By way of my friend Mary Anne Mohanraj, I come across this list of questions which purports to tell you whether or not you are a professional writer. The author, Lisa Morton, writes, “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.’”
Well, I’ve always wondered if I was a professional writer, so I decided to take the quiz. My answers:
1. No. My workplace is messy because I am lazy, period.
2. No. I don’t write in the evenings, and I like seeing friends.
3. No. I rarely watch TV anyway.
5. No. Vacations mean I am not working. If I am working it’s not a vacation.
6. No. I like my friends and care about their lives and our friendship.
7. No. My day jobs have always involved writing.
8. No. I have a nice home because I devoted my time to a writing career.
9. No. Although I have been making money from writing for 23 years now.
10. No. My writing ambitions were largely achievable for someone willing to put in the time to devote to their craft.
So: One “yes” question out of ten.
I am apparently not a professional writer. By a substantial margin.
All those books published? A big lie. Those royalty checks? A laughing fiction. Writing awards and nominations? Well, one of them was for “fan writer.” So you got me there. Being president of an organization of professional writers for three years? Tra la la la, all a beautiful dream.
I wonder what I will tell my wife. We met when I was “working” on a “story” at a “newspaper,” you know. How do I let her know that our entire life together was a lie? Maybe if I offer a plush toy as a mitigating factor. It could work!
Okay, enough. Look, I’m sure Ms. Morton meant well and wished to imply that one cannot be a writer unless one is willing to put in time and effort and make sacrifices here and there. A fine point, which I have made myself. But this quiz? It’s crap. Here’s the actual quiz for knowing whether you are a pro writer or not:
1. Are you getting paid to write?
If the answer here is “yes,” then congratulations, you’re a professional writer! Well done you (if not, then “no.” Sorry). Mind you, professional writing organizations may place additional requirements out there in order to join them (which is not in itself a bad thing, but a discussion for another time). At the end of the day, however: Getting paid to write? If so, you’re a pro. Done.
(Strangely, this question is not on Ms. Morton’s quiz.)
Now, How you structure your life so that you are able to write pay copy is neither here nor there to this. Every writer is different; what works for one may not work for others. The only thing all pro writers have in common is that they get paid to write.
The problem with Ms. Morton’s quiz is that it confuses process for end result. Her quiz is about process, and presumably her process — what she thinks is necessary for one to do in order to produce the work that create the end result of making money as a writer. But process isn’t end result, otherwise in this case I wouldn’t be a professional writer, which I clearly and obviously am.
Confusing process and result here is not a good thing. It confuses writers who are hungry to know what “being professional” means. The things Ms. Morton describes can lead to being a pro writer, but it’s not the only path, or a guaranteed one, not by a long shot. In this respect this quiz defeats its own purpose — it offers no indication about whether one actually is a professional writer, only whether one has jumped through the process hoops that one single writer believes are important to become a pro.
And maybe those hoops are important for her. Good for her. They may not be for you. They certainly aren’t for me, or at least 90% of them aren’t. I know a substantial number of professional writers who would also fail this “pro writing quiz.” It doesn’t make them any less professional, except perhaps in Ms. Morton’s eyes. But with all due respect to Ms. Morton, as a professional writer, I will take my royalty checks over her personal approval.