First time I was paid to write

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a fascinating story about a man who makes his living writing papers for college students. Reading it reminded me that this was how I was first paid to write.

Back in high school, I was paid by my classmates to write term papers.  Though unethical and illegal by high school standards, it proved to be a profitable venture:

$25-$100 per paper depending upon the size and subject matter.


Papers related to history, for example, were discounted since this was typically an area that I enjoyed researching.

Papers involving an analysis of Ethan Frome were heavily surcharged even though I had already read the book.

I hate the book.

I didn’t keep accurate financial records at the time, but I probably wrote about three dozen papers over the course of two years, and I could have earned even more had I been able to type the papers.

Unfortunately, I ran into some trouble when it came to typing, which is a story for another time.

So instead of delivering ready-to-submit manuscripts, I was paid to produce a hand-written copy of the paper that my customers would then type themselves.

And to be honest, it made me feel a little less dishonest knowing that the actual paper that I wrote was not the one that would ultimately be turned in.

I also wrote papers for my high school sweetheart (one analyzing The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe) , but I never charged her for them.

I have always been charitable when it comes to love.

I bought my first car, a 1976 Chevy Malibu, with my writing profits. Not bad for a teenager.

After graduating high school, my writing career dried up for a time.  For about a year, I posted a weekly column on a bulletin board system for about a dozen readers, but I wasn’t paid to write again for another ten years, when one of my poems won a contest sponsored by the now-defunct Beginnings magazine.

$100 plus publication.

A few years later, I earned a some money via Google’s AdSense for advertising placed on one of my early blogs, and then came my first book contract and the opportunity to make this writing gig an actual career.

But I like the fact that my beginnings were less than honorable. Nefarious, even. While I wrote those term papers for profit, the knowledge that my actions served to subvert the teacher’s ability to accurately assess student performance and undermined their power was ample reward.

My arguably nerdy way of sticking it to the man.

Here is the winning poem mentioned above:

Save Your Money Next Time and Just Give Me the Box

Thank you Mother, for the red, aerodynamic toboggan that I found under the Christmas tree this morning, with it’s chiseled runners and precision steering wires.

But Mother dearest, in the future, please know that I have found nothing more exhilarating than a steep, muddy hill and a sturdy refrigerator box.

-Matthew Dicks