A post by author Lisa Morton (whom I will NOT link to from here) and the various reactions around the interwebz about it, most perfectly represented by John Scalzi’s rebuttal, has been making the rounds within the communities of writers I belong to.
And it’s really, really interesting not just for writers, but for all of us, I think, because it raises the question (in a strange tribute to The Velveteen Rabbit) of “what makes you a real _____?” Fill in the blank with “author” or “musician” or “artist” or “soccer player” or whatever. The point is, how is “real” definitively defined?
As Scalzi points out, it is easy to judge whether you are a professional at what you do: are you paid to do it? Then that’s it, yes, you are professional. But that’s really a separate question from whether you are a real artist, or a real knitter, or a real coder.While I am, indeed, a “real” writer both in the sense of having worked in the field one way or another for nearly 20 years (journalist, columnist, technical writer, novelist, blogger) and being a professional as I have been paid for my work, I do wonder about other things.I love to dance and do it every day. Am I a “real” dancer? I love to draw, and am talented at it if fairly unskilled. Am I a “real” artist?
Part of me says “no, what are you crazy? No!” I mean, prancing around the house to the Beastie Boys is not much of a career in dance, I think we can all agree.
But then I think of some fanfic writers I know, fabulously talented people who roll out several novels worth of stories every year, and yet eschew chasing a career in writing. They prefer the jobs they have as lawyers or IT professionals or social service providers. But I challenge anyone to dare to say they are not real writers, not with the amount of dedication they give their craft, the time they commit to it, and the skills they have mastered.
I think the essence of being “real” at something is not about hitting the points scored in some arbitrary test, but rather is found in the passion and dedication your give to your activity of choice. As I told a friend recently who is facing some life changes, he may not be able to be a star player on a top-ranked lacrosse team but that doesn’t mean he can’t be involved with the sport in a variety of ways. If you love something, if it is important to you, it will take up a part of your life. That is what makes it – and you — “real.”