professional_writer_buttonOver on an ancillary HWA (Horror Writers Association, an organization for professional horror writers) site, vice president Lisa Morton opines on what it means to be a professional writer.  This reads more like an arbitrary list of how her writing life looks like, born from a frustration of wanting there to be some measuring stick to separate “professionals” from “hobbyists.”  I understand the frustration, you hear someone spending more time talking about writing or hanging out with writers than actually writing; someone talks about seeing a horror movie then deciding they can write a book because it’s obviously so easy; or have someone call themselves an editor when all they’re doing is advertising for writers to send them stories, slapping together stories and throwing them up on CreateSpace.

However, it’s hard not to sound like Douchey McSnobbypuss when you say “don’t confuse what I do with what you do” (I know, I’ve said it … usually to someone getting on my nerves).  Brian Keene, Matt Wallace, and John Scalzi already took Lisa to task, but I wanted to take the test anyway.  “Ideally, you should be answering ‘yes’ to all ten, but I’ll cut you a little slack and say you can get off with 80% and still call yourself professional” (hoo boy, this is gonna end well!):

1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?

No, quite the opposite in fact.  For one thing, I have a wife and two rambunctious boys.   I WISH I could just abdicate my responsibilities around the house with the “I’m writing” excuse, but I pretty much burn through that card when I’m actually on deadline.  Besides, my wife loves it when I’m writing.  When I have writer’s block, I clean.  It’s how I clear my head.  I also when I just need to procrastinate, I straighten before I can “settle down to write.”

2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?

No.  When I look back on my life, stories I’ve written will be a nice memorial, however, memories of time spent with friends and family will be what I will cherish.  Besides, I write mostly in the early morning or late at night, mostly to maximize the amount of time I can spend with friends and family.  I was in Jamaica when friends were passing around links to this foolishness, but I didn’t exactly tear myself from the beach to rush to my blog.

3. Do you turn off the television in order to write?

No, AND DAMN YOU FOR EVEN MAKING THE SUGGESTION!!!  I binge watch television.  I arrange my writing day around my television watching.  I write long hand.  Part of the joy of writing longhand is that at some point I get to type in everything I’ve written … which means I get to watch television to type.

4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?

Yes, since useful praise is off the table.  I’m just happy to be able to bask in a yes!

5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities (either research or networking potential)?

No.  Yes.  Sometimes.  Look, if we’ve already copped to being writers, chances are, we’re not independently wealthy.  So there are times when my family will tag along to conventions with me.  But that’s not the same as a vacation.  It’s more like salvaging some quality time when they can since I’m at work.  On the flip side, when we’re on vacation (did I mention being in Jamaica?), we’re vacationing.  That being said, next year I’m trying to arrange a visit with my sisters that coincides with Scares that Cares.  And while on vacation in Jamaica, my obeah-practicing family gave me enough material for a novel.

6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?

No, but these are two separate activities.  I don’t value one over the other.

7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?

No.  One time I took an ADDITIONAL job for those reasons.  My career path has been science, writing, teaching, and ministry work.  I don’t think you CAN go to much less paying jobs.

8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?

I’m not sure this question makes any sense.  I guess I’ll miss that mansion I could have gotten had I been a professional football player?

9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?

No?  Then again, I like being around people and cleaning up after myself.

10. Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?

No.  I make goals and hold onto them until I meet them.  But if she’s asking if I’m willing to chase my dreams, then yes.

Any guild of writers aims to fight for professional rates, to foster and maintain standards of professionalism.   By most accounts, that’s their raison d’etre.  For a while I had to support my family solely through writing which was my dad’s definition of what it meant to be a professional anything.  We can argue about what it means to be a professional writer, though a lot of the time my working definition of “professional” boils down to “do you receive pay for your writing?” I’ve had to deal far too often with folks who have tried to define me or tell me where I rank on some imaginary industry ladder.


I take my writing seriously and try to comport myself in a manner that respect others.  That, for me, is professional behavior (along with things like making your deadlines and other benchmarks we could argue about).  But I’ve never been the “I must sacrifice everything for my art” sorts.

We all make choices in our careers and sacrifices for our process.  I’m making a choice right now:  in my few available writing minutes, I’m writing this blog not working on this short story and/or novel.  Nick Mamatas offers this alternative quiz.