I remember reading something some years ago about being a “real” writer or a professional writer. It went something along the lines of:
If you write something and you get a check for it, it doesn’t bounce, and then you go pay the electric bill with it, you’re a professional writer.
I think it may have been Stephen King. I’m not a fan of his fiction particularly, but I’m very fond of what he has to say about being a writer.
Well, I’m a professional writer. It’s weird to wrap my mind around that. I don’t earn all of my living writing, but I don’t earn all of my living doing any one thing. I teach, give advice… buncha stuff. I was asked in the gym a couple of days ago where I worked. When I said I was self-employed, she asked me, “Doing what?”
I didn’t self-identify as a writer the first time I earned money as a writer1. To this day, I do not know why. I think I had the idea that “real” writers saw their work in bookstores. It bothers me, sometimes, that I did not embrace the label. I think I might have been more serious about my career. But I only saw it in terms of big magazine sales or book contracts.
I remember all the pre-Internet advice on getting started freelancing. What no-one said, and I wish someone had was, “Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t be afraid of the chump change assignments at first. Everyone pays their dues in a profession.”
I’ll be the first to say that the skill of good writing is shamelessly undervalued. A “real” published author of my acquaintance cautioned me that she could have earned more per hour working at McDonald’s than she did on a book I had been rather fulsome in praising.
True enough, but you cannot flip burgers from your writin’ chair, either! I mean, this is my office!
Honesty forces me to point out that this pic is somewhat neater than my office at present. There’s a sweater I am working on at the foot of the ottoman, and there is a coffee cup on the table as well as some balls of yarn. Oh, and there’s a phone and iPod cable on the arm of the chair. But, yeah, that’s where I work (cum laptop) unless I’m offsite for something. I don’t teach from that chair! No, I’m bouncing around the classroom throwing erasers and telling people clip art is the tool of the Devil2.
This is something I’ve wanted since I was in my late teens. Now, when I was sixteen or so, laptops did exist (they were invented in 1982), but hardly commonplace, powerful tools they are today. If I wanted to write somewhere besides a desk, I was writing on paper and in longhand. The internet as we know it really didn’t exist, either, so the virtual office or hiring people thousands of miles away wasn’t as common as it is now. I may do most of my work in that comfy chair (and god is it comfy!), but I could do it in an airport or on a beach just as easily.
Ain’t modern technology grand?
1It was a book on how to open a mailing business for a course my client intended to teach on the subject. I’ve since made extensive use of the research I did for it for my own business work. The fringe benefits of the profession can be amazing!
2 Don’t ask me why. This guarantees a laugh and a good review from the student.