Pro Writing, Quizzes, Process and End Result

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.
4. Yes.
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.

149 Comments on “Pro Writing, Quizzes, Process and End Result”

  1. Incidentally, just because I disagree with the validity of this particular quiz is not a reason for any of you to go trashing on Ms. Morton as a writer or a person. Please heed my words. Thank you.

  2. But Jo-o-ohn! Your quiz doesn’t leave room for the wannabes to tell themselves that they’re really just unpaid professionals! :)

  3. For #6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend? – my first thought was “When people start talking about stuff like that, I feel like driving stakes into my eyes.” Then I read Brian Keene’s response – he’s probably got healthier self-esteem: “No. In fact, I often want to stab people like that in the eyes.” Like the quality log-in thing! Very nice! I also appreciated Brian’s input regarding not wanting his kids to have cat hair in their pizza. I hate that too.

  4. I quit a writing gig for a day job in the beer business, but even the paltry checks I get from the local newspaper for occasional drivel count as income, right? I mean, I file the money with the IRS every year.

    Huzzah! I’m (still) a professional writer.

  5. I think the more accurate heading for that quiz would be “10 questions to know if writing is critically important to your self identity” or something along those lines.

  6. I failed the quiz too, and I’ve been a (paid) working writer for over two decades. This quiz reminded me of the recent deluge of bickering over what constitutes a “real” geek; there’s a lot of defensiveness and gatekeeping around both.

  7. Well, until you got your hair cut, you at least looked like you’d have answered ‘Yes’ to all those questions. ~still faintly traumatized by ‘Wildman Scalzi’~

  8. I have a career, one that pays me enough to have a nice life. But substituting my career for hers, I’d still fail. My place is tidy because I find mess to be unrestful. I don’t give up nights out with friends to work. I engage with small talk with my friends for many reasons, including there’s no reason that having a career is incompatible with having friends who have different careers.

    Seems like she’s mixing up a job or career, with having an avocation.

  9. That quiz made me want to scream and bite things…and I’m fortunate in that I can go to my bank account and go “Yes. Real honest-to-god professional writer.” If I couldn’t do that and had slightly less ironclad self-esteem…well, I hope anybody reading this who DOES take it too much to heart immediately reads one of the many refutations as an antidote.

  10. @ uldihaa: That haircut was instrumental in causing me to be sucked into multiple alternate universes. Pre-haircut Scalzi is better.

  11. Hm… I have to write for my job, but I don’t get paid piece rate, except for the occasional side project. I wonder if I get paid to write or not… Are professors professional writers?… And does it actually matter?

  12. By your reasoning, would somebody for whom writing is an essential part of her/his job, but does not get paid directly for the writing, fall into the category ‘professional writer’? E.g. as a scientist you need to write articles, but there are no royalties associated with that (in fact, in rare cases, one actually has to or can opt to pay publication fees).

  13. I answered ‘yes’ to two of the ten questions on the quiz. Ergo, while I’m clearly not a professional writer, at least I can console myself with the thought that I’m twice as far down the path to becoming one than John Scalzi is.

    So there’s that, I suppose.

    By the one-question test, I am a professional writer, but clearly it must be said that a one question test is only ten percent as reliable as a ten-question test. Mathematically, it’s incontrovertible.

  14. The part I dislike most about this the assertion that to be professional (in whatever you do) you have to be constantly climbing that corporate ladder, never satisfied in your current position or job. It’s fine if you’ve got your eye on the top job, but claiming that EVERYONE has to be is incredibly destructive, IMO.

    On the professional writer point, however, it’s always been my opinion that if you’ve written something and been paid for it, you’re a professional writer.

  15. I have to agree with the useful criticism one, but that’s about the only of hers I’d answer yes to. I guess I could say I turn off the TV to write, but that would be misleading because turning it off implies that its normal state is turned on. I don’t like TV much, so I only turn it on to watch something, then turn it off again.

    The one question I can answer in the affirmative is Our Host’s. I get paid to write, I’m a pro.

    I think of myself as a writer, but more importantly for my professional status, so do the people who pay me for doing it.

    I’d even go so far as to say it’s my career. I haven’t earned a dime at anything that wasn’t writing related since 2007. What it isn’t, is my obsession. Sure, I’m a professional writer, but I have other responsibilities. I have a family, I need to be an emotionally healthy person (or at least somewhere close to it) to write paying copy.

    Writing is important to me, but it’s not everything.

  16. I tend to go into my writing kicking and screaming most days. And my “writer friends” are just friends. But I guess the quiz does make you think about the kind of effort one might put into being a writer.

  17. She’s a gatekeeper. Her article acknowledges her real issue is with “hobbyists” who call themselves professionals without her permission. Regardless of her criteria, how is this any different than the self-imposed gatekeepers of geekdom?

  18. I probably answered “yes” to some of them when I was working a full-time job and writing (for money) on the side. Now that I’m a full-time writer, I’m pretty much where you are on things. I have a social life. Go figure. I like to take vacations and NOT write. Go figure. Many of my friends are NOT writers. Thank God. Some of them are. Thank God.

  19. Sigh. The gist of Ms. Morton’s list of questions seems to be that if you don’t chain yourself to your desk and write 24/7, or as close enough to it as is humanly possible, you aren’t a “professional”. Also, as you stated in your post, that you must follow her process or you can’t call yourself a professional.

    As someone who has been a professional writer in the past (but can’t claim to be one now because no one is paying me for my writing at the moment – this does not mean that I’m not writing), and who is extremely curious about other writers’ process (I think I even asked you a couple of questions about process at LosCon the year you were GoH there), I can tell you that there are as many writing processes as there are writers.

    What Ms. Morton’s attitude seems most aligned to, to me, is the mindset that I run into all too often as I look for a job, which is that if you aren’t willing to work 12 to 14 hour days and 70 to 80 hour weeks, then you’re just lazy, entitled, stupid, and morally inferior, and don’t deserve a job at all. I think that is a really sad way to look at life. Work is a good thing, but it isn’t the only thing, no matter what you do for a living.

  20. I decided it would be fun to adapt these quizzes slightly to determine whether I am a professional game developer, so here are my Morton answers with “coding” (in a game dev context) substituted for “writing”.

    1. No, I am a lazy fuck.
    2. Not so much.
    3. No; why would it be on if I’m not going to watch it?
    4. Hardly. Well, maybe if the useful criticism were actually useful, but what people think is useful and what I actually find useful are radically distinct topics.
    5. I sometimes take vacations nominally so that I will have time to code, but research and networking ain’t in it. Maybe someday I will go to a professional convention of some kind, but don’t hold your breath.
    6. Yes, if the other coder is actually any good and the small talk is just that.
    7. Near enough; at least, that’s been a consideration in staying with a job.
    8. Not really, insofar as I have a lucrative career and whatnot.
    9. What, all eight preceding? Obviously not.
    10. Fuck that. If achievement is the death of desire, I will annihilate the hell out of desire.

    So that’s roughly two out of ten. Highly unprofessional.

    Then I took the Scalzi Test:

    1. Why, yes I do. Not a whole hell of a lot, but this is palpably the case.

    Hell yeah, pro game dev. So where do I sign up to start talking about how games with female protags won’t sell?

  21. Yeah, the quiz is of little value . . . but I do have a question:

    Of late, any aspirations I have have come under heavy attack; from podcasts, to columns, to blog-posts, to videos, everything I see, hear, read, says I have no hope to ever see my words in print (unless I pay someone to put them there).

    It’s not an unwillingness to work hard; it’s what I’m told being “willing to devote time to the craft” means . . . in the real world, it means you have to mingle, schmooze, establish relationships, go to conventions, hang around in bars, be active on twitter. And then, even if you sell something, you need to speak, read, travel, promote, etc.

    For reasons I won’t go into here, many of those are not viable options for me.

    Now, I don’t know if I have the basic requirement; talent. But even if I do (questionable, but not impossible), all I hear is what’s really needed are those other things; lots of talent out there, but you need the other stuff more than you need writing talent.

    Mind you, not looking for a shoulder to cry on, or even advice . . .

    I just wonder . . . Are “they” right? Is it near-impossible these days make it on talent alone (presuming one has talent)? Will manuscripts (no matter how good) sit in unread piles, eventually fusing with other unread manuscripts unless one has an “in”?

    I read and hear it is so, and wonder if you concur.

  22. Oh, and my quiz results: No to all of them, in the first ten cases because I am a lazy moron and in the Scalzi-posed case because I write for fun only (for now, at least).

  23. Disperser:

    I’ve gotten lots of creative opportunities on the basis of my work itself, so I’d say you don’t need to have an “in.” Just do good work.

  24. I’ve always thought ‘professional’ lead to paid, rather than giving up other things in order to do your hobby. According to her, I should stop laughing when actors tell me they’re ‘professionals’ on the basis that they do nothing but have private improv nights with other ‘professional’ actors.

  25. Going back I noticed: “If you’ve already glanced at these questions and scoffed, you are a hobbyist. And that’s okay, as long as you don’t call yourself a professional. At least around irritable me.” Looks like most of the professional commenters here are just wannabe hobbyists. Hope she doesn’t see this post. She’ll be super irritated.

  26. nicoleandmaggie: Are professors professional writers?

    I think John’s question might be refined a bit, to apply to people who think of themselves as writers. For example, I wrote a book in my spare time and got an advance and royalties and such, but it might be the only book I ever write. I’m not a professional writer, really; when people ask what I do, I tell them I’m a professor. (Oddly enough, I do answer yes to maybe half of Lisa’s questions, when it comes to writing about research. Not the ones about giving up having friends, though.)

  27. Some people I know who write suffer from writer’s block. Some don’t. Some people say that, since they do not have writer’s block, therefore anyone who claims to is wrong, or is simply not cut out to be a writer. I think this is the same category of misunderstanding.

  28. Oddly enough, at the moment, my career is drafting. Right now, it’s computer based and we’re doing a lot of 3d modelling.

    I do not spend more than around 40 hours a week at it, though (maybe 44 or 45, depending upon the situation.)

    According to Ms. Morton, I must not be a professional with a career.

    Damn, 26 years wasted. *sigh*

  29. As a few people have picked up on, the problem with that quiz is not only the inherent gatekeeper mindset of the author but that the questions themselves are badly structured!

    Q1 assumes that the only reason a writer would ever clean is to avoid writing and that there can’t possibly be enough time in the world to both write and clean effectively. A writer stereotype to be sure but not necessarily an accurate one… (Of course I now have an image on my head of someone writing on a tablet and pushing a mop with their feet while walking.)

    Q3 assumes that you are someone who watches a lot of television and who is distracted from writing by television. Again, the assumption that there isn’t enough time in the world to both write and watch some TV.

    Q7 ignores the fact that there are many other reasons for answering no. You don’t need a day job. You’ve never been offered a day job that would pay less. You’ve been offered a day job that paid less but would leave you LESS time/energy to write.

    And so on and so forth…

    Gatekeeping is annoying in any arena. Gatekeeping camouflaged with deliberately leading questions is just rude!

    Also “if you’ve already glanced at these questions and scoffed, you are a hobbyist” strikes me as “I fully expect abuse for this but…” in disguise!

  30. Question: I’ve been paid for my writing once, back in 2007. Is there a statute of limitations on this, or am I still able to call myself a professional writer?

    Follow-up question: does the fact that I spent that money on more books help?

  31. This reminds me of internet slap-fights about whether ‘real’ writers outline/have other jobs/write distinct drafts/drink PBR/listen to Panic! At The Disco.

    (I may have made up those last two).

    Real writers write things. And as Scalzi says, professional writers get paid to do it. Everything else is just details.

    It strikes me that the people I’ve known who are secure in their identities as writers/geeks/whatever are the ones least likely to accuse others of being hobbyists/fakers.

  32. I too would like to know what the statute of limitations is. If you haven’t been paid anything in a year, are you no longer a professional? Two years? If you haven’t written anything lately but you’re still getting residuals from earlier work? Is there a percentage of income you have to make?

    She’s failed to make her case entirely. Bad writer, no cookie.

  33. What I see in that quiz is the same logic that drives some software people to work 80 hour weeks as a matter of course, and I would counter with the same argument: if you work that hard then you stand a higher chance of burning out, and of making yourself actually ill because you never rest. That’s not professionalism: it’s obsession. And I am not even getting into the studies of how effective your work is outside of a normal working week.

    Doing ridiculous work weeks can be fair enough at crunch time (well, maybe – it’s something I always resist unless the circumstances are truly extreme) but for most people it’s a very occasional exception, because for most people they work in order to live.

    I love my writing, but my life is my family rather than my work.

  34. I retired, but I still get paid to edit. Does that count? I used to be somebody. I could have been a contender. Instead of a bum.

  35. Thing is, I don’t really feel like her motivation is gatekeeping. It scans to me like her motivation is trying to formulate the right magic ritual of self-sacrifice and devotion that will make the world grant her desire.

    It’s a very typically American middle-class thought pattern. The lower classes have always known that you’re fucked no matter what you do, and the upper classes generally manage to pass down the knowledge that you get what you want by taking effective action in the real world toward it, but the middle class believes with all its heart that you’re rewarded for jumping through the right hoops and sacrificing yourself regardless of whether anybody is even watching. I bet you five dollars that Ms. Morton’s background.

  36. Note: I couldn’t answer yes to ANY of them. But I do turn off audiobooks to write because it turns out I can’t read and write at the same time, even if I’m reading with my ears.

  37. A genuine question I have, is that a part of what I have been paid to do is publish papers on my research. Would that make me a professional writer? Not looking for validation, just curious as to what people think. I personally would say no, and simply identify as a researcher…

  38. I’m self published, so I make some money off writing. I guess that makes me a professional. My department pays me at the college I work at to write things for them, too – sample papers and what not – so i guess I’m a professional all the way around.

    It reminds me of my “list” to help aspiring writers I wrote a while back on FB:

    Three steps to becoming a better anything
    1. You are different from others, your approach will be different than others
    2. Do what you know works
    3. Stop reading goddamn lists on how to do something and do it already

  39. Wow, boundaries. I’m a self-employed professional in an unrelated field, and I’ve done some business and practice mentoring. I’d like to tell her that it’s okay to take time for herself, it doesn’t make her any less dedicated or any less professional. It might even improve her mental engagement with her profession, if she paces a sensible container around it.

    I found this “quiz” to be quite sad.

  40. This is just plain _bad for you_. At least, for most people. I mean seriously, there may be some people who are good with that kind of make-it-as-unfun-as-possible kind of approach and this grind-at-it-even-when-you’re-exhausted-and-writing-crap-because-of-it kind of way, but most people? This is a terrible approach. To _anything_.

  41. I think she’s very simply conflated obsession, validation, marketing, and career into something she thinks is professionalism. Not malicious, just confused.

  42. Just write a good story. Presto, you’re a writer.

    Market the story. (Not all good stories sell right away; perseverance helps.) If the story sells and the check doesn’t bounce, presto, you’re now a “professional” writer.

    You don’t have to write a million words first. You don’t have to write every day. You don’t have to meet SFWA qualifications. Et cetera, for any of the other “rules” people say you have to follow to be a “real” writer.

    Just write a good story. That’s the first rule, and the only unbreakable one.

  43. @Chaosprime: Exactly. I have a PhD in computer science and work as a senior software developer at an academic research institution. I think this qualifies as a career. But I only score 2/10 on Morton’s quiz (number 4, and number 7 because of those years as an impoverished PhD student). Oh well, I guess I’m not a professional software developer after all.

    Needless to say, I pass the Scalzi test with flying colours.

  44. I found this remark of Morton’s interesting:

    You are competing against people who can answer “yes” to all ten of these, and you might well be competing against a LOT of them. They may all be as talented as you are; no matter how good you are, at least a few of them will be more talented.

    So by her logic, Scalzi’s writing career cannot exist. He should have been crushed long ago by all those workaholics who are far more talented than he is.

  45. Now that I think of it, what does it mean to be “out-competed” by other writers, anyway? If you wrote one book while Joe Author wrote three, so what? I think there’s a market out there for more than four books. People who dislike Joe Author’s style might not buy *any* of his books while still being willing to buy yours.

    Harper Lee wrote one novel in her whole life. I guess John Grisham has out-competed her into the dust. Never mind that the one novel was “To Kill A Mockingbird”, it can’t be that good if she’s a mere hobbyist…

  46. Hilariously, because of the company I keep, I’ve had pro writers and editors *assume* I was either a professional writer, or trying to become one.

    Which isn’t to say I’ve never been paid to write. I have, and quite well. Business writing for professional web sites pays well. I’ve also contributed to a paid blog, and written criticism.

    But then I got a better paying day job and had to give that up because of a lack of time. I might have tried to make a career out of it, but writing is hard work.

  47. I go to conventions and geeky get-togethers because they’re fun. Yes, I’ve picked up commissions – but mainly because the people at these things have read and liked work I’ve done. They don’t offer me stuff just because I’ve hung around in the bar schmoozing.
    I talk about writing with my friends (many of whom are writers) because that’s fun. Even the moany bits. In fact, especially the moany bits, because who doesn’t like a good bitching session?
    I turn off the telly because most of the time I don’t want to watch anything. I turn it on when I want to watch something – for fun.
    If I’m on holiday it’s because I want a break – sometimes I write then, if I’ve thought of something and it grabs me. Because, you know, fun.
    Basically, I write because it’s fun – because I’d rather be doing it than any other job, even when it’s a hard slog and not much fun it’s still more fun than slogging my guts out at something else.
    And, oh yeah, I get paid, too. Not a lot, but I get paid. That is also fun, plus, buys groceries.
    I feel this lady maybe needs more fun in her life.

  48. Building your life around writing? Yep, that’s how you do it. Destroying your life because of writing? Nope. If all you ever do is write then what are you going to write about? Who are you writing to? How do you know what an audience wants to read if you never talk to people? (No, other writers aren’t people.)

    My quiz answers.

    1. Yep, but there is a tipping point when I’m surrounded by stuff demanding my attention.
    2. Nope, isolation is bad for my writer self.
    3. Nope, growing up as the youngest of 6 kids meant that the only time there is silence is when something is seriously wrong. I need the tv for random noise.
    4. Yep, although a little praise now and then doesn’t hurt either
    5. About half and half, sure I go to conferences now and then.
    6. Never, the writing business is a crapshoot anyway, if I’m going to be shooting the bull I’d rather do it with someone I like.
    7. Nope, I work nights so I guess writing is my day job. Also worrying about money does not help me write. (Personally I’d reserve the word professional for someone whose job at any hour is writing, but that’s just semantics.)
    8. If ifs and ans were pots and pans there’d be no need for tinkers.
    9. This is a padding question because she couldn’t come up with another one.
    10. How does this help? Ask this to a chemistry student . . . “Would you still be going to school if you knew you’d likely never get a job in the chemistry industry?” and they’d tell you it’s a pretty asinine thing to ask. Plenty of people make it in this business. I don’t see the sense in framing it as a “It will probably never happen,” scenario. You find what you’re looking for.

  49. So, I’m no sort of writer at all; so I can’t speak to how you know you’re a pro.


    That quiz REALLY BUGS ME.

    Because she is drawing a distinction not between “writers who get paid” and “writers who do not get paid” (a reasonable distinction for someone wishing to make a living writing!) but writers who are paid who think of writing as “a job” vs as “a career”. Her main thesis appears to be that if you want “a career” which will make you “a professional” then you have to not only *do the damn job* (writers clearly gotta spend some time writing) but devote your whole self to it – work long hours, sacrifice time with friends/family/pets/the TV, and so forth.

    I am sick of being told that I’m not sufficiently “professional” because I do my 9-5 job 9-5 and the rest of the time do *other things*. I have hobbies, I have friends, I have family… there is so much more to life that being on the clock 24/7.

  50. I can think of at least one Very Successful and Famous Pro Writer who is a luminary in the organization of which Ms. Morton is an officer, and who has described his own writing efforts and lifestyle in ways that would, if duplicated by a lesser-known person, firmly put them into the “hobbyist” category. I would pay cash money to see Ms. Morton say that she thinks this particular writer (who I have personally observed talking at length about NOT-WRITING subjects!!!) is a hobbyist. Not holding my breath, though.

  51. All of the gate-keeping etc. could have been forgiven if the list had been funny.

    The whole point of “You know you’re a(n) X if…” is that they’re supposed to make you laugh. See: Jeff Foxworthy.

  52. I think Ms. Morton’s quiz relates more to a person making a career change to become a professional writer, not someone who already is one.

    When I went through that transition, many of her points did apply: I used all my vacation days to take a post-bacc class at a local college to get some formal credentials, spent my “free” time developing my portfolio, etc.

    If I hadn’t made those choices – hadn’t been serious about a new career – I would never have made the transition and wouldn’t be a professional writer today.

    So the quiz is useful, just not the way she framed it.

  53. As an attorney, I get paid a decent sum per hour to mostly write correspondence to companies summarizing what is going on with cases. May I consider myself a professional writer since I am being paid to write?

  54. Scratch out the title and rename it:

    “Have You Suffered for Your Art?”

    and then we’re getting somewhere.

    Apparently, if you can’t make money as a writer, then at least if you suffer enough, you’ll get an honorary membership.

    Hm, I wonder if SFWA has such an option…

  55. Well, I’m an amateur and a happy amateur at that. I’ve been paid for writing before (mostly for writing technical documentation, not fiction, but hey, it’s all writing!) but I wouldn’t class myself as a professional technical writer, because that was never the full job title I carried. I was either a Helpdesk Analyst, or I was the Quality Systems Officer (translation from bureaucratese: “documentation wallah”). I wasn’t a technical writer as such.

    These days, I’m unemployed (although I’m currently doing a bit of freelance secretarial/editing work for a professional historian), and I’m also a part-time student, and a home-maker, and an internet junkie and a computer gamer. Oh, and I write fanfiction and computer code on occasion.

    Point being, I’m more than just what I do to get money in my bank account.

  56. Greg: I’m reminded of Neil Innes introduction to “A Protest Song” – “I’ve suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.”

  57. Failed it, too, and I’ve been getting paid to write for two decades. I’ve got a full-time job, part of which involves writing, but I freelance as well. Just turned in some assignments yesterday and got more. I don’t need the money but I like to keep my portfolio up to date in case I DO need to find work.

    This is all non-fiction writing, though. I suspect the author of the “test” doesn’t view me as a writer. It’s fine, though. I admit to looking askance at writers who don’t collect checks, so we’re even.

  58. I think this could be better rewritten as a two question quiz.

    1)Do you consider yourself a writer?

    2)Do you get paid for writing?

    If you answered yes to both, congratulations! You’re a professional writer.

    If you only answered yes to half the questions, you’re not a professional writer. But, you could still, potentially, become a professional writer, if that’s what you want.

    If you answered no to both questions, you’re not a professional writer. But, you could still, potentially, become a professional writer, if that’s what you want.

  59. A small disagreement. I once met a person who claimed she was a professional writer because, in her lengthy career, she had published exactly one paid piece. It was honestly terrible.I have no idea what that editor was thinking.

    That meets your test, but not mine. A reasonable restriction on the idea of “professional” is the question “Does it (or could it) pay the bills?”

  60. @Robert Ernest Richter: “A reasonable restriction on the idea of “professional” is the question “Does it (or could it) pay the bills?””

    The problem with that restriction is, a lot of writers have day jobs because they can’t pay the bills solely from writing. Odds are pretty good this probably includes at least one author whose work you think highly of.

  61. Hmm, I’m a PhD student who gets paid to write papers and articles for conferences and journals. Formally I get paid to do research, but it’s what I actually publish based on that research that matters. Also, a lot of professional writers spend a lot of time doing research, even though that research might not always be strictly scientific (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Does that mean I’m a professional writer?

  62. Caedmon, wrongheaded though Morton’s list is, it’s still organized around things a person does, and they are things that anyone might do. Geek gatekeeping is (I gather) organized around what category a person falls into — especially male or female. That’s a significant difference.

    Aside from the gatekeeping, the thing that stood out to me about this list is the way Morton uses “professional” to designate a kind of romantic heroism. Her professional is a person who is consumed by the need to create, so that the person’s life simply has no time or space for anything else: an artist living in a freezing, filthy garret, preferably dying of tuberculosis while singing arias that hit the j over high c. It’s a funny use of the word, which as Scalzi reminds us just means that you’re getting paid — the opposite of romanticism.

  63. I failed the quiz–but to be perfectly fair, I also started calling myself a “hobby writer” a teeny ways back… (I have a blog post on it on my publisher’s site, if anyone’s interested). Yes, I sell my books, so I do get paid to write. At the same time, I don’t put myself in the same category as people who make a LIVING from their writing. I don’t. I work in cancer research as a day-job, and when I’m not working, I write my stories. I like being on my own schedule. It’s one reason that I’ve never really sought out big, pushy, deadline-immersed publishing houses to buy my work. Instead, I chose to work with a small author’s cooperative publisher, where really, we all own a piece of the publishing house, and we help one another out with sharing the word about our work as it comes to press (whether our ‘house’ publishes it or not).

    I LOVE how fickle my Muse is… I cherish hir visits, and enjoy the heck out of them, and I don’t want to stress and gnash my teeth if xhe doesn’t feel like coming over for a few days, because -I- need a story NOW! So I chose to be a “hobby writer”… and you know, there’s nothing wrong with that, at least in MY mind. I love being creative, and sharing my creativity with my readers, and letting the stories grow organically out of a mutual affection that my Muse and I have developed for one another -and- for the creative expression of words in print. I guess I have a pretty loose ‘process’. *grins* Works for me.

  64. If you answer “yes” to 2) either you don’t like your friends or you’ll end up writing ponderous soul searching drivel that your friends would have said saved you from by saying “uh, no. Because…”

    Sadly, that isn’t my clumsiest sentence ever, but people really do need time with people.

  65. you guys are being awful hard on the woman who wrote this blog. I think the underlying morale is ‘you need to work really hard and not expect to make alot of money’. You need a passion for doing this since its an incredibly amount of frustrating work. You need to be self disciplined and a self starter.

    you guys are picking at this way too much.

    anyone else wonder how john gets any work done with all the time he seems to spend combing the internet and on his blog? Ok he writes 4 hours/day, but he seems to say that he has alot of other work to do for other projects. He also has a family so he can’t be plugging away at a computer 18 hours/day.

  66. Stephen King made a similar statement in On Writing. Basically goes something like this: if you wrote something, got it published, got a check in the mail, the check didn’t bounce, and you paid the light bill with the money, you are a professional writer. Loved it then, and I am still not a professional.

  67. “anyone else wonder how john gets any work done with all the time he seems to spend combing the internet and on his blog?”

    No, not really. He gets the work done, that’s all I care about. How he gets it done is his business.

  68. I’ve worked professionally in my field (not writing) for 19 years. My response to someone in my field saying, “That’s okay, as long as you don’t call yourself a professional. At least around irritable me,” would be, “Then I’ll gladly never be around you.”

    Frankly, I’d call the attitude displayed in the article unprofessional.

  69. you guys are being awful hard on the woman who wrote this blog. I think the underlying morale is ‘you need to work really hard and not expect to make alot of money’. You need a passion for doing this since its an incredibly amount of frustrating work. You need to be self disciplined and a self starter.

    I think you’re being way too kind. The underlying message seems to me to be “if you have any kind of life other than writing, then you’re not a professional.”

  70. I think you’re being way too kind. The underlying message seems to me to be “if you have any kind of life other than writing, then you’re not a professional.”

    With a large helping of “look how much better I am than these people” sneering on the side.

  71. A bunch of people I know passed that around. “GOD THIS IS SO ME!”. Not one of the people who shared it has actually been paid for their writing yet. They do all write; but their posts are full of pretentious things about their writers groups and going on vacation and writing, and (seriously) a divorce because the non-writing partner just didn’t understand the writer’s *drive*. It’s really bullshitty. No one who shared this has been paid yet.

    3 weeks ago I had an idea for an article, I proposed it to a suitable place, they liked it, they paid me for it. I believe I am a professional writer. Ta da!

    (I also wrote it while listening to a lot of Queen, specifically Live Magic, because that was the mood I was in. And I stopped in the middle of writing it because I was throwing a small July 4th ‘drop in day’).

  72. I’m not a professional writer, but in the early years of my career as a professional illustrator, I could have answered “Yes” to all of the questions. That relentless single-minded approach helped me find jobs and develop some great drawing + painting skills. But it also helped me gain nearly 150 pounds, develop an ulcer and alienate most of my friends and family.

    Today I’m still a professional illustrator, at least by John’s “Are you getting paid?” measurement. But I go out of my way to answer “No” to most of Ms. Morton’s questions. For me, it’s a much happier and healthier approach.

  73. “If it’s wrong to get irritated at people who call themselves professional writers but haven’t really put in the hard work that I have…well, I accept that judgment.”
    This whole statement seems about as wrong as some idjit telling a girl at con she’s not a geek because her costume’s belt wasn’t made the way the idjit would have made it. “Crap” indeed.

  74. So, in other words, a 10-question pop quiz in order to make a “No True Scotsman” argument. Except “True” is replaced with “Professional”.

    There are certain job titles that I prefer have some sort of minimum bar of requirements to use the title: Doctor. Lawyer. Airline pilot. Other than that, it doesn’t matter.

    If you want to call yourself a “Entrenchment Engineer” because you dig ditches, go for it. If you want to call yourself a “writer” because you keep a daily journal, knock yourself out. If you want to call yourself “geek” because you know everything there is to know about (blah), go for it.

    I remember some news story about someone who had business cards made up that listed his title as “master of the universe”. Good for him, I say.

  75. Reblogged this on The Breathings of My Heart and commented:
    John Scalzi takes apart a quiz on “are you, or are you not, a professional writer” and talks about process, end results, and – to some extent – the insecurities of freelancing.

  76. I’m just concerned as to what Ms Morton could writing about in all those long hours of labour, while deliberately isolating herself from from every source of random inspiration – people, places, news, noise, fun, fatbergs…

  77. Reminds me a bit of a friend of mine who used to teach middle school English. His passion encouraging kids to write. He used to start the first writing class of the school year by asking his students what a writer is. After they gave their answers (which were usually about getting books published and whatnot), he told them, “A writer is someone who writes.” He had the right idea, IMO. Ms. Morton, not so much. (I know she specified “professional writer,” but I still think she’s focusing on the wrong things.)

  78. At least she proves the gatekeeping gene isn’t unique to the Y-chromosome :-)

    That quiz is chock-full of insecurity. Either I’m really bad at finding the mellow-sphere, or people on the internet are stressed out ALL THE TIME. The aliens probably think rage is the full spectrum of human emotion. It’s exhausting just to read all the drama. I may have to go run a marathon just to relax.

    Me, I’m not a professional author for one reason only: I don’t try or even want to try to make money from it, nor do I have any more desire to publish my fiction than my dream journal, which is to say not at all. But when I have free time, it’s even money I’m spending it writing. It’s a damn sure bet I’ll never waste it hand-wringing over whether other people call themselves professional writers.

  79. p.s. I answered NO to every question but one, the one about useful criticism/praise. That one’s a maybe, because the usefulness of criticism often derives from the circumstances in which it is rendered and received.

  80. I assumed a parenthetical “… for the writing itself, and not for some other purpose to which the writing is incidental.” after John’s rule, because otherwise those of us who do a lot of writing for our jobs would be professional writers, and I don’t identify as such. Yeah, I try to create serviceable prose, and most of my output ends up being words in a document, but that seems coincidental.

    I’m sure John could state it with more clarity and concision, assuming he even agrees. He is, after all, a professional writer.

  81. Gulliver 4:34 pm
    >At least she proves the gatekeeping gene isn’t unique
    >to the Y-chromosome :-)
    Yeah, sucky people suck. Note the word “people.”

    >Either I’m really bad at finding the mellow-sphere, or
    >people on the internet are stressed out ALL THE TIME.
    Or, the mellow fellows are toasting marshmallows over
    an igneous pie and don’t care enough to say anything.
    Really, people who have the opinion “meh’ or ‘goodanuff,
    I s’pose” and such aren’t going to bother to say anything.
    Most of the people who say something _really_ care.

  82. I don’t in any way think that Morton
    is a sucky person.
    I was talking about the gate keeping psychological

  83. @Robert Ernest Richter: “A reasonable restriction on the idea of “professional” is the question “Does it (or could it) pay the bills?””

    The problem with that restriction is, a lot of writers have day jobs because they can’t pay the bills solely from writing. Odds are pretty good this probably includes at least one author whose work you think highly of.

    Quite. I recently interviewed Elizabeth Smither — who is not only one of New Zealand’s most respected poets (her 16th full-length collection came out in April) but has also published five novels, four collections of short stories and three volumes of non-fiction prose. If she’s not a “professional writer” nobody qualifies, but until she retired a couple of years back she was also a full-time librarian. I asked her if she ever considered quitting work to become a full-time writer and her answer was interesting: “Even if I could have afforded to, a job is a pretty good way to get you out of the house and among people even when you don’t want to. It’s no use having all the time in the world to write, if you don’t have anything worth writing about.” Can’t argue with that. :)

  84. Shit, I meant Lisa Morton, not Mary, but, oh shit, I should shut up now.
    Oh crap.
    Dammit, sorry.

  85. I’ve long ago concluded that one of the main differences between an amateur and a professional (in most things I’ve seen) is that the professional knows how to get at least acceptable quality results day in and day out at whatever they’re doing.

    Not all professionals make their living at a given profession (may have a day job). Professionals don’t necessarily turn out better quality work than a talented amateur is capable of, but they know how to hit their mark regularly and generally resist shooting for the stars when a decent quality effort will meet the need and can be more dependably achieved.

    Of course my opinion only and your mileage may vary…

  86. Speaking as an amateur, I have always believed that I could not call myself pro until I sold a story – for money, not exposure or trades. Her quiz has nothing to do with profession, but obsession.

  87. Disperser: you could always try the same test I periodically try: send a query to your local newspaper, city magazine, lit mag or whatever and see if they say “yes”. I’ve sold two stories and a photo in the past couple months, just pitching things I felt like writing about.

    The all-writing-and-marketing-all-the-time model would seem to me to lead to a glut of novels and essays about bitter, solitary writers. Not all that interesting, but I guess you gotta write what you know.

  88. I’ve seen a lot of people (rightfully) destroying this, but what I’m really curious about now is her rebuttal. Does she have a defense? Has she responded to all of these criticisms? I want to know what she was thinking when she wrote that because… HUH?

  89. I’ve had one short story published (in the 2009 WindyCon program, as a result of winning that year’s writing contest), and I don’t consider myself a “real ” writer because I’m not published otherwise in the SF field. At least not yet.

    On the other hand, I write newsletter articles on management and communication full-time, so I have to keep reminding myself that yes, I AM a “real” writer—one who gets paid to write and whose writing is (theoretically) read by lots of real people (newsletter subscribers, at least as long as print newsletters hold out). So there. I’d say more, but I have an article on workplace safety I have to finish.

  90. This discussion of lawyers and other people whose job includes writing, but who don’t call themselves writers, leads me to get less hung up on labels.

    I am one of those people. I self-identify as a writer, because writing is an essential part of my job. But the writing I do is very commercial, and it is only part of my job, and I can see where a novelist or a poet might disagree with my self-definition.

    In my former life as a daily newspaper reporter, I read a lot of legal writing. Some of it was very well-written indeed.

    One of my English professors said that Abraham Lincoln was the only American president who was also a great writer. And yet writing was certainly an incidental part of *his* job. I’d add the current occupant of the White House to the list of American presidents who are also great writers — whatever else you may think of the man.

  91. @bpostow

    I want to know what she was thinking when she wrote that because… HUH?

    From the post John linked to on Mohanraj’s blog:

    “I 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.”

    So, a den of random people on the internet is WRONG. Thank god we have vigilant guardians such as Mohanraj to root them out and publicly shame them. They’re all phonies, Holden! Oh, the horror, oh the injustice, oh the…oh, wait, it doesn’t fucking matter.

    I do find it amusing that she took the time to bitch about people not spending their time writing.

    @Mitch Wagner

    One of my English professors said that Abraham Lincoln was the only American president who was also a great writer.

    Sounds like a real ignoramus. You could share the college where s/he taught so as to help prospective English majors avoid it.

  92. @Mitch Wagner

    Actually, I often find it more interesting to inquire *why* people draw certain lines (i.e., who gets to be declared a writer and who not) rather than trying to draw the line myself.

    And Gulliver is giving a master class demo in the concept of “asshole is the failure mode of sarcasm.”

  93. @Gulliver No, that was what inspired her to write the thing in the first place. I want to know how she reacts to the outpouring of negative opinions…

  94. @CWJ

    Who said anything about sarcasm? That was snide derision all the way. I described exactly what Mohanraj did, take a dump on professionals that don’t meet her standards.


    Oh, I don’t.

  95. @CWJ

    That definitely wasn’t sarcasm. It’s one thing merely to be unaware of all the seminal things written by American Presidents. Unless s/he’s a professor of American history, that would be understandable. But any English professor who would state as fact that Lincoln was the only great writer to occupy that office is, quite simply, an ignoramus from whom I would not want to depend on an English education.

  96. @Gulliver

    Yes, it was a sarcastic response, and an asshole-y one, and Mitch’s comment didn’t deserve it. Mitch was making a thoughtful, reflective comment on the topic of being a writer, and happened to bring up other people who write as part of their job, and told the Lincoln anecdote. You disagree, fine. Bring up other US presidents who are fine writers (Jefferson). But your comment relied *entirely* upon snark and sarcasm. Maybe you had a college education, but I would have hoped you learned more substantive rhetorical strategies than calling someone an ignoramus. You know, like a counter-example.

  97. Uh, Gulliver,….

    Mary Anne Mohanraj is not the author of the blog post that John discusses above, but merely the person who pointed him to the post. The actual poster is Lisa Morton.

  98. @Pam Adams

    My mistake. And my apologies to Mary Anne Mohanraj. I meant the author of the post, Lisa Morton.

    @John Scalzi

    This is merely a humble request, but if you would either a) correct the name in my last two posts or b) delete them entirely, I would be grateful. Please leave Pam Adams’ correction and this comment as evidence of my lack of reading comprehension and general careless ineptitude.

  99. @CWJ

    Yes, it was a sarcastic response

    No, I was completely serious.

    and an asshole-y one

    I disagree. Deal.

    and Mitch’s comment didn’t deserve it. Mitch was making a thoughtful, reflective comment on the topic of being a writer, and happened to bring up other people who write as part of their job, and told the Lincoln anecdote.

    I wasn’t criticizing Mitch. I was criticizing his English professor. And yes, his professor’s shortcomings are incidental to Mitch’s thoughtful comment. So what? The fact that the part of the comment to which I choose to reply happens not to be the part you prefer I did is not my problem.

    Maybe you had a college education, but I would have hoped you learned more substantive rhetorical strategies than calling someone an ignoramus. You know, like a counter-example.

    First of all, a college education does not grantee one will be educated, nor does a lack of one guarantee one will not be. My knowledge of what many American Presidents have written was acquired through extracurricular reading. However, even if I lacked that knowledge, I would not, to my students, make baldly inaccurate statements I didn’t know to be true. Nor is it my job to correct Mitch’s professor’s mistakes. If people are interested, I would advise starting with the Presidential Library. Calling someone what they are is not a rhetorical strategy.

  100. @Gulliver

    “Calling someone what they are is not a rhetorical strategy.”

    Well, you are right that calling someone an “ignoramus” is not a rhetorical strategy. It’s being an asshole.

    And you are right that a college education does not guarantee one will be educated. Maybe you do or do not know something about American presidents, but you don’t know how to give a cogent response to a statement you disagree with. Your response relied upon hostility and name-calling rather than, as I said, providing counter-examples or *anything* resembling reasoned discourse.

    And in fact, here you are, still insisting that using the word “ignoramus” is a *good* response, instead of being embarrassed by it. Just keep on doubling down like that, Gulliver.

  101. Oh, no, I’ve listened to enough of your haughtiness. If you want a list of presidential writings, go find someplace where it won’t be a derail and ask someone who cares to be your librarian. If you find my arguments unsound, perhaps you should save us both time and ignore them. We’re done, CWJ. Have a nice day.

  102. What arguments? You didn’t given any arguments. Just name calling.

    But go ahead and flounce out if you don’t know how to make an actual argument.

  103. As an attorney, I get paid a decent sum per hour to mostly write correspondence to companies summarizing what is going on with cases. May I consider myself a professional writer since I am being paid to write?

    This to me is a far more interesting question than anything on Morton’s quiz. I’ve gotten paid to write educational material, yet at the time I didn’t think of myself as a professional writer. The university physics department I’m in is full of faculty who write journal articles as an explicit and significant part of their job; many have also written books and other materials. Almost none of them would call themselves professional writers.

    There almost seems to be a self-identification thing: you’re a professional writer if you get paid to write and you choose to identify as such? That seems problematic as well. I don’t really have an answer to that one.

  104. For practical purposes it seems to me that you’re a professional if you decide that’s what you are and you’re a Professional if you have the appropriate credentials.

    I’ve been a professional software engineer for 25 years or so, but I’m not a Professional Engineer because I’m not in a field that has or requires certification.

  105. After thinking about this for another day, what bothers me most about that article isn’t the silly criteria in the quiz. That’s easy enough to dismiss, as John and many others have done. Chuck Wendig’s flowchart is my favorite. What irritates me is how unprofessional the tone is. It comes across to me as snide and condescending. I realize that there are probably different standards for professionalism in the writing world than in many other career fields. But to insist on such picky, irrelevant criteria for determining professionalism in an unprofessional way seem very ironic to me. My thoughts on the issue are on my blog:

  106. bpostow:

    if Ms. Morton has responded to the criticism of her quiz, or is even aware of it, I’ve not found it online. There are no newer “articles” pages at the HWA site. She hasn’t responded on her Facebook page (but did post a link to the quiz when it was originally put on the HWA site), she doesn’t appear to have any sort of journal or blog on her website, and she hasn’t updated her livejournal page since May.

  107. I took that college class 30 years ago. It seems likely that I am misremembering the comment. Which I remember as an off-the-cuff remark, perhaps requiring context to understand the professor’s intent.

    And now I’m wondering which other Presidents should be considered among the ranks of great writers. Thomas Jefferson, certainly. The Declaration of Independence is an enduring classic of English letters.

    I don’t know whether Theodore Roosevelt’s writing qualifies as great. But he’s possibly the one President who actually derived a significant portion of his income as a professional writer, using the Scalzi definition as well as, I suspect, Lisa Morton’s. For years he supported his family through journalism and writing books, supplementing an inheritance which was too meager to do the job.

    Also, James Monroe. The Monroe Doctrine has been at the bedrock of American foreign policy for nearly two centuries. It’s guided us from our emergence as a regional power to our present state as the only superpower in the world. That’s a lot of work for writing to do.

  108. I can see making the “Lincoln was the only great Presidential writer” argument, albeit with some sneaky components. The Declaration of Independence was written well before Jefferson became President. Do we remember anything from his Presidential years as great?

    Roosevelt wrote a lot, but you might argue that he wasn’t a _great_ writer just because of volume. The Monroe Doctrine is important, but great? I don’t see it.

    Lincoln, on the other hand, wrote great prose as President. The Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, though speeches, are two of the greatest pieces of writing in American history.

    (Oddly, the main contender that comes to my mind is Ulysses S. Grant for his memoirs)

    And, yes, I say this as a professor of American history (for whatever that pomposity is worth).

  109. @Gulliver 1:19 pm
    >@Pam Adams
    >My mistake. And my apologies to Mary Anne
    >Mohanraj. I meant the author of the post, Lisa

    -stands up, quietly shouts yes while doing the
    Snoopy dance.-
    Because, Mr. Foyle, welcome to my village, and?
    Oh, YES! This is awesome! I’d totally forgotten
    about “The Demolished Man” and don’t even
    recall what ear worm advert jingle the dude in used
    as a work around for the telepaths.

    I do know how I got to the above. Is a cartoon by
    a guy who does have a name. The young lady is
    at the chain mail shop trying on armor. She’s, for
    good reasons, got her hand on the chain that goes
    between her butt cheeks, and is wearing the chain
    mail bra.
    She says. “[Well, sure, it’s stylish, but it isn’t very
    –I’ve been trying to bring up names, and it’s work-
    But not very well. I’m still certain that the surname
    is either Hines or Hinds. So not.

  110. Reblogged this on Exploding Steamboats and commented:
    Well, no, I am not a pro writer. I realize this. (As does Mystery Writers of America, which insists on granting me affiliate membership instead of active membership.) But my status as a writer has nothing to do with any of the conditions on Lisa Morton’s little quiz, and I am grateful to John Scalzi for calling her on it. I have a very dear friend who is convinced that I will never have any success as a writer unless I transform myself into a raging extrovert. That’s his process. But it is not mine. And ::sticks tongue out at Dave:: I’m totally good with that. Of course, if I do succeed, Dave will just attribute it to the fact that his relentless networking has connected me with two other ladies of steampunk to form a critique group tentatively named Steam Heat. (It’s far too early to devote a post to it, but I hope that will change before long.)
    Tonight, though, I think I will compare my process to Lisa Morton’s and see if any enlightenment ensues. (NB: I was going to link to said quiz, but it seems to have disappeared from its original location. If it turns up unharmed, I will post a link. In the meantime, I will reproduce the questions as I found them on another blog post.)
    1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?
    This question is poorly worded. My home is clean because my awesome boyfriend employs a housekeeping service. My work space is messy for lots of reasons, one of which is that I have lots of books and papers and laptops to fit into a very tiny space. Another of which is that I am just not a very tidy person.
    2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?
    Hell, no. For one thing, lots of my friends are writers. I am, in fact, at this very moment, out with a writer friend. And we are writing. So, again with the poorly worded question. But considering what Morton probably meant to ask — which is “Do you think being a writer and having an actual life are mutually exclusive concepts?” — I still have to answer in the negative. Creativity does not occur in a vacuum. I really hope I don’t need to explain that.
    3. Do you turn off the television in order to write?
    I am beginning to think that Ms. Morton and I inhabit completely different galaxies. I can’t even remember the last time I turned a TV on. Maybe to check the weather at LCC back in March? It’s certainly been years since I owned a TV. So this question gets a great big ::shrug:: out of me.
    4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?
    Hahahahaha….No. Look, I know my work is far from perfect. I do appreciate constructive criticism, and I can honestly point to specific examples of times where I have responded to praise with a “No, really, I’m asking you to be brutal.” But if I’m being really, truly, totally, completely, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die honest? Yeah, I liked the praise better.
    5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunites [sic] (either research or networking potential)?
    Yes! Finally, an unequivocal yes! Wheeee! Though I suspect Ms. Morton and I have differing ideas on what this means. I think everything is a chance to observe and/or participate in humanity. So I guess you could say that I plan my entire life around writing opportunities. (See answer #2 above re: creativity and vacuums.)
    6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?
    Ugh, no. I recognize business talk as a necessary evil if I hope to be taken seriously in the business of writing. But before I can engage in the business of writing, I need to engage in the business of writing. Know what I mean? Besides, creativity…vacuum…yeah.
    7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?
    Less money than what? More time/energy/material than what? ::scratching head in confusion::
    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?
    Ms. Morton, I am sensing a rather disturbing theme in your line of questioning. This isn’t about me at all, is it? Or even my fellow “hobbyists.” This is all about you, isn’t it? You and your strange sense that privation is somehow the equivalent of professionalism and that professionalism is, paradoxically, the opposite of success. As for the construction of this particular equation, I’m sorry to say that I never took anything beyond high-school Algebra II and don’t know where to begin graphing it.
    9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?
    All what things? Being a joyless hermit who lives in a filthy hovel and subsists on stray crickets? Happily, no. I’d tell you all about my last five years, but my time is better spent writing. Or going out with friends. Or picking out carpeting and window treatments for our spiffy new house. :-P
    10. Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?
    Wow. Look, toots, you can live knowing whatever you like about your ambitions, but keep your grubby paws off of my ambitions! You don’t know me. You don’t know my ambitions. And you sure as hell don’t know how capable or incapable I am of achieving them. Here’s the really strange thing, though. I don’t know you, and I don’t know your ambitions. But I think it’s a pretty safe bet that when you wrote this quiz, you were seriously questioning your own capabilities. I hope you are in a better frame of mind these days. (If not, try going out with a friend. Catch a silly movie and drink some fancy coffee. It’ll do you wonders.)

  111. What it sounds like to me is one of the (tongue in check but having some basis in fact) “You know you are a grad student when …” and it certainly sounds like a large number of junior academic researchers I know at top research institutions, just substitute “your research” or “on your research”, etc for writing. And the fact that I answer “no” with research substituted for all of them is one of the reasons I have chosen not to be a researcher at a top research institution (although I do enjoy some of the exotic vacations I’ve enjoyed at my spouse’s conference locations :) – 7, 8, and 10 are especially appropriate given the disconnect between the level of education and expertise and most faculty salaries.

  112. Well, if we are doing the presidential writers thing I admit I developed a fondness for Andrew Jackson’s writing a while back. A lot of it was angry letters to his friends and enemies in congress telling them pass his pet projects. Yale Law School has a nice collection of old writings called the Avalon Project

  113. pyredynasty – Jackson was one of our great Presidents. Whether he was a good President is a whole other matter. As I recall, the first term of his administration unfolded like a Jane Austen novel.

    David – I would say that volume of writing doesn’t disqualify a writer from greatness. By that standard, Samuel Johnson could not be considered great.

    I have to admit to not having read the Monroe Doctrine in memory. I nominate it for greatness on the basis of its impact.

  114. @ Mitch Wagner:

    Jackson was one of our great Presidents.

    Sure, if you think that being an evil bastard and screwing over Native Americans at every opportunity (and even defying the fucking Supreme Court to do so) qualifies him as a great President. Jackson was a horrible man and wretched leader who actively cultivated white supremacist and anti-native sentiment.

    I’m pretty sure that you didn’t mean to support his evil, but that sentence reads as tremendously stupid at face value.

    Whether he was a good President is a whole other matter.

    I’m confused–doesn’t one have to be “good” at something to be “great” at it?

  115. IMO a president who interns 16K Cherokee in holding camps and then orchestrates a forced march that results in the deaths of a quarter of them doesn’t qualify as “great.” /OT

  116. For some reason, I kept thinking, “Emily Dickinson?”

    Which was followed eventually by “Vs. Rod McEuen?”

    Does my subconscious have a point? (Or is that just my head?)

  117. @mintwitch

    Great writer isn’t the same as great person. I can’t speak for others, but I was using it as an exclusive qualifier for writer, the other being a separate discussion.

  118. Of course, because I use the word “great” to describe Jackson, and qualify the statement by saying he was not “good” THAT MEANS I SUPPORT GENOCIDE!!!

    That’s the most likely interpretation.

    Other interpretations that only a fool would believe, because they are so ridiculously unlikely:

    (1) I was using the word great as a measure of Jackson’s impact on history, and effectiveness at achieving goals and transforming the American landscape, whether those goals are good or evil. This is a measurement by which, say, Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt and Churchill are all roughly equal.

    But I could not expect this group to be familiar with this usage of the word “great.” After all, the only recent pop-culture use of the word in that fashion is on the TV show “Sherlock” where Holmes’s police contact says that Holmes is a GREAT man, but not yet a GOOD man. And this is a blog attracting science fiction fans, and virtually no sf fans also enjoy “Sherlock.”

    (2) I am attempting to judge Jackson by the standards of his day, in which the American Indians were viewed as enemies and Jackson’s behavior was seen as downright heroic. I am deeply troubled by this interpretation — as any person of conscience would be — but nonetheless when I study history I find myself unable to dismiss it.

    But nope nope nope. It’s clearly impossible that either interpretation is the one I intended. It must be that I support genocide. YOU HAZ FOUND ME OUT!!

  119. David – I would say that volume of writing doesn’t disqualify a writer from greatness. By that standard, Samuel Johnson could not be considered great.

    Sorry, I phrased the Theodore Roosevelt remark obliquely. I meant that volume alone does not make one great, and so TR, while writing a lot, is not necessarily a great writer.

    I’m pretty sure that you didn’t mean to support his evil, but that sentence reads as tremendously stupid at face value.

    Because there’s no other meaning of “great” besides “morally upstanding”?

  120. David – None of the examples of Roosevelt’s writing that I’ve read have stood out as great.

    However, most of it has been good. I’d say professional-quality if we weren’t already throwing around the word “professional” in a couple of different meanings.

    Although this does raise issues with regard to the original question of who gets to call themselves a professional writer.

    1) John Scalzi’s definition is a reasonable one.

    2) There’s another one, having to do with meeting a minimum quality of work. That’s a nonobjective standard, but also reasonable.

    3) There’s a standard of behavior toward others: Getting back to editors promptly and courteously, and so forth.

    None of these have to do with the work habits that Lisa Morton describes.

    And if you earn enough money, you can be exempted from Rule #3 and #2. I hear stories from editors about writers who make them a lot of money, but are perfectly dreadful to deal with. Rather, I don’t hear the stories because the editors are afraid to speak them out loud. Instead, the editors look stricken, whisper hints, and then change the subject.

    “Because there’s no other meaning of “great” besides “morally upstanding”?”

    +1 to you for pithiness, although I did get to use LOLspeak and hackerese.

  121. Hey. stinalyn!
    Dude/duddette, have you ever written a story about getting hit in the head by a meteorite except it
    wasn’t a meteorite.
    It was actually the first step of the invasion , but the heroin (hey, schedule 1 drug!) had trouble with
    DEA agents and the the alien in her head?

  122. @ Mitch Wagner: Speaking as a Sherlock fan, and as someone who was pretty fucking clear in his last post, I DID NOT SAY THAT I THINK YOU SUPPORT GENOCIDE. I know the form of “great” that you were using, I was merely pointing out that not everyone would know it as well. Please actually read my comment before you post a rant at me.

  123. @stinalyn said:

    This isn’t about me at all, is it? Or even my fellow “hobbyists.” This is all about you, isn’t it? You and your strange sense that privation is somehow the equivalent of professionalism and that professionalism is, paradoxically, the opposite of success.

    I believe you have sussed it out. We must all follow her process and suffer, or else we’re just… what, getting paid money for words we have typed? Why is she so worried about someone else’s working habits and success?

  124. There are many flavors of professional writing, and freelance fiction writing is only one of them. I work as an environmental engineer, but consider myself a professional writer because 90% of what I do is writing reports, technical documents, etc., and my writing abilities are what have enabled me to have the career I’ve had. Of course, most of my writing product will never be seen by the public, and what little may be seen by the public will most likely not have my name on it since it will have been written for my clients, who will put their own stamp on it. But that’s OK, because I don’t do what I do for public recognition as a reward.

    So, I thought it would be fun to take the quiz with my own particular flavor of professional writing in mind.

    1. No; my home/work place stays messy whether I’m doing a lot of writing or only a little at any given time, because there aren’t enough hours in the day and there are any number of things I’d rather do than clean. Same applies double to yard work.
    2. Only when I’m in major deadline crunch mode. Otherwise, I need time with my friends and family to have a balanced life and avoid burning out at work.
    3. No; I write just fine with the television on because either a) it’s white noise, or b) it doesn’t require my full attention (I’m almost always doing something else while watching TV, whether it’s writing, reading, working on a hobby, or whatever). But I wouldn’t try to watch something like Game of Thrones while writing, because that would require my full attention.
    4. Screw praise. I’d rather have useful criticism or more $$.
    5. No. If it involves research or networking, it may use up vacation TIME, but it ain’t vacation.
    6. Gods, no. I would rather stab myself in the ear than spend time talking about what I write with someone else who does the same thing; by and large, talking to engineers about engineering and particularly engineering writing is boring. Also, there may be business or legal restrictions that apply to talking about what I’m writing. Professional conferences possibly being the one exception, but that’s job time rather than leisure time.
    7. Almost; but only because I was between jobs at the time and it would have let me write science journalism on a regular (though part-time) basis. But then a full-time job offer came along that would still let me write while actually keeping food on the table and a roof over my family’s heads.
    8. No. The nice (though modest) home I have is due to the writing I do.
    9. Have I been writing consistently and for pay for at least five years? Yes. Have I been doing everything in the previous questions for at least five years? Hell, no.
    10. What the hell does this have to do with writing? Everyone, regardless of walk of life, has ambitions, some of which they’re never likely to meet. I want to walk on the moon, but I know damn well that’s never going to happen. If we’re limiting it to writing-related ambitions, I’d like to work/write less for more money, but I’m OK if that never happens.

    Gosh, guess I’m not a pro at what I do after all. My life has lost all meaning…

  125. I’m about ready to call bullshit on everyone answering question 4 in the affirmative. Of course you prefer praise. Every human does. If all you ever heard was criticism, unless you are possessed of a preternatural degree of self-confidence, you would find yourself discouraged right out of the writing business.

    Now, an important part of becoming a professional is realizing that praise is not always, perhaps not even often, functionally useful in analyzing one’s own work. That’s the question Morton really ought to be asking. But that doesn’t make praise any less desirable on a fundamental level.

    I don’t think adding the qualifier “useful” to criticism makes the question any less snobbish. At least, not without also adding the qualifier “useless” to praise. Of course, doing that makes the question a no-brainer, and therefore robs it of it’s gatekeeping properties.

  126. John, sorry for the inconvenience but if you have a moment could you please delete my last comment — and this one too. I don’t want to make this discussion about me any more than it already is.

  127. Doc Rocketscience, there are absolutely times when praise is annoying and useless and criticism (or critique) is far preferable. If you produce something you know is flawed and want to make it better, or make yourself a better producer, “It’s perfect just the way it is!” is worse than useless. Not only does it give you no clue what to work on and how, it may even suggest that the person offering the praise didn’t take the time/attention to actually evaluate your work.

    When I would play the flute and get compliments on it from my well-meaning family, it would actually hurt, because I knew how far I had to go and it just rubbed it in that only people without much musical background would say so. I know I’m not alone in this.

    I will agree that few, if any, people would prefer ONLY criticism ALL the time, but I don’t think that extreme is implied by the question. And even if that is what the writer of the list had in mind, I don’t think that’s what the people answering affirmatively — the ones you are calling liars — were likely thinking.

  128. Ahh, praise. Great stuff. I love how my minions praise the patterns my dandruff leaves on my black
    shirt. Their praise proves that I am perfect in every weigh.

    @ Mitch Wagner 12:11 PM
    Thank you for that, I like good jokes.

  129. Darn it to heck. It seems that this latest word press thing
    has a maximum line length and puts in a linefeed/break =
    left carrot bee are right carrot when it gets to that char count.
    //< is a left carrot.
    Oh, kittens.
    It seems to be to aggressive on detecting html tags.

  130. Doc Rocketscience, I agree with Robin about the praise/criticism thing. A friend of mine is a poet. She regularly takes classes and attends workshops. She HATES it when all she gets is praise at these things, because she’s taking the classes and studying with good poets at the workshops (and neither the classes nor the workshops are inexpensive) because she wants to improve her writing, and useful criticism is what will help. She gets frustrated, for instance, when a particular (very well-regarded) poet and professor tends to mete out only praise for her poems (while offering criticism to most of the other students). All that praise from someone she admires a lot sounds good in theory, but in practice what she wants from him is useful criticism.

  131. Doc RocketScience: I don’t disagree. $$ are the highest form of praise.

    OK, I admit I’m being facetious here (other than the part about not disagreeing with what you’ve said). Praise, especially when accompanied by wider recognition, is very nice. But I do still like it when my work is rewarded with more $$.

  132. @Robert Ernest Richter wrote:

    A reasonable restriction on the idea of “professional” is the question “Does it (or could it) pay the bills?”

    i think that criterion does not work in the arts, because they are often not valued highly enough for even very competent practitioners to make a living at them. one might also specialize in a type of writing that is valued only by a small number of people, too small to eke out a living; say, writing poetry in a language not spoken by millions, or heck, writing poetry, period. in fact i don’t agree with john either, in that i don’t believe a writer has to get paid in order to call themselves “professional”, though i accept that this is a standard usage of the term, as can be seen from the comments, it always brings up the “statute of limitations” question. ;) is one sale enough? what if that one sale is to a friend’s tiny magazine? then we’re off definining “legitimate” paying sources, and thee days that’s unravelling faster than we can define it.

    i’d be more inclined to define “professional writer” as somebody pursing writing as a career, eg. producing actual finished work, being skilled at writing, displaying a high standard of ethics (plagiarism isn’t professional), having an ongoing desire to improve one’s craft.

    making a living at a chosen career isn’t always in the cards, and i distrust the notion that we should let the marketplace be the sole arbiter on who is a professional — used to be that women didn’t need apply, and self-publishing is still looked down upon. i prefer to call people the marketplace appreciates “paid” rather than “professional”.

    the “quiz” says much more about lisa morton than it says about hobbyist vs professional writers, and what it says is not very professional. she’s a gatekeeper — maybe becoming a published writer required sacrifices she resents, and so she thinks it ought to be hard for everyone, and those who don’t properly acknowledge her sacrifice by imitation irritate her; she certainly wouldn’t be the first.

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