So, last night on Twitter I came across a link to a quiz–if you answered “yes” to eight out of ten questions, the blogger asserted, you could truly claim to be a professional writer. Otherwise you’re just a hobbyist!
I’m not going to link to the quiz itself, for various reasons, but I’ll link to Scalzi’s post about it.
He does a fine job taking down at least one of the assumptions behind the quiz–that one person’s process is the one and the only way achieve a particular result.
There are other assumptions in that list of questions, assumptions that bug me. And I’m saying that as someone who actually did answer “yes” to a fair number of those questions. The one about your living space being a mess because you’d rather write–yeah, I’m a crap housekeeper. But, you know, I’ve always been a crap housekeeper and I hate cleaning stuff with the fire of a dozen supernovas, so my choosing to write or read rather than clean isn’t a sign of my devotion to my art. And people have varying tolerances for different states of messiness–I can easily imagine a writer who just can’t work when the room around them isn’t straight. For such a writer, taking the time to clean would, in fact, be a necessary precondition to becoming a professional writer.
And let’s look at the question about whether you’ve taken a lower-paying job so you can have more time to write. I have also done this. But, see, Mr Leckie has a job that pays enough to keep us fed and housed, plus that job has benefits. If that weren’t the case, it would not have been possible for me to do that. And if one were to go by that list of questions, no single parents could ever be professional writers. Not really. No one with serious medical needs, or kids with serious medical needs, could ever really claim to be a pro.
In fact, the entire list assumes a level of privilege that’s really pretty offensive. Which is why the folks in my twitter feed were agape at that quiz last night.
So, if you’re an aspiring writer looking for direction and advice, or if you’re working seriously on your writing and wondering if you can or might be a pro, I would urge you not to take the advice or judgement implied by that quiz. There’s nothing helpful there, and most likely it will only leave you feeling like you never can be, like you’ll always be found wanting.
Which is, in fact, the point of the quiz. The blogger begins by explaining how disappointing it is to meet people who talk as though they’re pros but come to find out they’re really only hobbyists. The quiz only tells you the grounds on which the blogger makes this judgement–they have not sacrificed sufficiently for that coveted professional status.*
It’s pretty obvious that knowing where that distinction is, knowing who is and who isn’t in the club (and making sure those who don’t make the cut are aware of that fact), is the important bit.
But, see, why is this distinction even a thing? I get why SFWA, for instance, would want to put definite boundaries around who is and isn’t a member (whether where they’ve placed those boundaries makes sense is its own, entirely different issue, and not under discussion here). But aside from that, who the hell cares? Scalzi points out, sensibly, that if you’re getting paid for your writing you have every right to call yourself professional. I would ask, “Do you consider yourself to be a professional?” And your answer is your answer. Why would I bother to police that? Why do I care if you’ve met any other requirements? My sense of myself as a writer doesn’t require that I be better or different from anyone else, whether “anyone else” is a writer or not.**
Of course, if I saw writing as a status thing, if I envisioned myself as somehow nobler than the average Jane because of my GREAT SACRIFICES to Art, then, yes, I’d want to put a boundary there, and a Border Patrol. Because if any slob in a sweaty t-shirt could claim they were a professional writer, where would that leave me? Where would I get that sense of superiority that gets me through the day?
Writing is hard. Writing for money is hard. It does, indeed, require hard work and sacrifices–every writer is different, and every writer’s work and sacrifices will be particular to their situation. Nobody needs the extra burden of people drawing arbitrary, self-serving lines around what it means to be a “real” writer. And I’d suggest that if you’re tempted to do that, you might want to consider whether spending time drawing those lines isn’t in itself a waste of time. Shouldn’t you actually be spending that time writing?
*The sufficient sacrifices, of course, are ones that its only possible for certain people to make, as I mention above. If you don’t have the spouse with a good income, or if you have kids with medical needs, or if you’re in a position where cutting your hours so you can write more means getting evicted because you can’t pay rent and where’s supper coming from anyway, well, you aren’t a pro because you haven’t sacrificed enough for your art. (Honestly, I cannot roll my eyes hard enough.)
**That way lies madness! IMO, of course. Maybe you get energy from comparing yourself to others, and can do it without losing your mind. Me, I become a gibbering mess of anxiety and panic if I compete with anyone but myself. And I’d much rather invite people into the club than keep people out.