In response to Elizabeth T.’s comment on the previous post: Does writing a term paper make a “writer”? Or writing a dissertation? A letter to a friend? A policy position paper for the legislature? Or are all these writing activities a small part of some larger purpose and/or job and not the end in and of itself?
I would agree: the use of words in written format to communicate is writing. Anyone who has learned how to create sentences and communicate in written form is a writer. Some believe they can write better than professional writers. Actually, I’ve run into this belief often in my professional writing work and it’s quite annoying, especially when the other person has hired me to write but insists on changing everything I’ve written for him without a significant or compelling reason, i.e. having me do all the hard work to create the first draft he loves and which he takes and changes so he can say he “wrote” the piece himself (but he didn’t have a clue where to start to create the first draft and deprived me of finishing my work). Please, don’t get me started about such people….
So, regarding my previous post (dated May 10, 2008), I would like to clarify some things. There are three kinds of writers: “list-makers,” amateurs and professionals. As I mentioned in the previous post, a writer will “treat it as a job, developing a schedule, goals, an action plan, and having a specific writing space.” A writer works at writing every day, not for a term paper or policy paper, or personal letter. There is a belief in one’s work as a profession, not a hobby. And yes, there is payment for work done, whether that payment is in the form of money or sample copies. Those who approach writing in this way I would consider to be professional and writers, whether they write nonfiction magazine articles on a freelance basis, biographies, journalism, nonfiction books, speeches, advertising copy, plays, screenplays, novels, poetry, short stories or essays, and some even write blogs.
Does the money matter? Is it a factor in writing being a ‘profession’? It matters when one wants to earn a living by it, pay the bills, buy clothing, feed the family, etc. If it were possible to create art and not have living expenses, then money would not matter in the writing profession. To me, writing is a job and a profession. I strive for excellence and dare it to be art.
Amateurs are those who write as a hobby, write a family history or their life story for the family and not for wider dissemination, who do not have a writing schedule, goals, an action plan, a specific writing space and the compulsion to write. It’s something fun to do. I love it when I hear of parents who actually enjoy writing stories with their kids — what a wonderful way to encourage literacy! Money is not a factor in the pursuit of this kind of writing. These “writers” are also those who talk and talk and talk about how much they want to write if only they could find the time. Or they attend workshop after class after writing conference after workshop but don’t actually finish anything. Occasionally, someone from this group gets lucky (luck has a lot to do with all publishing) and publishes a story or genre novel that catapults them into the life of a professional writer. And then they learn how hard it really is. Not all succeed as professionals.
And then, the “list-makers.” I’ve met people who confess to me that writing intimidates them, that they have problems putting words together to make a sentence, and they are comfortable only writing short notes or lists. They generally were not encouraged to write in school or did poorly in English. They communicate well verbally. But they are wise — they know and understand their limitations regarding writing. They use words to communicate, however, in their notes and lists and speech. By their own admission they are not writers.
And so I return to my original questions: What is the definition of success for a writer? Is it publication, blockbuster sales, or finishing each novel or story or poem? Or is each a successful step in the process of creation? In our society, do we define success only in terms of how much money has been made?