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What Makes a Writer Professional?

professionalThe other day new writer asked me, “What makes a writer professional?”

I asked her why she wanted to know.

“Well, I earn supplement our household income by writing,” she responded. “I wondered if I can consider myself a professional writer if I’m only working part time?”

As we kicked this around a bit, I realized there is very little standard when it comes to writers. For example, Wikipedia says:

“A professional writer may be freelance, meaning he or she works on a self-employed basis, or fully employed in an occupation where a professional writing standard is a prerequisite, such as journalism, marketing, advertising, public relations, the military, or technical writing.”

Well sure, but that feels convoluted to me. First of all, I’m not sure what “a professional writing standard” actually is these days. And this definition leaves out novels and other works of fiction. It doesn’t mention blogging either.

What is a professional writer?

In my mind the definition of a professional writer is a writer who gets paid for their work. Yes, for me it’s that simple. I don’t care how much they are paid – a penny is fine. Writers who haven’t been paid are, in my opinion, not true professionals. They may become so later this afternoon, but until then…

What difference does it make?

I came up with this definition when I started writing. Having business cards and a bank account for my writing business all helped me take my work seriously. Every time I submitted an article or a query I gave myself credit for working as a writer. That magic moment when I got my first payment for writing was when I became a pro writer in my own mind. For me it happened when I took an inside job editing a magazine. I was getting paid as a professional and it felt darn good. The next pay for writing came when a query of mine was accepted.

Thinking of ourselves as professionals is awfully good for our self-worth; would you agree?

Speaking of self-worth, although I’m slow to mention it, Lori Widmer is again celebrating Writers Worth Month on her blog. Take a look – it’s worth spending some time with.

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman, freelance writer

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Thank you for sharing this great article. I am a new blogger, this article really gonna help me in improving my writing style. Keep writing these kinds of article 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing such valuable information.Keep on posting more n more useful information.

  • Practice Practice Practice and Training. I Think people who don’t what to be successful, Find all the information underrated.
    Your article was a great read.

  • Hi Anne,
    In my opinion “Professional” means you get paid.
    In order to get paid, you must cultivate your skills and knowledge as a writer, AND get attention so that people are willing to hire and pay you.

  • Lisa Cunningham

    Great answers. I agree, Anne, it means being paid WELL for your writing. Like Louisa May Alcott supported her whole family with her work. It also means you are educated and willing to read many, many books to improve. You can’t rest on your laurels. I knew a guy who wanted to write a graphic novel and he wasn’t a reader, either. BRRR. Wrong answer! I started reading at age 4. Not to brag, but my mom taught me using the Sears catalog, of all things. Yes, even then I was a shopper. I was reading newspapers at age 5 and asking my mom what “rape” meant. Precocious, yes. Future writer, definitely. When you ask why a lot, when you’re a voracious reader and researcher, when you write journals and books for fun as a kid, when you ask your mom to send a magazine article to a real publication at age 9…That’s what I’m talking about. It’s not just the pay, to make money for a car or “fun,” it’s about PASSION. Yes, you need to do it, you might do it for free but you’re willing to put in the hard work to be paid and paid well. And nobody can stop you from getting the skills and education to do just that. I went to journalism school, after writing for my high school paper. It’s a bug, an itch, a yearning to express yourself and inform others. To me, it’s about educating people and spreading knowledge. The only things I excel at are writing and teaching, which is common for authors. We like to help and tutoring or teaching a class is what makes us happy. Again, it’s not about the money. It’s PASSION.

    • All true… the story of your mom teaching you to read with the Sears catalog is a great one…

  • Why is it that writers seem to be the only ones who understand this point. Professional equates to being paid.

  • Spot on with the “Professional = paid” tag line. It’s the meaning of the word professional.

    As for everything else around process, quality etc, well that’s all subjective. It’ll help you become and maintain a professional status, but that’s all.

  • It’s so easy to become “Professional” if you’re basing it on getting paid for it. I think writing experience and education is what makes a writer truly professional. The more you write, the better you get at it. The more you read, the better you write. Well that’s how it’s been working for me 😀

    • Yes, reading is important… enough so that if someone tells me they want to write but don’t like to read I suggest they find a different career.

  • Hi Anne,

    Being a professional writer needs practice and determination. It’s not an easy task, you need to be ready to spend time in research and improving your writing style as well as see others what they are doing better than you.

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