what we sow, and we will indeed reap the benefits of wise choices.

    1. Karen,

      How true! Thanks for adding to the mix here. :-)

  4. I don't think personal feelings should be put aside for professional gain.I don't like to cast stones, but shame on that client for putting you in such a position. His wife's grade should reflect her ORIGINAL work. The school would know that English was not her first language and take that into consideration. I'm tsking him - you don't have to ;-)

    I don't thump people with a bible, but I do think it mean and disrespectful to ask a writer to remove a reference to God and/or a scriptural quote. That editing takes some of the flavor of your writing from the text, IMHO. That's like diluting the original message. I understand why the editor would ask that, but I would be less inclined to work with that editor unless I wrote a piece that "naturally" did not mention God.

    Applause and high five for both handlings.

    1. Hi there, D7ana!

      You're right; I haven't worked with that editor since then. :-) Lovely hearing from you today.

  5. Jen--We have moved to a world where being PC makes everyone do incredibly painful backbends in order to not offend anyone.

    You believe in God. The person next to you believes in Allah. The person next to them believes in nothing. So what? Just because your piece reflects your beliefs doesn't mean you're shoving them down everyone's throat.

    Can't we all celebrate and embrace our differences?

    As for the wife's predicament, shame on both of them. If this is the first paper she's written and she's about to graduate, what kind of school is this? And if it's NOT her first paper, what did she do before?

    Just say no (when saying yes will make you feel dishonest).

  6. Sioux,

    Well stated! Thanks for saying it here. I value your input. :-)

  7. Well, I suppose I might as well make these comments unanimous. Jen, you have stood for your beliefs and you have made your mama proud. I know because I'm a mama of adult children. I would have done the same as you in both instances and just as uncomfortable in the second position with the need to remove my God and His Word from that post. At the time, however, you felt it was appropriate to be flexible. We live and learn, and the good news is He still loves us!

  8. Sherrey,

    Thank you so kindly! Yes, he does. Good to get your feedback on this.