By Olivia Trappen
When someone writes, it makes them a writer. But at what point do they become a professional writer?
Does a writer earn the term “professional” after passing a threshold of money and fame, or are there certains genres and documents that are considered professional versus unprofessional?
In a recent class, I listened to the presentations of my fellow senior writing students. The assignment asked us to choose a writing sample and give a pitch as if we were in a job interview. Being in such a diverse field, no person’s dreams were the same; however, one student’s career outlook got me thinking.
She remarked that she was “not a professional” and didn’t ever want to be a “professional writer.” Her career aspirations were to be hired at a nine-to-five job that would simply serve to pay her bills while she pursued poetry in her free time. Of course, she would welcome any fame and success that she earned for her poems, but she was pessimistic about how realistic her dreams were.
The way I see it, everyone in a capstone class for a writing degree ought to be seen as a professional writer. In fact, I thought this was ultimately our collective goal; so, what are the restrictions when it comes to being labeled as a professional writer?
How can someone know if they’re a professional writer? Here are some ways to tell:
Purpose and Audience
By publishing writing in any meaning of the word, a writer is, at the very least, in the beginning stages of becoming a professional writer. This may include:
- Submitting to contests, journals, magazines, or other publications
- Creating documents for a job or for an organization
- Being commissioned (paid) to write a document of any genre (creative, technical, etc.)
- Posting articles on a blog or website (just like this one!)
A writer’s audience will also be a telltale factor, both in terms of genre and size. In a previous article, Chelsea Best defined professional writing as a genre that “is used to convey information, to persuade, to provide instruction, and even to stimulate a specific action or emotion.” So, no matter if a piece of writing is creative or technical, if it is serving an audience–if there are people reading what they have to say–that writing is professional to some extent.
Studying writing can also help to become a professional writer. This includes:
- Pursuing a major or minor in writing at a college or university
- Taking online or local courses on writing from nonprofit organizations or individuals
- Watching educational writing videos and/or reading about the field of writing in order to expand knowledge and skills
While college is not necessarily the right path for everyone, there are many ways for someone to advance their understanding of a topic. If a writer is frequently feeling inspired to grow and learn in order to become better, they’re on a great path to becoming a professional writer. Even if their writing is more of a hobby than a career path, professional writing is about becoming better through practicing, editing, revising, and research. Any writer who grows their education on writing is already more professional than those who don’t.
Willingness to Receive Criticism
- Attending workshops
- Asking colleagues, friends, or fellow writers to read and/or provide feedback
- Accepting and analyzing the feedback
Essentially, a writer establishes their developing professionalism as a writer (or really, in any skill,) when they actively seek improvement and growth. As Suw Charman-Anderson put it so perfectly,
“There are no ten questions that will tell you whether or not you are a professional writer. If you want to call yourself a professional author, go right ahead. Maybe it’s an aspirational moment defining your future self-identity, or maybe you write full-time and earn boatloads of cash. It doesn’t matter, so go on, knock yourself out, you fabulous professional you.”
Writers in any sphere are writing for their reader, doing research, and practicing. Every genre of writing informs the others and possesses transferable skills. So, whether a writer is leaning more towards the creative side or the professional side, it’s important to remember that these perspectives aren’t in competition, but rather, they are complementary.