Wednesday, August 7, 2013

State Your Genre and Occupation!

What is it about books that compels us to classify them into smaller and smaller niches? Telling someone you write is like opening yourself up for a rapid-fire interrogation that would make a prosecuting attorney on a prime-time legal drama wince.

Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction, huh. Genre or literary? I see, you write genre fiction. Which genre? Romance? Mystery? Horror? SF/F? Ooooh, SF/F. Love that stuff. Science Fiction or Fantasy? What kind of fantasy? High fantasy or urban fantasy? Does your world have sparkly vampires or scary ones? Does it have thriller elements? Romantic elements? Comedic?...

It's so wearying. Let's just cut to the chase: In case any of you haven't figured it out yet and you're just desperate to know, I write urban fantasy novels with scary vampires (actually demons, since I'm not writing about vampires at the moment, but that's not really the point) and romantic elements. Or how about this? So long as we're narrowing it down, let's go all in. Should one of my books ever be published, I'll let you know the ISBN. I don't think it gets more specific than that.

But it's not just the stories we feel compelled to divide and subdivide and classify down to the smallest detail. We also have to do it to the writers. Traditionally published or self-published? Digital only or print? Are you published or unpublished? Are you a professional writer or a hobbyist?

That last one has been causing something of an uproar this week, at least in the small corner of the publishing world I follow. Here are some links: the quiz itselfJohn Scalzi's take, Chuck Wendig's handy flow chart, this article that popped up today on the Forbes site. (I tried to find a few links supporting Morton's quiz, in the interest of fairness, but my Google Fu was not strong enough to locate any.) The kerfuffle basically boils down to this: someone posted a quiz to tell you if you're a professional writer or a hobbyist.

(I generally try not to wade into kerfuffles. I've had bad experiences igniting flame wars on blogs in the past and, to be totally honest, while lots of topics in publishing catch my interest, by the time I get around to blogging about things they're usually old news. But I figured what the heck? This issue seems pretty cut and dry and I might as well talk about something topical every once in a while. The Idea Salesman says blogging about current events might get this blog some readers other than the bots.)

My stance is pretty simple: why do we care?

Seriously, why would anyone care whether I consider myself a professional writer or a hobbyist? I'm just a person babbling on the internet. I really don't think you need to check my credentials for that. I certainly don't care if you're running around calling yourself a professional writer or a hobbyist or an aspiring novelist or a Scribe for the Ages.

(Truthfully, I think the list read more like Ten Questions To Know If You’re A Fanatic, but that's neither here nor there.)

I suppose if we, to borrow Ms. Morton's choice of words, want to get down to the nitty gritty of it, the traditionally accepted definition of a professional is a person who is paid to do something. It's not sexy, it doesn't evoke images of smoky coffee houses and hipster glasses, but there it is. Whether or not you like your friends, how much television you watch, and what kind of house you live in don't really enter into the equation.

The premise is flawed. I could answer yes to the question about being more interested in spending my time writing than cleaning, but I suspect that's got less to do with my dedication to my craft and more to do with the fact that I'd rather spend my time having dental surgery than cleaning my house.

I don't consider myself a professional writer for two reasons: 1) I don't get paid to do it yet and 2) I don't have any immediate plans to change that fact. I have no books under contract, I don't have short stories out there under submission, and I'm not querying agents, going to conferences, or taking classes right now. I write for a couple of hours in the morning on the days when I can drag myself out of bed before the kids wake up. That'll probably continue to be the case until my kids are in school.

I'm lucky; Long-Suffering Husband has a good job and I have the luxury of not needing to get paid for my writing. So I can take my time with it and not stress myself out trying to make it work.

I also don't really consider myself a hobbyist, because that term implies to me a kind of... leisure. I'm not just slapping words down on the page for my own amusement. Getting up at 4:30 in the morning to pound out a story that frequently leaves me wanting to beat my head against the desk isn't my idea of relaxation. The fact that on days when I don't beat my head on the desk I do find the work relaxing also isn't the point. I'm writing with publication as the eventual goal. I might be taking the slow road, but queries and conferences (and hopefully contracts) are somewhere down there around the bend.

I'm a writer. (I have the hat to prove it and everything.) I write. Barring a drastic change in my brain chemistry, I'll probably continue to do so in one form or another for the rest of my life. Whether I ever get paid for it or not won't change that fact. Whatever extraneous labels you feel the need to stick to my forehead probably won't change it either. I don't feel the need to shove you into a random niche and I'd really prefer it if you didn't try to shove me into one either.

Okay, I'll get down off my soap box now. Please feel free to blast me in the comments and scare me away from ever blogging about current events again. Or, you know, don't. I'll leave the choice up to you.

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