Tuesday, August 06, 2013


A horror writer named Lisa Morton posted the following quiz on the blog of the Horror Writers Association L.A. Chapter as a way to determine if you are a real writer, a pro, rather than a hobbyist. According to Morton, you need to answer yes to at least eight questions in order to be a pro. I have printed her questions in bold and my answers in regular typeface.

1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?

No. I like neatness. I admit that my filing is backed up.

2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?

No. I don't like to go out in the evening. My friends know this and rarely ask me. When I do go, it's usually to attend my fiction writing group.

3. Do you turn off the television in order to write?

No. I don't own a TV.

4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?

I'm 50-50 on this one. Useful criticism is useful. But I love praise.

5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities (either research or networking potential)?

No. Though the places I see on vacation may turn up in later fiction.

6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?

Yes. I don't like small talk one bit. My friends are mostly writers of fiction, poets, critics, journalists, reviewers, serious readers and so on. Any conversation is likely to be about writing, though not necessarily writing as a business.

7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?


8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?

No. Living in a garret has never appealed to me.

9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?


10. Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?

Probably not. A sane person has ambitions that are achievable. When you are young, you may not know what you can achieve. At my age, you ought to have some idea. I would like to have more money and more fame, but I'm not going to bend myself out a shape trying to get either. At this point, my main ambition is to continue writing and have a pleasant old age.
A lot of writers have posted their answers to this quiz. Everyone I've read has failed the quiz. Neil Gaiman claims that he answered no to every question.
I think the moral of the story is: people write in different ways. I don't much like the division between pros and hobbyists. The word professional is slippery. It means both a person who makes money, maybe all her money, from a certain kind of work. It also means well and seriously done. "This work is professional."

There is a difference between people who write to be published, those who write as fans to share with other fans and those who write for themselves. But what precisely is the difference? Emily Dickinson wrote for herself and is considered one of the two great American poets of the 19th century. (The other is Whitman, who --I think -- was self published.)

The problems of dividing pros from fans from people who write for themselves is so difficult that I think it shouldn't be tried. I write for publication. Communication with readers is hugely important to me, as is recognition from editors, critics, other writers and so on. But there are plenty of people who don't write for formal publication in a magazine or a book, and writing is making them happy.


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