Here’s a topic that is lifted from a conversation I had with a writer friend called Ed.
I asked him what qualified a person to say they were a writer.
There are many types of writer, fiction/non-fiction, screenwriters, playwrights, poets, journos, copy writers, bloggers…Okay, because that involves me, let’s start with the last one.
Bloggers: You may say to me, ‘you’re a writer, you’re writing a blog’. Well, let’s think about that statement. Technically, you would be right, because I am putting words onto a page (okay, screen). But if I’m not a writer by profession, rather perhaps a psychotherapist, then that would be my chosen career path, the area of work that defines my job role.
The problem is not that simple, though. Let’s limit the discussion. Here we are interested in the fiction writing.
Hobby-writers: Consider a person who has written a work of fiction, a novel, novella, short story, they are a writer, non? Well, yes and no. From the point of view of a profession, if that is all they have done, the achievement is little more than a hobby. (A creative one, yes, but still a hobby.)
Perhaps it would be easier to talk in terms of success?
Published Writers: Ah, the raison d-être of many writers. You have a published piece of work, so now you are a writer, yes?. Still the response must be, yes and no. You see, as Ed pointed out, success is historical. You have a work published, then you start working on the next piece. Illi forever feels a potential failure despite his published novels. (But we work on that, my sweetness.) But wait, I might tell him…Do we say that Salinger is not a real writer because he faded away after Catcher in the Rye?
So we could be talking about commercial or literary success, or both. For example, you might not like 50 Shades, (poorly written, reliant on repetitive imagery, transparent plotting etc.), but in terms of money, it’s a clear success.
The moment seems to come down to interpretation. If you want to call yourself a writer, that’s okay with me. If you want to say you are a writer who earns your living through writing, a ‘professional’, then, to purists that’s being a real writer.
Ghostwriting: A skill in itself, but what about ghostwritten celebrity books? Well, when I see a ‘celeb’ on the TV promoting ‘their’ latest novel, I try and switch channels. Why? Because they’re not real writers. After all, the celeb in question often provides little more than their name and perhaps a couple of contributing ‘ideas’. They’re pretend writers, not real ones. They haven’t served their time, toiled in the mill, paid their dues (got to love a cliché). In short, they don’t offer the creative genius of a real writer, shaping phrases, evoking images, culling unnecessary words like discarding a favourite pair of trainers.
Self-Publishing: Common, popular and easy to do. Write a piece, format, upload to Amazon. Et voilà, you are a writer. Well, yes and no. If we apply the definitions I have already outlined, you are a writer for producing the work, you are a writer for publishing your work, you may even be a writer for earning money from that work. And, you may have simply posted a file, much like when we put the latest picture brought back from playgroup by your four-year-old child on the fridge. You have bypassed the normal agonies of the publishing industry, and that means unless you have been scrupulous in your preparation and editing, you might not have produced a work of quality, and that’s where the problems might arise.