What Is A Writer?

A few days ago I blogged abut a survey I read about in the Authors Guild Bulletin. The focus of the NEA survey was how much writers earn. I've recently completed a survey from the Authors Guild about this very subject.

More Statistics About Writers

I remember reading the statistics compiled by another survey, I think it was one of the Pew Internet projects, about people who identify themselves as a writer. Apparently, many of those have never published with a credible byline or earned anything from their writing. I suspect many of these people who label themselves writer aren't just aspiring writers who haven't yet been published. I think many are people who would LIKE to be writers but haven't done the work required to legitimately wear the label.

Periodically on various blogs maintained by working writers, i.e., those who get paid for their writing, the hot topic of amateur writers, defined as those who work for pennies or, worse, nothing, is wildly debated. Since I like to Sling Words around, I thought I'd sling a few about this topic.

Hot Topic

I'll probably get some rotten tomatoes tossed at me for this blog, but writers who write with no expectation of recompense do a disservice to all writers. In today's world, there are too many people who label themselves writer without knowing what the occupation demands. They wouldn't dare label themselves neurosurgeons, but because we live in a culture that doesn't value those who work with words - just ask any Hollywood writer - everyone with access to a computer thinks he or she is a writer.

Too many think the only requirement for successful writing is the ability to tap a keyboard. After all, isn't that the implied logic behind blogs? You don't have to know how to write to publish a blog ...blah, blah, blah. While this is true, it doesn't mean that a blog will attract an audience unless it offers compelling content. While many overlook grammatical errors in blogs, no one overlooks boring content.

Professional writers know there's more required to write than the ability to peck out words on a keyboard. Let's place a few adjectives in front of the word writer in order to clarify the occupation. I freely admit these are my definitions.

Professional Writer

Those that know the business, write with skill and narrative excellence and are paid commensurate with their ability, experience, and knowledge.

Amateur Writer

The vast majority of all writers on the Internet who write with no expectation of payment. No disrespect intended.

Aspiring Writers

These are the folks who study and practice by writing - a lot - with the expectation that they'll become professional. I offer my best wishes for you to meet your goal.

The waters get muddied by amateurs who want to be considered professionals yet they don't adhere to professional standards. Sometimes they may get paid a little, but usually they work for free. These amateurs - and professionals who are so desperate for work that they'll take peanuts - lower the pay standards so that clients who need content written think it's perfectly acceptable to offer a job of writing 100 articles for $50.00. Or publishers think it's okay to offer the lowest possible advances for a novel.

Now, amateurs can become professionals just as, presumably, professionals can become hacks.

Learn The Business

It's not so much that someone should have to earn the right to be called a writer as it is that those who call themselves writer should live up to that label in terms of ability, salary requirement, and work ethic. They should learn the craft along with learning the business practices that enable a writer to earn a living wage.

Refrain from work-for-free jobs and working for peanuts unless there is a valid advantage in doing so. Yes, sometimes there is a good reason for taking less than standard compensation. For example, the initial job for a new client earns a minimum, but after that, you have a guaranteed second project that results in proper payment. Avoid working with those who believe a chimp with a keyboard could do as well so why should they pay a writer more than a buck or less per article. These people do not respect your ability, and they never will.

Takeaway Truth

Adopt professional business standards and advance your career as a writer by creating excellence in all you do.


  1. I totally understand what you are saying about amateurs versus professionals.

    It's about delivering a product. Whether you make a hammer, book, picture, article, photograph or a widget. It's still a product. You have to produce a product on time, on schedule, guarantee that product, and make additional products at a reasonable cost. In the end you should be compensated accordingly as well.

    I'm an amateur writer. I write on the internet because I feel a need to be heard. I love following blogs, especially ones with great original content. I don't expect to get paid, because after all, my blog is my soapbox in this virtual world.

    My only paid writing gig was in another life as a manager, I was paid to write performance evaluations. Now performance evaluations have to be precise, accurate, unbiased, and most importantly, on time. It is after all, a product. And thinking of it that way made me impartial on my reviews. After all, I'm making products, not categorizing people.

    Now I want to explore the creative side of writing and be eventually be paid for it. But first, I have to create a good quality product that people would actually be interested in.

    Too bad, I'm not in Texas, I would love to take one of your writing classes. As for now, I'll just have to read your blog. By the way, I love the near constant updates on your blog. You write very directly and make a pleasant read.

  2. Well said, Ice. You may be an amateur in that you don't get paid, but you have the characteristics of a professional writer. Your ability to articulate your thoughts and express them in a grammatically correct style that puts your points across and entertains is what marks you as a professional who just isn't getting paid yet. I was serious about emailing me to see if I could point you in the proper direction.

    Thanks for the compliment about this blog. Though it's a fun endeavor, I'm serious in my commitment to publish it each day.