Poisonous Tripe

Normally I’d just let this go as another case of bad advice on the internet, but then I saw a comment by somebody that said they read it and felt bad.

So, let’s just get this out of the way…

This is a quiz posted on the blog of the Horror Writers of America, purporting to tell you whether or not you are a professional writer or just a “hobbyist.” It has incited some comment among various authors, few of those comments kind.

The author was apparently inspired to write this after the author—I quote—“recently stumbled into a discussion group of people who I thought had called themselves professionals, but their conversations revealed them to be hobbyists. They chatted about health and told jokes and moaned about personal problems…anything, in other words, but writing careers.”

(One shudders to think what would be revealed if other authors knew that I am on a discussion group that talks about bugs and native plant gardening! Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!)

The quiz has ten questions. I answered nine of them “No” and the other one (number 4) is an “I suppose I’ll say yes in an eat-your-vegetables sort of way.”

Apparently I am a hobbyist. Incidentally, according to the latest statement, book one of Dragonbreath sold 131,000 copies. (I could go on in this vein, but I’d really rather not, because…err…bragging, raised Catholic, will be hit by a bus and deserve it, etc.) I am even, at this brief, trembling moment in time, reasonably confident of achieving my goals, because my goals are the relatively simple ones of “make neat books people like to read and make enough money doing it to live comfortably and then go out in the garden and possibly travel occasionally.”

And also I would kind of like a bulldog after the beagle finally dies of old age. May not achieve that one. I’ve come to terms with it. But I love their smooshy faces and they’re low energy and considered just as stupid as beagles according to the AKC, and I don’t think I can handle another smart dog. The border collie judges me. A lot. A lot more than someone who eats cat poop has a right to judge.

What was I talking about?

Ah, yes.

Anyway, if you read that quiz and thought “Oh god! I have to do this/not do this/never talk to my friends about anything but writing careers/not go on vacations for fun/not live in a nice house/not leave background TV on”—please, don’t.

This is pernicious and poisonous tripe. This serves no purpose but to make people who aren’t grimly self-confident feel bad, and make people who are grimly self-confident feel tired. If you read this and suffered a moment of angst, don’t.

You write, you’re a writer. You get paid to write, you’re a professional writer. If you aren’t a professional writer and you think of yourself as one anyway, the damage to me is surprisingly minimal.

And all I want to know is—do professional accountants get this kind of crap?


18 thoughts on “Poisonous Tripe

  1. Wookieegunner says:

    Is it bad that I read Bulldog as Bullfrog and didn’t bat an eye until I was trying to figure out why the AKC would talk about Bullfrogs.

  2. Sean Fagan says:

    Professional accountants generally have to be certified.

    What kind of bulldog do you want? I happen to love English bulldogs — they’re always so friendly and huffy.

  3. The Author says:

    English, definitely! Though I’m torn–I prefer adult rescue dogs, and they have such short lifespans I’d be sad…but I don’t know if I can handle a puppy.

  4. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I grew up with Bulldogs (the English kind); they’re great companions, but a little high maintenance. They have lots of respiratory problems, for one thing. I suggest that you do a little reading before you get one, to see if you want to deal with the likely health issues.

    OTOH, I would LOVE to see your take on a Bulldog once you’ve gotten to know one. You’re so good at depicting the beautifully ugly.

  5. maarken says:

    It’s because writing, in its most basic form, has a terribly low barrier to entry. Things like accounting, engineering, IT, etc take at least a minimal amount of training or understanding before you can make it go. Writing doesn’t.

    It’s just a matter of making it go well enough that it should ever be inflicted upon another human being. Or a monkey.

  6. kat says:

    That’s a… remarkably dumb quiz. Both because it’s mean (rarely does anything intelligent come out of a desire to prove yourself intelligent) and because it’s, uh, well, kinda focusing on the wrong things. I know people who need a tidy writing area to work (I am not one of them. I can produce references, many of which will go on and on and on, especially if they have to live with me.) I’d also note that many of the “sacrifice pay” options there become a little more tricky if one has, say, a spouse, or kids, or anyone otherwise involved in your life. Did the author really intend to limit her “professionals” to those willing to be single, childless, and obsessed with success? Because if so, I hear Wall Street pays much better.

    (Also, what is it she plans to write about? Her career? Because half my good ideas come from ditzing around with the stuff and the people that are, you know, the rest of my life.)

    She sounds less like a pro to me and more like a cargo cult writer. You know: if I just follow this set of actions, I am guaranteed to become a Real Writer. If I format my manuscript exactly and spend 3 unsleeping weeks obsessing over my query letter, they have to take my book. If I network and social media and self-promote, they have to give me money. If I cut off everything in my life that isn’t writing and live in a Bohemian hovel eating Ramen noodles and refusing to bathe when I could be writing, I have to be a professional.

    Cargo cults. Bah.

    (As a side note, if you really have to take a quiz to prove to yourself you’re a writer, Holly Lisle’s is better — partly because it focuses on stuff that actually matters, not the trappings. But really? You’re a writer if you write. You’re a pro writer if people pay you to write. If you find yourself trying to build the latter into some high-and-mighty status you can look down upon others from, repeat after me: “Twilight was a bestseller. Snooki got paid to write a book.”)

  7. Liddle-Oldman says:

    Ah. One must be an ascetic monk, spending all of your time worshiping Art and being its servent. I’ll go throw out my notes, then.

    (Or, as you say, a writer is a person who writes.)

  8. Andrew Ragland says:

    What kat said. I just broke 100k words on my latest project, which is under contract and is earning me an ownership stake in the gaming company, thank you very much. And then there are those of us who juggle multiple careers. Besides being a professional writer, I’m a farmer working to convert 6.14 acres of neglected family farm into a permaculture installation, and I have a 40 hour a week dayjob in the IT industry because farming and writing don’t pay enough to cover the mortgage on the land, much less buy groceries. There are things in the world that are equally important to my writing, and some that are more so. That doesn’t make me less of a professional. A real professional accepts edits without taking them personally, meets deadlines, and delivers what was promised. Everything else is window dressing.

  9. j.J. says:

    Ha! That’s a lark. That article pretty much means that most salaried “professionals” aren’t actually “professionals”. Here in the office we mostly talk about non-work things, prefer praise to critisism, and run away quickly at closing time.

    Oh, and careers are not devote your life and soul to the company for paltry benefits and no loyalty. That’s a line employers feed you to milk more than your 40 hours a week out of you such that your hourly rate is actually half of what they say it is. Unless your “career” is management, you usually hit a hard ceiling where to go higher, you don’t actually do your “career” any more.

    Seriously folks, work to live not live to work.

    That said, in my opinion, a writer is someone simply must get the words out of brain onto paper or will eat brain. A professional writer is someone who is willing to undergo constant rejection and embarrassment in editing in an effort to get other people to read/pay for those words.

  10. Tom West says:

    From what I know of Roald Dahl, he would have answered “No” to questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7. (Maybe 5 too, given he mostly wrote fiction). So if Road Dahl, one of the most successful writers of this century, doesn’t pass – who the hell does??

  11. Wolf Lahti says:

    “They chatted about health and told jokes and moaned about personal problems…anything, in other words, but writing careers.”

    The problem with many writers is that they don’t know anything but how to write. They haven’t been thrown from or stepped on by a horse. They haven’t scrapped a year’s worth of chicken manure off the floor of a coop. They haven’t ridden cross country on a motorcycle wearing a miniskirt. They haven’t been to a high-society function and a biker bar on the same evening. They probably haven’t even read widely outside their own genre.

    I’m not saying that doing any of these things will make one a better writer (except that last bit). The point is that *living* a varied life will give you something to write about and something to talk about besides voice and style and grammar and predicate adjectives.

    If all you know is writing, what you write is going to be damnably boring to the vast majority of readers.

  12. dester'edra says:

    *sighs* Pagans, nerds, gamers, geeks, writers, furries, artists…

    It never ceases to amaze me just how much energy we waste trying to build ourselves up by putting others down–especially since the time i spend trying to qualify others is time i can’t spend creating anything of my own.

  13. omega7788 says:

    For what it’s worth, pugs have adorable smooshy faces, are dumb as bricks, are usually lazy as crud, and tend to have run into fewer health and behavioral issues than English bulldogs and some related breeds. This may be because pugs are less popular (I live near UGA) so people aren’t breeding the ever-loving crap out of them (and doing it badly).

    I understand why many people prefer to adopt shelter dogs. However, if you adopt from a general shelter, you run the risk of “inheriting other people’s problems”–not knowing about serious health or behavior issues until it’s too late. I experienced this first hand and will never put myself through that again. It’s heartbreaking.

    Now, I’m not knocking the folks at animal control/humane societies. They perform a valuable service and do the absolute best they can with the resources they are given, which is never as much as it should be. However, if you’d like to adopt, I heartily recommend breed-specific rescue organizations. Check out Southeast Pug Rescue & Adoption (www.rescuepug.com) or the Bulldog Club of America Rescue Network (www.rescuebulldogs.org) for examples. Breed-specific rescues tend to have a better understanding of the breed they work with so they can watch for certain early warning signs. They also often work with foster homes, so they would likely have a better idea of an individual dog’s behavior and temperament than the folks at a big shelter might.

  14. Hawk says:

    Not that they have cute-ugly going for them, but I’ve found that chihuahuas are amazingly lazy. And mine at least doesn’t mind doubling as cat toy on occasion 😛

    (All of my cats are bigger than this dog. But they have an understanding.)

    As far as writers and writing, what everyone else has said.

  15. Don Hilliard says:

    I tend to go with Robert Heinlein’s definition. (God knows I have problems with RAH, but this one is pretty accurate.)

    1: You must write.

    2: You must FINISH what you write.

    3: You must be PAID for what you write.

  16. Shannon says:

    That quiz was ridiculous, and so was the mentality behind it (how is someone supposed to write well if they don’t have life experiences to inform and inspire them? And they honestly expect a single task, however loved, to make up a person’s entire life?). Kudos to your take-down!

    I know that you’re a fellow animal lover, and I don’t want to go all animal nut on you, but it must be said: literally every aspect of the English Bulldog’s anatomy (and all other extreme brachycephalic dogs) is an exercise in how many disabilities, deformities, and so on we can heap onto an animal before people stop paying $1000 or more for it (and that’s before the vet bills). It’s gotten to the point where they’re the go-to breed of anyone trying to explain the horrors of certain trends in dog breeding. More and more veterinarians are speaking out against the problems they see in these dogs on a daily basis, in every aspect of their anatomy. People are so desensitized to the Bulldog that they can look at an animal in respiratory distress and think it’s panting because it’s happy. They’re “low energy” because they are too crippled to act like normal dogs. I’m begging you, one animal lover to another, not to support these inhumane breeding practices. It’s not fair to you or the dog. If you do get one, PLEASE go the rescue route.
    *End soapbox*

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