The Sad Reality of Being a Filipino Writer in English
I’ve been working as a writer since 2004, and it never fails to amaze me the level of disrespect that writers get on a daily basis.
I’m talking about paid hacks here, like myself, writers who get paid to write whatever it is that the client wants written: SEO articles, website content, emailers, brochure and flyer copy, ad copy—anything.
It’s especially difficult when you’re a Filipino writer writing in English and they FIND OUT that you’re Filipino. They will go out of their way to underpay you—criminally, I might add. And the bad thing is, a lot of these clients who are looking for writers are also Filipinos who run their own outsourcing companies. Imagine Filipinos taking advantage of their fellow Filipinos, instead of trying to lift up their kababayans or countrymen.
I left a full-time job in the Philippines five years ago and took up a couple of freelance jobs that I can do anywhere. This was because I decided to eventually move to Mexico City, and I was—and always am—practical. I knew that the only job I could find here in Mexico is as an English teacher—which is why I actually enrolled in an online certificate class before coming here. I sent out my CV to several companies and was promptly contacted by a school looking for teachers. But I immediately found out that teaching English here is not what it’s cut out to be, especially if you are not white and English is not your native language. It’s natural for students to want to be taught by white teachers, but that’s another story—or blog post. (A whole blog post about Filipino English teachers and the level of disrespect that they get on a daily basis? Yes, that’s another story.)
But to go back. I’ve been lucky to have landed a couple of “full-time” freelance gigs that I’ve had for several years now, but I never say no to any writing opportunities that come my way. And this is where—when those aforementioned writing opportunities FINALLY come my way—my status as a Filipino writer in English is hammered home. When you are a Filipino writer in English, clients expect you to deliver the best writing that money can buy—while getting paid peanuts.
They expect you to write like an Australian or a Brit or an American, for example, but they don’t pay you like they pay Australians, Brits, or Americans. They pay you like they pay Filipinos. But then they expect you to provide them with an unlimited number of rewrites. Or else, you don’t get paid. I can’t count the number of times I left money on the table rather than deal with a difficult client.
A lot of my fellow paid hacks also rue this disrespect afforded to us, but most of the time we just shrug it off and charge it to experience. The sad part is, charging this shit to experience doesn’t put food on the table. A fucked-up experience robs us of time better spent on an actual paying gig.
This isn’t a sob story, far from it. It’s just the reality of things. When I decided to become a writer many years ago, my dad, who is a pragmatist, looked me in the eye and told me unflinchingly, “Walang pera sa pagsusulat.” (There’s no money in writing.)
I knew it then, and I know it now, but I still jumped headlong into the writing life. There are no regrets, however. Just a lot of realizations. Realizations that, still, don’t put food on the table, but realizations nonetheless.
So if by some stroke of luck you are reading this and are planning to hire a Filipino writer in English who is hardworking and competent and wishes to make his or her clients (read: you) happy, and because he or she is already saving you a lot of money in the first place, surely you can afford to pay a little extra by way of gratuity? And perhaps you could lay off being an asshole for a while too, while we navigate our way through the impossible demands of your project?
Paid hacks like us are humans too, even if we decided to forgo fame and fortune by being the literary or commercial equivalent of mercenaries—writing anonymously, for cash, without ever seeing our bylines in the content or copy we’ve written. In the case of grizzled veterans like me, that’s close to two decades of writing experience, majority of that experience, like I’ve already mentioned, not helping to put food on the table anyway.
That’s the sad reality of being a paid hack, sadder still if you’re a Filipino hack. All we ask is to be afforded a little respect, along with being paid fairly for a job well done. We don’t think that’s too much to ask at all.