A writer, yes, but professional or amateur?

Thanks to those of you who commented on my blog about gardening with my granddaughters. I consider myself blessed in having such a wonderful family, albeit a small one, and the leisure to pretty much follow my whims day to day. Today’s been another day of diversion, and tonight’s shaping up to be the same. First I picked up dozens of rooted pachysandra and periwinkle ground cover at bargain prices from the Rensselaer Land and Water Conservancy, which means I’ll have to spend all tomorrow planting them. Then I helped my husband collate materials for an Interfaith Impact of NYS lobby day on Monday, after which we adjourned for a leisurely lunch on the outdoor deck of Brown’s Brew Pub overlooking the Hudson. Tonight I’m ushering at the Troy Music Hall for a show called “The Laughing Ladies,” with four comediennes I’ve never heard of.

True, it’s a gorgeous May Saturday. Nevertheless I feel a twinge of guilt at not hunkering down at my computer. A novelist who dropped out of our upstate NY Sisters in Crime group characterized herself as a professional, and most of the rest of us as amateurs. In other words, she was driven to make a livelihood from her writing, while the rest of us were less committed, happy to see one or more of our books in print but less obsessed with making an all-consuming career of it.

She was probably right, but what’s wrong with being an amateur? I’ve heard professional writers talk about their work schedule, and often it sounds like a terrible grind. Interviewed at the Mystery Writers of America symposiium in NYC recently, both Sue Grafton and James Lee Burke talked of writing long hours, then waking up in the middle of the night to jot down notes on ideas that awaken them from sleep. Burke’s schedule was especially demanding – I’ll check my notes and pass on the details in my next blog.

As for me, I’m happy following my bliss – and now it’s time to sign off, don my black and white usher’s garb and go hear the Laughing Ladies.

What about you? Do you consider yourself a professional writer, or an amateur?

15 thoughts on “A writer, yes, but professional or amateur?

  1. It’s very easy to tell whether you are an amateur or a professional. Do you make your living as a writer? Could you make your living as a writer if you had to? If not then you’re not a professional writer.

    You might be a part time professional writer if you make part of your income writing while doing something else.

    And you might be an occasional professional if you sometimes sell a piece or two.

    But if no one ever pays you to write then you are an amateur. And if you have to ask the question then you are an amateur.

    And if no one reads your work or wants to than you are a journal keeper.

  2. I still consider myself an amateur, but much more aware of what it takes (besids good writing) to make it as a professional writer. I think we continually hone our craft, be it for our own enjoyment or for an audience in the realm of publication. When I first began writing my novel I was clueless how much more there is to be done once the novel ois finished. I thought you wrote, edited, submittted, edited again in accordance with publisher’s input and moved on to the next project. I had no idea how much of yourself you have to invest in making a presence in the writing community and what was involved with marketing. I innocently thought that marketing fell to the publisher and if they needed you to make a personal appearance or two, so be it. Ah, innocence, lol.

    NA Sharpe

    • Loved your comments about the demands of marketing. I find I really need to adapt two completely different personas, one when I’m writing and one when I’m marketing. I haven’t found a harmonious balance between the two. I’ve heard successful writers talk about dividing time between the two – in terms of six months for writing, six months for marketing.

  3. When I quit my job to write full-time in 1999, I considered that I would be a professional writer. As time went on and I published an article here and there, but didn’t make much money, I decided to consider myself retired – then whatever happened, it would be a plus, and if nothing happened, oh well, I’m retired. It works for me. Keeps the pressure off having to have a high powered career.


    • I’m with you, Karen – to some extent. Without a sense of pressure, unfortunately, nothing much happens! But maybe that’s okay – today, for example, I’m going to spend the afternoon planting pachysandra under my Norway maple, where nothing else grows. I’ve heard pachysandra does, though – a persistent and plucky little plant that grows in deep, acid shade. Maybe a good metaphor for our writing careers!

    • Love the term “part-time enthusiast,” Enid. At this time in my life, fortunately I can pretty much choose to do only what I love and am enthusiastic about – a privilege that comes with age, and that includes writing, gardening, and ushering in order to hear great music for free. The exception is all the activities of daily living, like cooking and cleaning, about which I’m abominably negligent. If only I could get enthusiastic about those!

  4. You definitely deserve mother’s day kudos, Jennifer. Sounds like you’re coping with a gargantuan amount of responsibility.

  5. You know that’s really a tough question. I suppose I should consider myself an amateur because I have one book published by an Epub, and I still work a full time day job….

    But on the other hand – I get paid for my writing, I work very hard at promo. I own the business that is my day job and I often combine the two back and forth.

    Does that make my writing any less professional than someone else? I don’t know – I don’t earn my living off of it, but I know plenty of professionals in other fields who don’t make their living off their profession.

    Perhaps it’s longevity – I’ll be a profressional if I’m still doing this in five years.

    Elle Parker

  6. Never thought about calling myself a pro, because I have way too much to learn. For me, it’s the process that fascinates. I love the search for ideas, learning the craft, passing on the tidbits I do learn, and the incredible and nice people this writing gig has brought into my life. Since I’m a retired accounts payable manager. I treasure every moment I spend writing and promoting which is lots more fun than working long hours in that other world.


  7. This is a good question! I suppose I consider myself a professional journalist, but not yet a professional writer — In my mind, the title is based on publication. But that’s the thing — It really is all in my mind. So I can be whatever I want to be! And how you present yourself to others is how they’ll perceive you.

  8. It’s all in how you decide to define yourself. I tell my students in creative writing that if they need me to do so, I will wave my magic wand over them and make them writers. It doesn’t change what they do — that’s up to them — what it changes is the way they see themselves.

    I am a writer. I am a professional. The sad truth is that a lot of professional writers can’t live off that alone. I’m an academic because that’s the easiest way to make a living off my writing. I hope that will shift, but even if I knew I’d never make a penny off it, I would still write. It’s what I do.

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