Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Who am I? What am I?

So, I saw another post from an editor's blog getting annoyed at the term "pre-published" when an author is describing themselves. I can understand where they're coming from... and yet... when people ask them what they do for a living, I'm betting they can say that they're an editor without people asking them, "So, have you edited anything I've heard of?" and then dismissing them when they say, "No."

As an aside, I have never used the term "pre-published" nor do I intend to... and yet....

The husband and I got into a "discussion" about the term "professional" in relation to writing a few weeks ago. I took the side of "anyone who puts a large percentage of their time into writing and has no other established career is a professional writer." The husband said that one must be paid before one can be called a "professional writer." I believe he also said they must make enough money to support themselves at it. I asked him, then, if Van Gogh was considered a "hobbyist artist" since he never achieved this? Perhaps... even an amateur? I pointed out that the word "profession" had as its root word "profess" so a "profession" would seem to imply "a calling, pursuit that one professes as one's primary endeavor." The husband disagreed and may have rolled his eyes. This "discussion" was somewhat resolved by a visit to the dictionary where one of the choices aligned close enough to my comments that the matter was dropped quickly by the husband. He probably thought I won on a technicality rather than accepting my side, though.

Still... I could prove it, but that doesn't mean I feel like I can call myself a writer... let alone a professional writer. The blank on my kid's school forms still gets "mother" and nothing more. There is this implication that you must have something to show for your writing in order to call yourself a writer. In fact, I'd say that you must be successful in order to claim the title... or that's the general perception anyway.

I think any of those falling in the "arts" have a hard time finding their defined roll. I think most others handle it by throwing the word "struggling" in front of. "Struggling" artist, "Struggling actor", "Struggling" musician... and so on. I think most people then redefine that title as "oh... so you're obsessed, but poor?"

This doesn't even address the fact that calling myself a writer seems pretentious... even in the eyes of others. I could spend twenty hours a day at it, but the question still is: Have you published anything?

So, let's return to the discussion of that filthy word... lucre:

If I channeled eight hours a day into a job at minimum wage (federally $7.25), then I could most likely assume at the end of a year to have made $15,000 before taxes. (Does anyone else find that disturbing?) I spend about that much time writing and rewriting. Let's assume... through a beautiful alignment of stars... I'm published and receive a nice advance of $10,000. It takes a year for my book to hit the shelves and for me to earn back that advance... and maybe receive the green light for another book. No one can survive on $10,000 for a year as their sole income... in fact... no one can survive on $15,000, but that's beside the point. Writer's Market lists the range of pay expected for a Fiction Novelist is $40,000 to $525 with $14, 203 being the average.

Am I a writer yet? No?

What am I?

Who am I?

Besides... does money even define our roles in life if we hate those roles?

If I get a job in order to deal with our debt, I can't see it being anything that I attach to my name. "Hi. My name is Wendy. I'm a fry cook."

Do you see what I'm saying?

WHEN AM I A WRITER? I shouldn't have to justify it if I'm eating, breathing, and sleeping the "profession." Yet....

I'm trying to think of any other "role" that requires this much justification for our existance. I know for a fact that when someone else tells me what they do... I don't ask follow-up questions in order to quantify their success. "Oh... you're a librarian? How much do you make? Are you part-time or full-time? Oh... you're a cook? Are you any good? What kind of class of food do you make? Oh... you work in computers? Yeah, but are you sub-contracting or do you get actual benefits?" Wait, though... "Oh, you're a writer? Have you published anything? Have I heard of anything you've written? No? Oh look... there is a librarian. I'm going to go talk to someone who actually has a fulfilling and "real" career in the literary world. Before I go, let me stamp "loser" on your forehead."

October is quickly approaching, and one thing I know for certain... I'm not going to feel like a writer if I attach "fry cook" to the end of my name. No matter what I say out loud when someone asks, "What do you do?" Even as I say "mother" and silently add "fry cook," I'll still be thinking "I once wanted to be a writer."


  1. You brought up some really good points here! I never really thought about the fact that writers need to defend their "role," as you put it, to the "outside" world.

    I personally think that if you spend that much time writing, then you are a writer. However, I do dislike the term pre-published because that seems a rather arrogant assumption. I know we are supposed to stay positive... but still. I like the term aspiring author. Author, to me, implies publication. So you are aspiring to be published, not aspiring to be a writer... because you already are one! =]

  2. Aw Wendy, I'm looking through all your posts trying to narrow down my fave three and this one is great. Just thought you should know :)