The Passive Profession

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
When you say you’re something like, say, a carpenter, it usually means you spend your time pounding nails, hanging siding, and putting in windows. When you say you’re a writer, it seems people usually don’t know what that means. Thanks to Carrie Bradshaw, people assume you can make a living writing a weekly column about your personal life. But more than that, it seems when you say you’re a writer that people wonder if you’re the kind of writer who actually makes money, or the kind of writer who watches Glee reruns all day, while pondering and hoping to write the next Great American novel.

Like all professions in the arts, calling ourselves “writers” is something a good many of us do. Almost like trying on a shirt for size, we test out the term “writer” for ourselves, seeing if it suits us. It’s not always the most flattering title to bear, especially since the general public often assumes “writers” are a passive bunch who make way more claims than they make dollars.

After all, writers aren’t exactly the most confident bunch, as evidenced by the vast majority of “how to write” books lurking out there. Do carpenters have inspirational desk calendars filled with stories of others who have made a living in the trade? My guess is probably not, yet writers can read dozens how to guides, success stories from other writers, and writing magazine articles, all in the name of getting better acquainted with the skills and lifestyle of writing, of learning how to become a “real” writer. It’s one thing to stay on top of your trade. It’s another to use the “resources” lurking out there as a means to procrastinate from the real work of researching and writing your own work.

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time saying I wanted to be a writer. Finally a professor told me, “Ada, you already are a writer.” But even today, when small percentage of my monthly income does comes from putting words in the right order on the page, I often feel like a fraud when I call myself a writer.

We writers seem to be constantly wondering if we’re the “real deal.” To make matters worse, most of society seems to be wondering the exact same thing about us. There’s really just one solution to this sticky situation: to write.

Being a writer isn’t about pounding nails, it’s about pounding the keyboard. About practicing your craft consistently until you’ve gotten it hone to the point where someone is willing to compensate you for your labor. You don’t wish yourself into the writing profession; you work yourself into the writing profession. It’s hardly passive. When you get right down to it, it’s just more hard work.

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