Tonight, I have opinions. And they will not be silent. You’ve received fair warning.
A couple of authors I follow on Twitter — namely, John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig — led me to this article by Lisa Morton, Vice-President of the Horror Writers Association, in which she expounds upon the difference between a professional writer and a “hobbyist.”
What a terrible, long sentence. My apologies. But I’m letting it stand, because I’m not a real writer anyway, and I probably don’t know any better.
Okay, okay, so that level of snark on my part is a bit uncalled for. (Maybe.) Especially since Ms. Morton isn’t calling me a “fake” writer (as opposed to a “real” one). She’s acknowledging that I’m a writer, just not a professional. Well, I kinda take umbrage at that.
Morton lists ten questions, which, according to her, a writer must answer with “yes” in order for her to consider that person a pro. In her graciousness, she will “cut you a little slack and say you can get off with 80% and still call yourself ‘professional’.” Please note that this is a direct quote in which Morton has her closing quotation marks in the wrong place. But who’s counting.
She also warns that if you scoff at her questions, she will consider you a hobbyist, and you are not to call yourself “professional” in her presence.
No. I’m not even kidding.
I know nothing about Lisa Morton personally. Until tonight, I’d never even heard her name before. Yes, there are places in this post where I’m pointing out her incorrect punctuation and grammar (still to come), but I have nothing against her personally. But her tone and word choices sound elitist to me, and as a writer (whose level of professionalism is tbd), I feel the need to speak out against it. Because it’s bad form, y’all.
Anyway, back to the questions. Or, as Morton puts it, “onto the questions.” (She really means “on to.”)
Lisa Morton’s 10-Question Acid Test of Writerly Professionalism (I just made that up.) and My Answers
1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?
No. My home is messy because I have a 10-month-old and cleaning is low on my priorities list.
2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?
No. When I get the chance to go out with friends sans baby, I jump at said chance because if I don’t, I will go bat guano crazy.
3. Do you turn off the television in order to write?
Rarely. For the last several months, TV has been the only way I can unwind, and if I try to write instead, I just fall asleep.
4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?
5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunites [sic] (either research or networking potential)?
No. I haven’t been on vacation in 4 years because I can’t afford it.
6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?
No. I don’t enjoy discussing the business of writing. I do enjoy discussing the craft of writing and will do so happily at any given opportunity. However, I will not do so to the exclusion of chatting with a good friend, because I love my friends (both writers and non-writers) and care about maintaining my relationships.
7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?
Sort of. Before I had a baby, I spent 4 years at a job that paid no money at all at the time: writing.
8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?
I don’t understand this question. Does this mean I should think my current home isn’t nice? If I do think my current home is nice (which I do), how does that automatically mean I don’t have a professional mindset?
9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?
Since I’ve answered only one question so far with “yes,” I guess the answer to this one is “no.”
10. Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?
Is this a question about suicidal tendencies?
One out of ten. I don’t even score as “pro” within the bounds of Morton’s gracious 80%. The thing is, even if I weren’t devoting most of my time to keeping a baby healthy, whole, and happy — even if I were at my previous writing “level” of 5-8 hours per day instead of 2 hours per week — even if that were the case, I’d still only score as “hobbyist” in Morton’s eyes.
Not that it matters. As I stated above, I don’t know Morton, and I never heard of her until today. I have nothing against her personally — but neither do I care about her opinion or her classification of me. Her scoring system isn’t the be-all, end-all of whether or not someone is a professional writer. Her scoring system is a subjective description of her own process and her view of her own writing career. As far any other writer is concerned, it’s a moo* point.
The end of the matter is, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes a professional writer from a hobbyist. A professional writer gets paid for writing. BOOM. If you get paid for writing, you’re a professional writer. That’s it.
Morton’s list is elitist and exclusionary. It keeps people out — when what needs to happen is that we writers band together and invite each other in. We need to challenge the darkness individually and collectively. We need to form a tribe that affirms and reaffirms and assures and reassures. As my friend and fellow indie author Bernard Schaffer writes,
“We all learn together, share our information, and support one another’s endeavors, including stepping in and saying when someone is doing something they shouldn’t. …Be a member of the community and support it, both financially and socially, and it will support you back.”
~from The Manifesto of Independent Writing and Publishing
Designing a test to see who’s pro and who isn’t does nothing more than exclude those who need a tribe’s support the most. And if those people are consigned to the outer regions where “hobbyists” apparently dwell, there’s little chance they’ll ever discover motivation for “becoming professional.”
As for me? Well, I’m not earning the big bucks, that’s for sure. My books were selling well enough to make a car payment, but summer sales are down. So at least I’m contributing something to the grocery budget. Once I get my WIP finished and published, I have every confidence that at least a few more car payments will be in my future. ; )
Hi. My name is Courtney Cantrell, I get paid for writing, and I am not a hobbyist.
* “It’s a moo point. …It’s like a cow’s opinion. It doesn’t matter…it’s moo.”