Friday, October 21, 2011

Are you an Amateur or a Professional?

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Professional writers write for money. Amateurs write for enjoyment. If you are writing with no expectation of being paid, you are an amateur.”

I read this somewhere, in a comment by an author someplace on the Internet. 

It set me thinking.

My approach to writing so far can be summarised as follows:

1.Write the stories in your head, write them the best way you can. Write daily, and try to improve your craft each day.

2.Submit your writing only if you think you have said what you want to say the best way you can say it.

3.If you get accepted, move on. If you get rejected, move on. Either way you would not stop writing, so there is no need to dance too wildly in your joy of acceptance and appreciation, and mope for days because a rejection kicked your butt.

4.Write because that is your place in the world. Writers write. If money and recognition come your way, that is a bonus.

But the statement, “If you are writing with no expectation of being paid, you are an amateur” gave me pause for thought.

So does placing money as my secondary goal, far below my primary goal of crafting the best story I can, make me an amateur?

A plumber is a professional, a lawyer is a professional, a doctor is a professional, and it is true: they all get paid to do their job. So if I’m not paid to write my stories, and write religiously despite the fact, does it reduce me to the status of an amateur?

I’ve published stories in print anthologies by established publishing houses, been mostly paid a pittance for my work, and in some cases not at all. Does that make me an amateur?

 If ten years from now, I continue to get paid next to nothing for my writing, (which is, after all, the case with most writers), will I remain an amateur?

This troubled me for a while.

 I wondered whether I should let go of the sort of stories I write, and go for the genres which sell better—try my hand at crime and romance, just to see if I could not make enough to make a living, and thus graduate to become a professional.

I looked around and figured that most genre authors do not manage to make a living out of their writing, even the bestselling ones.  So, the fact that they continue to write shows that they write because they want to, or because they have a passion for it.

I’m in good company, I realized.

I’ll continue to write articles to make money in order to support my career as a fiction author. It may not be the best-paid career in the world, but it is still a career.

And then, I thought of another thing: if I were a doctor, I would still treat patients for free if I thought that was the best for the patient.

Conclusion: I would have remained somewhat of an amateur in any profession. So if I’m an amateur at writing fiction, so be it. Writing is what I do. It is my place in this world, and being the best writer I can be is still my primary goal. If I do get paid to write fiction, that’s great. If I don’t, that’s great too.

So, are you an amateur or a professional? And how do you decide which is which?

Thanks, Misha, for letting me guest at your excellent blog, and thank you to everyone reading the post. Any questions and comments, I’m here to chat with you all.

az2b.JPGDamyanti lives more in her head than in this world, adores her husband, and loves her pet fish and plants. She is an established writer for magazines and journals. Her short fiction has been published in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Muse India and in print anthologies by Marshall Cavendish, Monsoon Books, and MPH publications. Her book, A to Z Stories of Life and Death, is available for download Kindle Smashwords Nook and Diesel.
Twitter: damyantig


  1. Very good post! I say ignore the 'writing snobs' and keep on writing. I'm not published yet but I will be. At least, I've got a couple of blogs with followers. WHatever! I'm a professional who isn't paid yet that loves to write. There you go.

  2. Great post! I would have to say based on requirements, I'm definitely an armature. I write more for the enjoyment than getting paid, but I'm not against getting paid though, lol.

    Have a great weekend! :)

  3. Hehehe one only needs to be qualified to be a professional. Money or no money. ;-)

  4. I was shocked when I saw that quote. But I guess with self publishing, anyone can be a professional. But does that mean you're only a professional if you make more money than it cost you to put out the book?

    I agree with Shelly's comment. :D

  5. According to, an amateur is either unpaid, a fan of an activity, or inexperienced.

    In the old days, we used to call someone who isn't paid, yet serious about his vocation an apprentice. If he starts to make small but regular income, he's a journeyman.

    Ref: writing to what's popular
    Writing to what's popular is no guarantee that you'll get published.

    Ask any editor at any reputable publisher, it's the writing, not the genre that ends up with a contract.

  6. Shelly, I was in your boat two years ago, and I kept writing for the sake of writing. It paid off in publishing terms, I've been published in a few print anthologies now. "a professional who isn't paid yet that loves to write" is exactly how I describe myself :)

    Amy, neither am I against getting paid, lol :)

    Misha yes, one only needs to be qualified--I'm still earning my qualifications, and pondering about taking up an MFA.

    Stina, the quote shocked me too.

  7. Maria, I agree with you when you say:

    Ask any editor at any reputable publisher, it's the writing, not the genre that ends up with a contract.

    I wish more writers would believe that.

  8. Hi Misha, I am an amateur writer,
    Hoby and write as I hope to become a poet.
    happy weekend.

  9. Good post.

    One thing I'd add -- "amateur" need not be a perjorative.

    The absolute best college athlete in the country is considered an "amateur" because he or she is not paid for their work. Yet that "amateur" can be understood to be better than any number of "professionals" in that same sport. (Witness how Cam Newton took the job of established "professional" David Garrard straight out of college this year...)

    Ultimately, in my opinion, the important thing is to know your own writing goals and to try to live up to those and leave any labels aside.

  10. I don't worry too much about this personally. I'm self published and I've sold books. On the other hand I have a day job which pays the majority of the bills. As for the whys: I write because I have stories to tell. Some I make free some I charge for. In my mind I would probably consider myself a professional but to others I'm surely an amatuer.

    Ultimately that doesn't really matter to me. Pro or not, I am a writer. That's the only label that really matters to me at this time.

  11. Well, I am an amateur, like my heroine sleuth. She's not trained or paid for her tireless and enthusiastic investigations. It doesn't make me any less of a writer or any less talented. I totally agree with Michael Haynes. Labels do nothing but make people feel inadequate. I set the expectations I aim to reach.

  12. Michael, personally, I agree with you.

    I do not like labels myself. But that does not mean the publishing world won't use them.

  13. Rick, the label of "writer" is the most important to me too.

    The problem is, a lot of people don't consider folks writers unless that is their 'paying' day job. I'm heartened to know at least some other writers think like me :)

  14. Laura, yes, I'd rather be the 'amateur' I'd love to be than the 'professional' I'd rather not be :).

  15. I have trouble with statements like that too. It almost seems to say that if you're a professional you can't enjoy writing. And I do enjoy writing. I'd rather be an amateur, enjoying crafting stories, and writing stories I want to read, than a professional who gets paid, but wishes they were in another job.

  16. I'm an amateur astronomer. I don't get paid. Nor should I. Saying I am doesn't bother me. Amateurs make most of the discoveries these days anyway. It's pure pleasure.

    Writing is the same. Pure pleasure. Amateurs are usually enthusiasts, so I see nothing wrong with claiming the status.

    Then there's the image of the embittered professional. So, I suppose neither is all roses. Maybe just go with 'writer' and leave the label out of it.

  17. Damyanti, I've gotten a mixed bag from others regarding the writer label. On the negative end there are always those who don't take it seriously. However, I've found that's tempered by people who appreciate the amount of commitment that goes into putting a book together (and usually realize that they have nowhere near that level of commitment. :).

    On the whole it winds up averaging out. Now my friend who's a lawyer...he takes a lot of abuse. :)

  18. Does that mean Emily Dickinson is an amateur. After all, she didn't get published 'till after she was dead.

  19. A few other friends have had others say similar things about writers. It makes me wonder why are they so concerned with labeling other writers? Maybe they're just out to put others down, elevate themselves. When in reality, as long as you love writing, does the label matter that much?

  20. Like so many other people, I was of the mistaken view that I wasn't a real writer until I was published. For me, as long as you're working at improving your craft and you keep practicising, then you're a writer.

  21. CD, Agree.

    Rick, I've had people tell me any one can sit down and write. They would write a book themselves if they had the time etc etc. If I'm not making any money why am I still so madly working at it, for years know the drift :)

    Mary, I've learned the hard way to leave the label out of it.

    Angela, yes, I think she would have been labelled an amateur. That is what her peers and publishers would have called her. Which is why labels leave me cold.

    Patricia, exactly. It only makes the hard job of writing even harder.

    Joy, yes, I believe that. Some people I know also believe that I'll always remain a writer, never become a published, successful author. That used to bother me some time ago. Not any more.

    I know that I'll keep writing, whether I become a successful author or not. So as long as I want to to do it, it is fine to keep writing as an amateur and trying to improve.

  22. Keep writing the stories in our hearts, stories that we are passionate about and hope someone pays us to publish them :). That should be our motto.

  23. I mostly agree with the statement, although the word amateur seems harsh. It doesn't reflect on quality though. Snookie has a book - does that make her a good writer? (She didn't even write it, so she's not a writer of any sort!) I know photography draws the same line between pro and amateur - if you've ever received any amount of money for a photo, you're a pro.

  24. Great post that poses a great question.
    If I wrote only for the money, then I would be working for Hallmark Cards, or slutty romances/soft porn. Not to denigrate those writers, but I think of myself in a different writing world.

  25. I think you have to write like a professional long before you get paid. And I think this writing business is really, really hung up on titles; which is unfortunate.

    But I'm glad you posted - it's a great question to tease out your thoughts on why you write!

  26. I've always assumed writing would be my hobby and I would be an amateur, writing for the fun of it. Now that I'm doing it full time, I want to know more about making money from it. Still not sure of the answer to making it.

  27. Writing is a passion. I wish I could spend all day writing. I wish it could be my full-time job. But it's not -- yet. Will it ever be? That remains to be seen.

    So yeah, I'm an amateur. But all aspiring professional athletes have to begin as amateurs, to play for the love of the game, not for money. If it happens, hooray for them. If not, it's their passion that keeps them from throwing away that ball/racquet/bat/cleats.

    Great post, D. Thanks Misha for hosting her!


    Join me in the Trick or Treat Spooktacular! Could you help make the Grand Prize a brand new Kindle Touch?

  28. I think the key might be that a professional, besides following codes of ethics, etc., earns his living primarily from his profession. Of course, this is a grey area. How much of your living has to be earned from your profession? 100%, 50%-100%, 0%-100%. Do writers have codes of ethics? Not to my knowledge. So even if you earn 100% of your living from writing, being a writer may not qualify you as a professional. The term 'professional' has become greatly watered down in our modern world. Every business thinks of itself as a profession. But that is not so. There are some pretty clear requirements for something to be a profession. To the best of my knowledge, writing does not meet all the qualifications. No writer is a professional, because writing is not a profession.

    So, what is writing? Is it a hobby? Is it a passtime? Is it a passion? Is it your source of income? Is it an art? Is it a craft? It can be any of those things. But a profession it is not. There are no clearly defined rules, procedures, codes of ethics in the field of writing.

    So it's a non-issue.

  29. I'm in a few print anthologies too, unpaid and yet I feel it validates me a bit after all I've written. I think agents are more bothered that you act professionally rather than whether or not you are a professional. I think there is a difference.

    p.s. I like the athlete analogy. I used to compete regularly on the track and I won the British Championships two years running in Tae Kwon-Do, was never paid or called a professional. And it rocked! :)

  30. Richard I think that we writer's could think of a code of ethics if we wanted to: I.E. not to censor ourselves for the comfort of the narrow-minded, to be the good scribes of our times etc.

    However, I've been thinking about it and I've realized that the writer was FAAAAAR off base.

    If you are a REAL story writer, writing is an art. The passion and the drive to succeed should come out of your love of writing.

    I have NEVER heard of someone saying he's a professional painter, unless it was a guy who paints walls. So my guess is that professional writers would be those who write content for money. No particular passion, but you do get paid and it fills blank pages with words that make sense.

  31. Hi,
    I've met some very highly paid people who work in an extremely unprofessional manner. Whilesoever you're working to improve your skills, and dedicate yourself to the task, you're professional.

  32. Well, I enjoyed reading this. Writers write as I was just noting to another writer. Does it really matter "amateur" or otherwise? Enjoy the process and the product.

    On another note: WHAT??? I finally have time to myself again to catch up and you are posting irregularly? LOL, do what you gotta do.

  33. Great article; the statement gave me pause as well. I guess I am an amateur for now.


  34. It is interesting to see the different viewpoints about amateur vs professional writers. Angela also brought up a good point about how Emily Dickenson wasn't published until after her death. Though it would be great to receive a paycheck, it's still rewarding to participate in this online classroom,

  35. Amateur. And I'm fairly comfortable just being an amateur writer, since at this point I would not say that getting paid for writing--even being published--is my No. 1 priority. I write because I enjoy it.

  36. Thanks everyone, for the insightful comments.

    Misha, terribly sorry to have been MIA, had been felled by a migraine over the weekend.

    I love the various viewpoints that the writers who commented here came up with, and I'm kind of glad none of them quite agrees with the statement that set off this post.

    There is one article to which someone linked at my announcement for this post, and I think it sums up the professional vs amateur debate quite nicely. I'll post some of it below, but do go and read the entire article if this topic interests you:

    So what is the difference between being an amateur and a pro?

    A pro loves what she does MORE than an Amateur does…

    Because a pro sits down and does all the mundane stuff in order to uphold the inspiration and to maintain a routine.

    A professional loves what she does, but also knows what she does.

    An amateur only loves what she does.

    Being an amateur is groovy to begin with

    But think pro

    Professionals don’t have to deal with criticism because they look at their work objectively.

    They KNOW they are not their art

    That’s a pro

    A pro is patient

    A pro contributes to her work EVERYDAY

    An amateur waits till the weekend

    A pro don’t make excuses

    They make hay while the sun is shining

    Think pro...perhaps?

  37. I think this entire debate may be rooted in the suggestion that amateur means inferior. When we say a piece of writing is "amateurish," we don't mean "this is the work of an unpaid person." We're saying, "this is the work of someone who hasn't studied and worked hard at the craft of writing." When we refer to someone as a "real pro," we mean that person adheres to high standards. And so when we try to discuss the labels "Amateur" and "Professional" in terms of being paid, those other implications seem to linger, clouding the issue. I agree with many of the other commenters: the labels aren't very useful in any context.

    I'd like to commend you, Misha, on choosing Damyanti to write a guest post. She's one of the most skilled and imaginative writers I've encountered. And she's a good friend, as well.

  38. Charles, I agree. It confused me for a time, but I think I'm happy to be an amateur now.

    Thanks for the compliments. The one I'm thrilled with is being called a good friend.:)

    You are one of the most insightful and humorous writers I've ever known...and if there is one new blog anyone wants to follow this year (or the next) it ought to be yours!

  39. Charles, I agree. It confused me for a time, but I think I'm happy to be an amateur now.

    Thanks for the compliments. The one I'm thrilled with is being called a good friend.:)

    You are one of the most insightful and humorous writers I've ever known...and if there is one new blog anyone wants to follow this year (or the next) it ought to be yours!


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