Thursday, December 26, 2013

Amateur or Professional Writer: Some Observations -Part 1

I'm currently moving from the professional camp to the amateur for awhile. Having lived on both sides of that dividing line, I have some observations about both. Over the next few days I'm going to be discussing this. As we face the new year, many of us who write have to decide in the months ahead whether to be an amateur or a professional.

However, before I get into a discussion of the differences and benefits of each, I want to dispel a
couple of red herrings.

First, being an amateur does not mean low quality work or a lack of discipline. This is a big misconception. Sometimes I've mentioned to a writer who said they wanted to create a certain type of writing without concern for sales, marketing or profit that they were amateurs, I've almost gotten my head knocked off metaphorically speaking.

The distinction between Amateur and Professional has nothing to do with quality.
In a few weeks the Winter Olympics will open. These are amateur athletes. No one would claim that their devotion to their discipline is less rigorous than that of athletes on the pro circuit. The difference is that they received no prize money, and, theoretically, they do not receive renumeration for their competing. Okay, that may not be the best example, because we do know that many of them receive endorsements which, for all intents and purposes, are a type of prize money.

A better example possibly is a musician and a community band or an actor in a community Playhouse. They get little or no money from the music or the acting, and they have day jobs unrelated to those fields. Nevertheless, they are usually very good performers.

An amateur writer is simply one for whom the act of writing is of less importance than getting paid for that writing. In other words, they do not think about writing as a means of making money. It is always nice when they get money. However, the real joy of the writing comes from the writing itself and seeing that writing in publication.

A professional writer, on the other hand, uses or her writing is primarily a job. Is there a means of making an income. That income may be a full-time income or maybe a part-time income, but many of their decisions are made based on the business of writing rather than the joy of writing. This does not mean that they don't take joy in the writing. However, they continue to write even when the joy is there. They may even write things that they aren't exactly thrilled about writing, but it brings in part of that income.

They are interested in productivity and profit. Now, this does not make them a hack anymore than a mechanic who owns his own shop is a poor mechanic simply because he watches the bottom line in his business. It seems, that the arts are the only business where, if you act like businesspeople, you're accused of betraying your craft.

However, many professionals may produce lower quality work than many amateurs. Indeed, a highly skilled amateur will probably produce individual works of higher quality than most professionals. This is because they do not have to meet deadlines, build up a brand, produce a line of books, and manage their time to a place where they cannot spend months or even years perfecting a single piece of writing.

Indeed, in traditional fiction, the majority of the titles published by major publishers are not published by professional fiction writers. They are published by people who have other jobs. With the exception of a few best-selling authors, traditionally published fiction doesn't usually provide enough income for someone to devote themselves full-time to that field. There are exceptions. Some people have supplemental income like a pension or working spouse. However, most have "day jobs, and they fit their writing into their life."

Perhaps that is the single distinguishing characteristic of a professional writer in contrast to an amateur writer. An amateur writer fits writing into their life. The professional writer adjusts her life to their writing.

However, this does not mean the quality of the writing or the commitment of the writer to his or her art is inferior in the amateur.

So, as we go through the following days looking at these two paths good writers can take, do not lay a value judgment on either path. Each is a perfectly legitimate path which can lead to publication. However, at some time most of us have to make the decision whether we wish to remain an amateur or pursue a professional career. And, for some like myself, we have to decide whether or not we want to remain pursuing a professional career with all its limitations and stresses or return to the less stressful amateur approach.

So, over these next few days, I would like you to begin to think about which path you want to pursue in 2014.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughts, Terri. I look at my writing as amateur because I strive to improve my craft. It seems there is always room for improvement, so it doesn't feel professional.