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What Makes A Writer A Professional?

T.W. Anderson said something about freelance writing professionals and it got me to thinking. What, I nattered to myself making a cappuccino, makes a writer a professional writer?

I know that the first time I felt like a professional writer was way back when I got paid the very first time for something I wrote. I’d been calling myself a writer before then, but with that small check in my hand I felt like I wasn’t faking anymore.

professional woman writingBut professional means more than just earning money at a job, or it should I think.

One of the definitions of professional I found at Dictionary.com that I like is: A skilled practitioner; an expert. (professional. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/professional (accessed: November 23, 2009). Of course, I wasn’t very expert when I got that first check, and I wasn’t nearly as skilled as I’ve become. But I was no longer a rank amateur either.

It certainly isn’t about how the writer dresses, although the truly professional writers I know clean up really well as I do. We may write in our pajamas but we can dress well and comfortably for the board room too.

I realized I make a distinction between folks who are writing full time or trying to and those who just seem to dabble at writing now and again. Those who have full-time writing jobs obviously qualify in my view and so do those who are freelancing full time. It’s a bit more iffy with those who are working at it, but there you have it.
Somehow, however, I don’t think that’s what T.W. was talking about. Professionals in any field have a certain confidence and tend to be respectful and thoughtful. The respond promptly to clients and tend to share information with other professionals.


By and large I think the real professional is open to new ideas. Of course, writers have to be open to new ideas if they are to keep their writing current. But the truly good ones are also alert and open to new ways of doing business.

Maybe it’s more a matter of I know one when I see one.

Do you have a definition of what makes a writer a professional? Does it matter?

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Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Anne,
    I agree with all the things said about becoming a professional, but after all else is said, there must be a state of mind that takes over. When you feel it…your on your way to becoming that professional that you so desire. I’m working hard at it and I hope your other readers are too.
    John

    • I strongly suspect I’ve got some of the hardest working readers on the planet

  • A true professional has no ego. They are proud of their work, but they don’t cross the line of letting pride turn into arrogance.
    .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..Tools of the trade, part II =-.

    • Anne

      No ego is probably what some call enlightenment; a worth goal, but may not be practical. A recognition of ones skills and a willingness to please the client worth pleasing is where I am.

  • Kevin

    A professional is more than someone who is paid for their work. Professionals put 100% effort into each job. Professionals meet all deadlines and put clients first.

  • I’ve been a graphic designer for the arts for 10 years. Only within the last 3 years have I also turned my hand to writing and now write for a couple of publications in print and online. As I pursue a place in writing, I believe professionalism is found in the following:
    Outstanding customer service
    Always keeping lines of communication open with both clients and publishers
    Respect for other opinions
    Hitting your deadlines

    Yes… professionalism and manners are always important and always relevant. Thanks for a great post.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Eero Saarinen – Retrospective at the Museum of the City Of New York =-.

    • Anne

      Well said, Lisa.

  • In my mind, a professional is someone who is first and foremost successful AND profitable at what they do. However, I think the most important aspect of what makes someone “professional” is how they treat their peers and others.

    Mirroring what Cathy said above, a professional is someone who understands how the industry works, understands how to evolve with the industry, and manages to do so while keeping their relations with their peers top-notch. They don’t close themselves off into a tiny corner of the web surrounded by their own yes-men and make derogatory comments regarding other writers and complain about the industry. A professional welcomes new ideas. A professional will always look at others in their industry and have the wisdom to look beyond a simple narrow-minded view of the industry and appreciate the whole.

    I’ve only been writing for 2 years. To some, that makes me a newbie, an amateur. I disagree. Professionalism has absolutely nothing to do with the length of time a person spends in an industry. To become a working professional one must display a professional appearance (even if it’s just a “web” appearance), have the knowledge and understanding to evolve with the times, but most importantly, a professional treats EVERYONE around them with respect.

    As I stated in another thread here, the worst thing about many of the so-called professionals is their attitude towards anyone else in their field. They have built up their own corner of the internet and have developed a sort of celebrity status in the sense that they have a few followers, a few people who continually coo over them and tell them how special they are, and a corner of the ‘net where they can say anything they want and a group of people will nod their heads, ooh and aah, and perpetuate the system. These, to me, are not professionals. These are the people who only step out of their bubble long enough to rant and rave against people who do things differently than they do. This is not a professional attitude. A professional understands that there are MANY paths to success, and not all of them are paved with your name branded on the side.

    For example, you might think a person working at McDonald’s might never make enough money to become rich, but that’s a false assumption because you do not know their situation. Maybe they live at home? Maybe they own their home. Maybe that 30 thousand a year they are making translates into 15 thousand USD a year they can put into the bank. Meanwhile, you might be making 80k USD a year, but between the mortgage, the 2 car payments, the health insurance for the kids, and all the other bills, your cost of living for the year is 78k, so you are lucky to put away 2K in a year. In terms of success and profitability the guy working at McDonalds has more than you, because of his situation. This is why it is absolutely vital to never point the finger at another person because until you walk in their shoes you have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA and therefore absolutely no basis for your judgment.

    I think, in closing, one of the main ways to tell a professional from a non is the way they treat others, especially peers. A professional wants to be part of the whole. He wants to succeed, absolutely, but he also wants to inspire, and he never, ever looks down his nose at others within the industry claiming that they are “wrong”, “stupid”, “hacks”, or otherwise.

    You can disagree with someone, but it’s important to disagree with respect. For example, I’ve criticized Deb Ng quite vocally a few times throughout the year (some agree, some do not), but I’ve always tried to let her know, publicly, that while I don’t always agree with her viewpoint I do applaud the services she promotes/offers through her website, and the inspiration it gives people.

    I’m a big fan of the concept of the ancient philosophers who got together and had meetings in the forum to discuss science, philosophy, theology, and otherwise. Without people disagreeing with them, people like Leonardo, Plato, Aristotle, Galileo and others would never have become inspired to move on to new heights and discover new ideas. I firmly believe that constructive criticism helps move us in the right direction for growth, but keep in mind it needs to be constructive. Simply telling someone “you are an idiot for taking jobs less than 50 dollars per article” or “you are a hack writer for choosing to write at Demand Studios” is not constructive in the least.

    In closing…I need coffee 🙂 Cutting this short before I make a dissertation-length article here.
    .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..Tools of the trade, part II =-.

  • A professional looks beyond his or herself to deliver what is best for the client. A professional balances their own views and values to deliver what’s best and knows when that may mean something outside his or her comfort zone. A professional definitely keeps an open mind and should always be learning new things, even if that professional has more years behind than years to come.

    At the end of the day, a professional feels good about what he or she has accomplished and appreciates all clients – even the most challenging as they offer new life lessons.
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..Not Exactly Beach Weather =-.

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