Article / Writing

The harm done by claiming writers aren’t professionals

Many people would put creative writers (novelists, poets, investigative journalists, satire writers etc) in the hobby basket, alongside people who like camping, stamp collectors, and amateur basketball players. And for many creative writers, that might well be the case.

But for others, writing is not a side gig, a Sunday morning past time, or a fun little exercise – it’s something we dedicate our lives to. Those who are dismissive of our profession tend to do little writing themselves, and aren’t aware of the often-times tedious and rigorous editing process, the self training and practice that involves years of work before we get to a point where we feel proficient and “good” at what we do, the long long hours we work, our ongoing professional development through interactions with other writers, reading articles, researching, and taking courses as well as teaching them, the admin and marketing side of book publishing …and… here’s the big kicker:

We also contribute something vital to the world.

Imagine a world without books, articles, stories, or other forms of culture and creativity. What markers would we use to reference and develop our complex humanity?

Hell, I know there’s a few dumb books out there, and lately, as advertisers dominate Internet space – there’s a lot of terrible copy trying to pass itself off as journalism or a good read. But in this world, the same can be said of most professions: teachers and healthcare workers for example, who constantly have to compromise their standards in order to comply with the rules and keep their jobs.

Still, writers, more than most professions, are expected to work for free or very little, to go without standard worker rights like paid holidays, maternity leave, sick days, or any sort of stability at all.

In fact, in a world where shopping is “entertainment”, where wealthy people are perceived as more “successful” than the poor, and where people judge the amount of love by the amount spent on the ring, it’s no surprise that the way writers are paid (ie not paid or underpaid) is a big part of the perception that we aren’t professionals.

But why does this matter? The exploitation of writers is part of the general economic and social de-prioritisation of books, information, learning, and culture. It’s part of the mass shifting of time and material resources toward shopping centre construction and content marketing and away from libraries, critical thought, and community spaces.

On a more personal level, depicting dedicated, life-long writers as anything but professional devalues us and our work, and is pretty degrading.