When can I call myself a Writer?

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America define “professional writer” as “someone who makes a living from selling their writing”. But that excludes every single poet in the UK since selling their poetry would exclude money made poetry readings, teaching creative writing and being a poetry editor which is how those who don’t have a day job do it. So clearly there has to be a better definition. James Van Pelt in The Fix suggests other way of defining the professional writer:-

1. Consistently produces work

Where poetry is concerned, word counts (how consistently do prose writers advise write 200/500 words a day?) are useless. But certainly writers, write. Sure they might talk about it and no one makes a better procrasinator than a writer who’s avoiding the actual work of putting words on the page, preferably the right words in the right order, but the key difference between a wannabe and a writer is that the latter actually writes rather than talks about their magnum opus that will be produced sometime tomorrow (and all we know tomorrow never comes).

2. Tries to sell the work

Yep, actually prints out poems and covering letters and posts them off to editors. Note the plurals. Currently have 40 poems on editors’ desks at the moment and will post off a further ten this week. Actually it’s unusual for me to have less than 50 out at any one time. With magazines running at 98 – 99% rejection rates, it’s the only way to get published. And I did get an acceptance today (see, it works).

3. Tries to improve knowledge in the field

Read, read and keep reading. Ask for book tokens as presents, subscribe to as many magazines as you can afford and join a library. No writer can skip the reading.

4. Networks

Not so easy when getting out involves finding a babysitter and a half-hourly bus service that stops at 6:30 pm anyway. That’s why I love the internet: I can network without leaving home, or someone complaining about my taste in music.

5. Keeps up with the field

How else are you going to know that submitting your experimental, edgy, urban-noir poetry to Poetry Review is a waste of time? Save postage, time and effort. Read reviews (some of mine are available at Sphinx).

6. Behaves professionally

Strangely I prefer it when editors send “never darken my post box ever again” responses. The ones I hate are the “liked your work but am not using it [without giving the reason for not using it]”. With the former I know where I stand. The latter always encourage me to try again. But I’d never threaten an editor. Most of them are unpaid, trying to fit in producing a magazine around day jobs and family life and get more poems in a week than they can publish in a year (hence the high rejection rates).

I’ve never flame a reviewer either. Politely pointing out a typo/technical error is OK. But expecting a reviewer, who is outside of your target audience, to love your work isn’t. Love or loathe them, reviewers do have the right to their own opinion. And sometimes they get it wrong. If a certain music critic hated an album, I’d rush out and buy it. If he loved an album I knew to put it on my “never, ever buy” list. I never criticised him for hating my favourite bands. I appreciated his consistency of opinion and his ability to inform my music buying. Negative reviews can have positive effects.

7. Pays forward, ie gives advice and offers constructive criticism to newbies

This is how I met my husband. So I guess I qualify. I am a writer.

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4 Responses to “When can I call myself a Writer?”

  1. dialoguista Says:

    somehow came across this this evening, just as I have been procrastinating on choosing/editing/working on a small collection of poetry (already written just gotta go through the notebooks).

    It’s good you keep writing, but it seems you’re just adding more and more, he says…

    anyway, this is good advice

  2. fastfictions Says:

    Great list. I think the web can help an aspiring writer develop towards professionalism through all seven categories. I’ve been writing a short-short story everyday for the past four years various places online. (Currently at fastfictions.blogspot.com)

  3. emmalee1 Says:

    Thanks for dropping by.

    Yes, there’s lots of useful advice for writers on-line. However, there’s a lot of dross too. A good way of shifting wheat from chaff is to find a writer whose work you like and follow what they’re saying or trust your instincts: if the advice feels right, it’s probably saying something sensible.

    @dialoguista: keep writing, it’s good practice, you don’t have to seek to publish everything… Best Wishes


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