Are You A Writer?

by RS on December 28, 2009

On the writing list on the Internet Writing Workshop a question was posed whether posting on a Fan Fiction site is considered being published. The responses have ranged from:

If it’s a post–meaning the site publishes whatever they get, like a letter to the editor–I wouldn’t consider it a publication. On the other hand, if there’s a selection process involved, like where Newsweek might get thousands of letters and select only a handful, then I’d consider it a publication.

to:

“Publication” can range from the looser post on a blog to publication in a competitive print magazine or lit journal. Publication is in the eye of the beholder to some extent.

And then there’s the response that will ruffle feathers:

Publication means you get paid for it

Writing is a business. You’re not a plumber until someone is willing to pay you to fix his toilet. You’re not a writer until someone is willing to pay you to string words together.

I’ll be honest, it ruffled my feathers, raised my hackles, and made me bear my fangs (yes, I’m a strange-looking beast). This comment came from my favorite writer–yep, the same arrogant bastard who offered the encouraging words that my submission was a “yawn.”

It’s taken me several years to say that I am a writer. I hesitated for a long to time in using this self-appellation because I felt it was a sham. I wasn’t a “published and paid” writer–although plenty of  my marketing materials and press releases have been published under someone else’s byline–therefore to say I was a writer felt like a lie.

Most of my writing experience has been on the flak side, I had to acquire clips from other venues and that meant  that I most likely wouldn’t get paid. And that was okay. As one of my writing teachers told me, internships are priceless. You get the chance to write an article and get published. You acquire a clip and that’s what counts. And I did, and slowly I started to get paying jobs.

Writing is not easy. It takes time. A lot of it. You agonize over every word, and most of what you write gets thrown into the crapper, but you keep on doing it so each draft can be better.  As for the business of writing, it’s hard to break in. Very hard. Most of us have to supplement our incomes with other jobs. Some of us are lucky if we’re doing anything remotely related to writing from composing a jingle to writing marketing copy. But some are not so lucky. They might have jobs in different fields and the only time they can spend on the writing is after hours and they might have a long way towards publication (paid or not).

Comments like the one above belittle those who sit down and write for free so they can get the experience and clips. Not everyone has the discipline to write every morning or evening, but that’s what you do if you want to be a writer. You work at it. Every single day. Whether it’s a novel, a screenplay, an article, a poem, or a song, it’s writing and that’s what makes a writer. No matter whether you get paid for it or not or what some pompous ass tells you.

There are lessons here to be learned. Disparaging comments like the one above serve several purposes: 

  • Don’t stop writing
  • Get published; don’t worry about the money
  • Don’t get discouraged–keep writing–you’ll improve
  • Be aggressive, seek out paying venues, but don’t whore yourself for that paycheck
  • Lastly, ignore the tactless butt-holes.

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