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Thread: What's a Writer?

  1. #1
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    What's a Writer?

    Joe Konrath had another interesting blog post today on the labels writer's, publishers, and the public like to use to describe a writer and how all those labels are misleading as well as factually incorrect.

    For example, a publisher only considers you a "writer" if you're a published author. And published by a company they approve of. (Not Amazon)
    A writer, on the other hand, might have a different criteria. They might consider themselves a 'writer' after they written their first book, gotten an agent, or sold their first book to a publisher.
    Joe nailed it on the head when he said, the public, the only people that count, could care less. They just want a good story. You write a good story and you're a 'writer' to them.

    I used to believe that simply finishing a book wasn't enough for a writer to feel like they are a writer. There also had to be some level of acceptance. If certain people accept the book, then the writer can accept they are, indeed, a writer.

    But which people? If a renowned agent accepts a novel is that enough?...Then I'd say I had an agent, who was trying to sell my book. But I didn't consider myself a real writer until I signed that first deal. It was how I felt. I was a nobody until someone invited me to be a somebody...until the industry validated me...Once I was ordinary. But once I signed the contract, I was a WRITER...Sort of like me in 2002. I didn't consider myself a writer, even though I'd written ten novels and had an agent, because the industry hadn't accepted me. The opinions of strangers clouded my opinion of myself. It seems that how we label ourselves often depends on how others label us. In some cases, it means getting their approval. In other cases, it means silencing the critics.
    It stopped and made me consider what label I used myself. He's right. I used to call myself an 'internet marketer', a consultant, and a number of vague titles when people asked. I did it because I guess, because I didn't believe MYSELF I was a writer. Although that was how I made my money. In the back of my mind, a 'writer' was someone like James Patterson, or John Grisham. Everyone else was play acting or pretending. Now when people ask, I tell them I'm a writer. It's easy, and it comes out of my mouth on its own. "Anything I've read?" is usually the next question. "Probably not," I'd say and I laugh.

    It made me stop and think, why am I a writer now, and not before? I guess the answer was, I didn't consider myself a writer until I could support myself and my family full time by writing. (My own internal definition) I've been doing that since 2006 writing nonfiction. But in my mind, I didn't consider myself a 'writer'. It was only after I self-published my first novel I dared using the term 'writer' when referring to myself. Konrath is right (again) we self-delude ourselves with labels, that are defined in our mind only. I'm just as much an artist and writer now, as I was then. There is no difference.

    Are you a 'writer'? If not, how come?

    Have you ever thought that it is only your own thinking and your own self-applied labels limiting you?

    Have you ever considered that the self-applied labels have no basis in reality?

    Or to quote Kenny Rogers are you 'looking for love in all the wrong places'?

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  3. #2
    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    Great post, thanks. When Konrath talks of a "writer" here, I think he's referring to an "author", and an "author of fiction" in particular. More labels.

    Yes, I consider myself to be a writer - because I write for a living. Like you, I use the informal "earn a living" definition. In the same way as, although I love art and some people have admired stuff I've done, I would never refer to myself as being an artist. (Maybe a p!ss artist sometimes). To some extent then, the definition depends on other people. I can't just decide that I am a writer (or an artist) if those terms are to have any meaning for me. Before I would call myself either of those, it would require other people to think so too and to be willing to pay me money for the work I do for them. Some people would abhor such a commercialised definition ("art" shouldn't be measured in monetary terms). Each to their own. You can call yourself anything you like. I can call myself an astronaut if I want to. But there would be no basis in reality for doing so, and it's unlikely it would be of any benefit to me to stick that label on myself.

    Even writers who don't do writing jobs for others still have other people to please and persuade others to part with their money. A successful author needs people to buy his/her books. I've written a few books now (all non-fiction) and have sold a few of them, but I would hesitate to call myself an author in most situations. After all, they're only Kindle books and you don't need any skills or talent to get published on Amazon. Some people even get rich by publishing badly written PLR crap on there. Apparently it's all about marketing.

    All the things I use in the course of my "trade or profession" are simply tools or vehicles to enable me to write. I have no great interest in computers for their own sake. Similarly, all the periphery of my trade - websites, blogs, forums, SEO, MMO, marketing - are part of the means to an end, and that end is to earn a living as a writer. Sure, I'm interested in the subjects I write about (business, travel, food). It helps! The only reason I even started a website in the first place (more than 14 years ago!) is because I wanted to create an online magazine. One doesn't write in a vacuum - not if you want to make money from it - therefore marketing is crucially important. These days writers can do more for themselves, whereas in the past they'd have relied on their publisher or some other cog in the machinery to do that side of it.

    Now a writer has to be an entire manufacturing plant, and be involved at every stage of the process - R&D, product development, design, product creation (manufacturing?), project management, HR if outsourcing is required, marketing, sales, distribution... Whew. When you're self-employed as a writer you have to do all these things, or at least be responsible for them if you're not actually doing them yourself. Once you're successful, you can pay someone else to take this off your hands if you want to. In the early days sometimes it's easier to take on a freelance writing job for someone else and let them deal with all that side of things.

    Oops, I've just realised I wrote my response before I've read Konrath's blog post. Ah well, that's my opinion anyway. I'll trot over later and have a look. Maybe he's written something to change my views.
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  5. #3
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    I would never refer to myself as being an artist.
    My definition is anyone who CREATES anything. A child making mudpies is an artist. The definition, in my mind, also applies to engineers. They would probably abhor the label.

    Apparently it's all about marketing.
    Isn't marketing also creating? It's creating sales with the written word. And, IMHO, that IS an art.

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    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    My husband has just CREATED a bloody big mess on the floor. (Don't worry, it's only papers.) Does that make him an artist? I don't think so. And if he tries to tell me it's art, then I'll CREATE a nice big lump on his head with my rolling pin and call that art.

    I can't agree that all creation is art. There must be more to being an artist than simply creating something.
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    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    I can't agree that all creation is art. There must be more to being an artist than simply creating something.
    It depends on your definition of 'art' and 'creation'. (More internal labels and definitions)

    Now we're getting into philosophy, but I think, in this world, a person either spends time creating, or spends time destroying. That is their basic, underlying, temperament. Simplistic, perhaps, but the observation, in general, holds up. Whether the papers on the floor constitutes art, are a matter of opinion of the one viewing. For example, a person could be caught in a snow storm and freezing to death as more snow covered them. That person is likely not to see 'art' in his situation. But that doesn't detract from the beauty of nature around them, or the individual masterpieces of each individual snowflake. All of which were 'created'. You're applying your opinion and viewpoint to the SITUATION, not the underlying art involved in the chaos. A mathematician may very well see art, or even God, in the chaos. Understanding that each paper landing a certain way, in a certain pattern, the odds were billions to one of that happening and couldn't be reproduced or replicated. The person who has to clean it up only sees a mess.

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    I have known self-declared 'writers' and 'artists' who use the label as an excuse for lazy and selfish behaviour, leaning heavily on spouses and friends rather than coping themsleves with basic living. None of them has shown any sign of anything that I'd recognise as talent, either. I'll go with a definition that says the person has found an appreciateive audience, whether or not they can earn money at the game.

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    Define "appreciative audience"? Does that include friends and family who for whatever reason prefer not to tell the "artist" the truth about their talent?

    It's not a bad idea, though. If you have an appreciative audience of objective people... Next up, someone is going to say "Define 'objective people'".

    But I agree, you shouldn't have to earn a living at something before you can call yourself whatever it is. Anyone who writes is a writer. Someone who gets paid for writing is a professional writer.

    Next?
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    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    There's a concept in sociology that says people become what other people think of them. The example he used was in the old days, when towns were smaller, that if you come from a "bad family," society pretty much expected you to be a drunk and wife beater. If you came from a "good family" then the opposite was true. Society mapped your future character based on your family's past character. If you defied the definitions that other people arbitrarily put on you, society would find a way to beat you back into the place they had defined FOR YOU. I grew up on a small island that had 500 people, and I can tell you, it's true. You were expected to be, what people thought of your family. I never much cared for closed minded people, so my decision to leave the island and get out from underneath the oppression was FURTHER proof that they were right all along.

    We see these stereotypes, label them, and make snap judgements all the time. A "redneck" is an ignorant, cross-burning, racist. Yet I've met many who had PHD's. An "ex-con" at least in this culture, is labeled, and at a disadvantage for life in terms of employment and housing. You might as well commit suicide in this country if you ever get labeled a "sex offender." "Child sex offender" is even worse. Even if it was consensual and the girl was 16 and you were 18. Doesn't matter. The male raped her, and he is a rapist. Period. For the rest of his life he won't be able to get a decent job, live in good neighborhoods, or have his children attend good schools. If you were/are the child of a sex offender, then, by society's wisdom, something also must be psychologically wrong with YOU and the label casts its shadow over even the children of the person labeled.

    My point here is society's and internal labels matter. Externally, they form the opinion of the world around you, and dictate what kind of opportunities are available to you, both professionally and personally. Internally they define who you THINK you are, which, in turn, becomes what you are. Society treats a janitor and a doctor differently, yet both are simply labels and have nothing to do with the character of the person discussed. Which goes back to my original post. I didn't define, or label myself as a writer until "X" happened. I slapped an internal label and definition on myself which had nothing to do with my talent as a writer and served only to limit my own self image and expression.

    In some ways I disagree with
    Someone who gets paid for writing is a professional writer.
    History is loaded with artists who weren't appreciated and died broke. By that definition, does that mean Poe wasn't a professional writer? (Although I understand your point) Is Jim Waller less of an artist because someone doesn't BUY his work? Am I less of a writer because I haven't sold a gazillion copies of my book on Amazon? If I did sell a gazillion copies on Amazon with my first book, would that make me a better writer than I am now?

    That was Konrath's point. He had written 10 novels, but because he wasn't "published," he wasn't considered a "professional" either by the publishing establishment, or HIMSELF. (He swallowed the BS himself) He went on Amazon and became a millionaire, WITH THE SAME 10 BOOKS that the publishing establishment had rejected. Nothing had changed. But now, because he was making money, the magic wand had been waved over him, and he was a "Professional Writer and author." He called it for the bullshit it was, and said "don't make the same mistake I did."
    Last edited by dsieg58; 11 March 2014 at 10:08 am.

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    New Member Mentor JimWaller is a Premium Member
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    I've struggled with labels myself in the past. Just a few years ago, I might not have claimed "artist" as I had no formal training, had sold nothing, and was not part of the "artist community". I still had the same talent, and had painted quite a number of paintings, so the criteria of creation was not what I used. What changed for me was my mindset. I have plenty of "proof" that I'm an artist. I could say I'm internationally known as an artist, because I've had friends from multiple countries that I've given art to as a gift. (Not to mention the members here who have seen, and "know" my work. lol) But, I tend not to use that as it sounds a bit pretentious.

    I have other titles that I have every right to use, but I tend not to use them other than to amuse myself. I could insist people call me reverend. I'm quadruply ordained, carry cards in my wallet identifying me as a member of the clergy, and have performed religious ceremonies, but in everyday life, I tend not to use it. I could use the letters O.C.P. after my name because i'm an ordained clergy person. But I don't usually use them. I could insist people call me doctor. I have a doctor of divinity, which is honorary, but it entitles me to use the title of doctor. Again, I don't use the title in my everyday life. I have the right to use C.H. after my name, because I'm a certified hypnotist, but again I tend not to use it in my everyday life. I prefer simply to be Jim.

    My point is that the labels we choose to use have to "feel" right. Calling myself "the artist Rev. Dr. Jim Waller C.H., O.C.P." just doesn't "feel" right. (But, it amuses me. LOL) It is all subjective.

    Art in general is subjective. I could take a flashlight (torch), slap a placard below it that reads, "illumination" and make an argument for that being art. Is it art? For some people it would be, for others, it wouldn't. I could have the same make and model flashlight (torch) in my cupboard for emergency power failures and not consider it art even after having placed a placard under the other one. So even to an artist the same exact item coulld be subjective as to whether or not it is art.

    When I was in an art class in junior high school, the teacher showed us a number of slides asking us each time if it was art. One particular one that stands out in my mind was a cup full of artists brushes. Most of my classmates said it wasn't art, but rather it was tools used in the creation of art. Personally, I coulld see it as art and not just tools used in the creation of art. That exercise really opened my eyes to what art is and how it is so subjective.

    Similarly, titles like artist or writer are subjective. I imagine it is that way for most "creatives". There are a lot of factors involved with how comfortable you are with a given title or label. I guess that makes "comfort" another factor in whether or not you apply a title or label to yourself. It is part of whether or not it "feels" right.
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    New Member Mentor JimWaller is a Premium Member
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    Here is an interesting, related article: http://thewritelife.com/call-yourself-a-writer/ I'm not sure if the idea was pinched from Joe or if it is coincidence.
    Help bring Janice home My mother-in-law was hospitalized while on vacation (holiday) We're trying to bring her home.

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