So there was this questionnaire yesterday, about how to tell if you’re a professional writer. You might have seen a few people address it, and well. I have some things to say about it, too.
First thing — writers write. That’s really about it as far as “being a professional” is concerned. Ideally you should also submit that work, and when rejections happen, look to improve it. There are, of course, such things as professional pay rates and qualifying sales that are required before you can apply for a pro membership in organizations. But none of those criteria are even touched upon in this questionnaire.
My answers, and musings thereon:
1. No. My writing space is messy because I have a full-time job in addition to my writing, one that has a good two-and-a-half to three hour commute along with it. By the time I get home from work it’s dinner and, yes, writing, and cleaning’s simply not a priority. But on weekends or when I have free time, if I’m tidying up or doing dishes I don’t spend that time thinking BUT I COULD BE WRITING. Because y’know what? I still AM writing. Cleaning, for me, doesn’t require a lot of brain power. Which means while I’m elbows-deep in dishwater, my mind is gnawing on the tangly bits of whatever I’m working on.
Hell, sometimes I clean to get away from the WIP, and that’s when my problems are solved. I also occasionally have a bout of “I can’t work with all this clutter” and stop writing until I can see the top of my desk again. (This does not involve sweeping it all on the floor, by the by.)
2. No. I’ve stayed in on a Saturday night when a deadline was looming, or passed on a spontaneous weeknight let’s-go-out because I’ve been looking forward to kicking a chapter’s ass. But I’ve also passed on those spontaneous nights because I’ve come home from the day job and put on my fuzzy socks and really, really want to just stare at the science channel all night. That doesn’t make me a professional TV watcher; it just makes me frickin’ tired from a long day at work.
But routinely blowing off my friends? No. Because again, see day job I plan out my writing days. I generally know what my social schedule will look like throughout the week, and know when during that time I have glorious hours with which I can put fingers to keyboard.
3. Yes, but that’s MY process, not the hallmark of a professional. Some people can have background noise while they work. I also turn off music. I’ll sometimes create playlists for books, so there ARE songs that evoke the story and characters I’m portraying, but weirdly, I can’t always listen to them while I’m writing.
That doesn’t mean anyone who has iTunes up and running while they write is doing it wrong. It means their writer-brain works differently than mine.
Also, some writers are stay-at-home parents, and their writing space might very well be the couch in the living room where their small children are watching Sesame Street and SpongeBob (is that still a thing?) and 3-2-1 Contact (shut up I watched it). Sure, those shows aren’t FOR the writer, but kids are going to ask questions and want to converse about why no one else can see Snuffy. And, hey, some kids’ programming has really interesting plotlines. So it’s also going to be distracting. You learn to write with those things, if that’s your situation. It doesn’t make you a hobbyist.
4. Depends. If nothing’s wrong with a story or scene then fuck yeah gimme the praise. If I’m sending something off to a crit partner then yes, useful criticism is important. I’ve had bad crits that show me the person that was reading the story really wasn’t, erm, of the same place in their writing as I am (no, you really DON’T need to use every single sense for every bit of description, ahem, and also “said” works just fine thanks). And if I step in it in my writing, then I want to know so I don’t do it again and can do better next time.
I think the spirit of this question is getting at HOW the writer takes criticism. If you aren’t ready to hear what needs to be fixed in your work, if you’re going to cover your ears and shout LALALALALA or argue with your critter, or flounce off, then yeah, you might not be ready to put your work out in the world. But that’s a maturity thing.
5. No and, I guess, depends. First of all, let me say how much I hate the idea of networking. It feels like you’re only meeting people to figure out what they can do for you. I’d far rather make a connection with someone who genuinely cares about the same things I do, and who isn’t only talking to me so I’ll pass their manuscript along to the editors. (That’s happened! I knew it was happening! I didn’t ask for her manuscript! Because fuck you!)
So, no, when I plan vacations, they’re not opportunities for me to “get ahead” in my writing career. If I get the chance to meet and hang out with other writers, huzzah! That’s fun. It’s not networking. Some of my trips are a little bit of work and play — I’ll be doing fan-type things at GenCon, but I’ll also be running games, and I’ll introduce myself to the people for whom I’ve written. It’s a blend. It’s not networking.
I also, y’know, just get away to get away sometimes. This’ll be a theme — I have a full time day job. Sometimes your brain just needs a break. I don’t see how shaming writers for taking non-writing vacations is at all productive.
6. No, actually, I wouldn’t, and what the fuck. My good friends are important to me. They are not all writers. Most of them aren’t. So to say I’d rather be talking shop with writers than spending time with my friends would make me a pretty shitty friend. Yes, even if it’s small talk over coffee and not deep discussions about their lives.
Writers: your world is bigger than your writing. I know that can be hard to see when you’re in the throes of mid-book dreadfuls, or freaking out because dream agent tweeted about reading queries today, or that editor you’re on sub to is talking about clearing out the inbox this weekend, but it’s true. If you cast your non-writerly friends aside, and suggest to them that hearing about their lives isn’t important to you because it’s not about your writing, well. You’re not going to have them as friends for much longer. And your life will be poorer for it.
That’s not the sign of being a professional writer. That’s the sign of being an asshole.
7 and 8 are similar, so I’m taking them together: No. Do I dream of being able to write full time? I won’t lie; of course I do. But that’s not feasible for my family (all two of us and the cats) right now, and it’s certainly not something that separates pros from hobbyists.
Some people flat-out don’t have that luxury.
These two questions are so steeped in privilege I’m furious. Some — most! — writers have families to feed and mortgages to pay, and taking a lower-paying job would knock down the whole damned house of cards. Keeping the higher-paying job or staying in a career doesn’t make a writer a hobbyist. It makes them a person doing the thing they feel is right for them and their families. It means they’re responsible fucking adults, and they’re doing the best they can. If they’re holding down a job AND carving out the time to write after the work day is done and the kids are in bed and tomorrow’s lunches are made and the laundry is done, then they’re not hobbyists, they’re badasses.
I say this with neither sarcasm nor bitterness — hooray for the writers who can write full-time. I know some of them! I hope to join those ranks someday myself. But Hillary being able to leave her day job doesn’t make her a pro and relegate me to the realm of hobbyist because I’m still at mine.
9. Since I have mostly no’s already, nope. And what’s that arbitrary number even supposed to mean? Why five years? Why not two or three or ten?
10. I guess since if I answer no to this one, I need to go pitch myself off a cliff, the answer is yes, I’m willing to live with the idea that piles of money might not fall into my lap. That stories will get rejected. That I could be a victim of the midlist spiral. But y’know what? Writers write. And submit. And learn. Sooooo, yes. I know that the bar is high. The people who succeed are the ones who constantly seek to improve.
Again, I think this is a question whose spirit is more, “Can you accept that writing is hard fucking work, and are you ready to stop whining about how writing is haaaaaaaaard and actually go do that work?”
I’m serious about my writing. I have an agent, I’ve been on sub. I attended a highly respected writers’ workshop last year. I’ve written for three games for two separate, established RPG publishers. This year I made my first pro short story sale and oh hey I have a book deal.
All of which has very little to do with that list, and everything to do with how I worked my ass off for those things.
So don’t tell me because I haven’t been ticking off the boxes on this random, frankly insulting list, that I’m not a professional. And don’t let anyone tell you you’re not one, either.