Are You A Real Writer? A Handy (And Hasty) Flowchart!

(For your reference: HWA article by Lisa Morton: “Ten Questions To Know If You’re A Pro.” This flowchart is my answer to the sentiments posed there.)


  • I love your flow chart! I enjoy writing and will always write until they peel my cold dead hands from my keyboard … and even after I’m gone, I think I’ll be in Heaven (or Hell – depending where I end up) sitting and typing more stories and books just to entertain. 😀

    And money isn’t the bottom line with writing, it’s the fact we enjoy ourselves while we write. 😀

  • August 6, 2013 at 10:09 PM // Reply

    Yeah, I was rather amused to read some of the follow-ups to that post via Twitter. When someone as prolific and respected as Neil Gaiman fails your test of whether or not a person is a professional writer, your test is severely broken.

    • Neil Gaiman denies being an adult though, so is probably prevented by law from doing anything professionally.

      Ironically, as I scored very highly on the list, my inner critic is trying to exploit the reaction to the list as evidence I am focussing on the trappings and not the actuality. Pernicious creatures, your inner critics.

  • I guess shed agree with my Mom’s claim that “a tidy house is a sign of a misspent life.”

    I definitely have the untidy house. But I’m not sure it’s all because I’m using the time to write (though some of that is true). I read a bit more about the story behind the quiz, which makes it a little less obnoxious, but I still like Chuck’s take on it much better 🙂 I made money as a writer last year. Not much, but some. I’ve been calling myself a writer on the strenght of that.

  • I love writing – I write everyday – post that often – someone criticized my book – I’ll take that as acknowledged as an author… is there an initiation on Mount Wanahakalugi? “Shark Bait’s” been taken.

  • Yay! I thought so. I have only a non-fiction short story to my credit. Does this mean I can stop apologizing until I publish my fiction?

    You rock!! Thanks for taking on the elitists.

  • Reassuring – as apart from a competition-winning limerick years ago (prize £50), all my published work to date has been printed in anthologies to raise money for other people’s charities…

  • Wow, that 10-point checklist is 100 proof bullshit, served straight up, no chaser. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like that. Is she serious? I bet it’s a joke. Especially those last two items — you have to do all that for at least 5 years, AND (the kicker) know you’ll “likely never meet your ambitions.” Definitely gotta be a joke. I looked her up — she has several books out. She knows better. Much silliness there is in that one.

    Thanks so much for this brilliant — if grunge-backgrounded — flow chart (I woulda made it with unicorn taco decor myself, but there’s always next time). I first learned this lesson when I started running. I was sure there was some kind of barrier calling myself “a runner” — like I needed to finish a 5k first, or magically reshape my body to make it wiry and hipless. But eventually I realized the truth. You just hafta run.

    And that shit, as they say in biznez school (one assumes), is a translatable principle.

    • My issue is less that she posted it or apparently believes it — because, hey, the Internet is full of silly shit — but more that the HWA has it posted. An organization for professional writers. Troubling and a little shameful.

      — c.

  • You know you’re in trouble if your boss thinks a motivational poster will improve office morale. Sorry, but the same goes for validation-by-flow-chart.

  • Item 10 from Lisa Morton’s list is interesting: “Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?”
    Funny, but that’s not far off a fair definition of an amateur: someone who keeps doing what they love, even though the results are often disappointing.

    I’m trying to imagine H.L. Mencken wasting his time on Morton’s test. No, pretty sure he’d be writing instead….

  • Sounds like projection of her interior struggles onto the writing population. A need to validate herself in the face of not meeting her own expectations. If Gaiman doesn’t qualify, how awesome does that make her in her own mind?

  • I don’t buy that the label “professional” means anything in this context. Either you take your writing seriously (though not without humor) or you don’t. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, or whether someone pays you for it. What matters is the value YOU put on your own writing.

    If you let your contemporaries judge the worth of your writing, you’ll likely go to your grave a failure. Consider the “success” of Herman Melville (thanks to a recent Writer’s Almanac):

    “After Melville got married, had four children, and moved to a farm in Massachusetts, he became friends with Nathaniel Hawthorne and went to work on Moby-Dick. Hawthorne encouraged him to make the novel an allegory, not just another adventure story. Melville became consumed with writing Moby-Dick. When he finished the novel he wrote to Hawthorne (to whom he also dedicated the book), “I have written a wicked book and feel as spotless as the lamb.” He thought it was his best book yet. But when Moby-Dick came out in 1851, the public did not agree. It was too psychological. His American publisher only printed a few thousand copies, and most of those never even sold. After his next novel, Pierre (1852), got terrible reviews, publishers stopped wanting to publish Melville’s work. The manuscript of his final work, Billy Budd, was found in his desk after he died, by which time he had become so obscure that The New York Times called him “Henry Melville” in his obituary.”

  • Thank you.

    I like to view it as hanging on for dear life from a branch halfway down a cliff rather than hardcore. But I suspect that is just sugar-coating it for myself.

  • love it! haha! That’s an awesome flowchart, and extra simple for bleary mornings like this one when my brain hasn’t turned on yet and I write and think in run-on sentences.

    re: the morton test. My house is constantly messy. Not because I have no wish to clean, and certainly not because I don’t clean. It’s just that, well. I have kids. Lots of them. And cleanliness is short-lived here simply because I have ‘help’ messing the place up.

    Not that the state of my house means I’m a professional. It rather means you might want to warn me before coming to visit. Besides, *cough* I’m by no means professional, since I don’t get paid for writing. I still need to finish my shit. So I’ll get on that and do chores after the writing is done.

    I think perhaps it’s good that I laughed at her list, though. Busy as my life is, I’d rather HAVE a life and enjoy it, including all the voices telling stories in my head, as well as my friends and my kids and the whole enchilada of fun that makes life fulfilling. Like reading Chuck Wendig’s blog 🙂

  • I’m on a rant here and this “you’re a writer” chart seems the perfect opportunity to see if the hive mind here can relate. Many writers find their way up (or is it down) the writing flow chart — especially the “get paid” section — by participating in residencies and appearing in journals. However, many — I would claim the majority — require application and/or submission fees. Therefore, I have concluded that such avenues are only for the rich, which makes me suspect if their work is truly any good or if they just have the money to participate in a lottery of “we make it so.” Thoughts, Herr Wendig? The rest of the Bearded Clan here?

  • Yeah, great job trying to stuff millions of insane, creative people into a nice neat category. Just because she’s like that doesn’t mean that all writers must be like that or else they can’t be considered real writers. So what, having small talk with close friends makes me a “hobbyist?” I’m not completely defined by my career, so that makes me an amateur? What a load of horseshit! Way to judge people based on completely insignificant things, lady.

    I like your flow chart better, Chuck. It’s so simple, yet so true. People need to stop viewing writers as people with a certain personality, because we’re all different and we all have different interests and priorities.

  • Chuck’s flow chart dodges the distinction between someone who makes (an unspecified amount of) money with their writing versus someone who earns a living writing. As I posted above, the “professional” label doesn’t mean much of anything. But it means even less if it includes writers who make $245 a year selling blurbs to regional magazines.

    That said, I completely disagree with Morton’s sense that you’re not a serious writer unless it’s your “career.” Why pigeonhole ourselves that way? My “career” includes a job as an editor, but I’m also an author, musician, music teacher, composer, and policy analyst. In my (quasi) adult life I’ve also been a wilderness ranger, mandolin builder, roofer, house painter, and circus clown (no shit). All of which made me a better writer, not a less professional one.

    As a noun, professional is vapid. As an adjective, it might describe the qualities we bring to our work: dedication, discipline, discernment, passion. Those are more meaningful to me. Am I a professional writer? Who cares? What I am is dedicated, disciplined…passionate.

  • Wow, if I replace all the writerly terms in the HWA article with ‘doing science’ (you know, causes I’m a scientist for a career and all), guess what? Apparently I’m not a professional scientist, because I failed to make the 80% mark after question 3.

    Why is it that do be a professional writer I apparently have to be bat-shit-crazier about my work than I have to be about a ‘regular career’? Those 10 questions are bat-shit crazy. As if I really needed to prove that with a non-biased control career. (Take that, lady, saying I’m not a scientist!)


  • As a noun, “professional” doesn’t mean much of anything. As an adjective, it might suggest the qualities we bring to our work: passion, dedication, discipline, discernment, experience. Those are the criteria that matter.

    That said, Chuck’s flow chart dodges the difference between someone who makes $35 for a magazine blurb versus someone who earns a living by writing. You could split hairs further by arguing over what it means to “earn a living.” In the end, none of that matters either. I’d hate to think of all the great writers we’d ignore if Semantic Police like Lisa Morton decided to flush everyone who didn’t earn a living from their writing. Goodby Melville, Poe, Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, Kafka, Thoreau, Flaubert…..

    • “Professional” is an adjective, here. And with it comes, I think, the somewhat agreed-upon definition of “as regards one’s profession doing work that befits compensation.” Meaning, usually, money.

      It’s neither good, nor bad, but carries that distinction of being paid for what you do.

      — c.

      • Sure, Chuck, but earning $10 for mowing my elderly neighbor’s lawn last Saturday doesn’t make me a professional landscaper.

        And the planet already suffers from a glut of professionals-in-name-only whose output isn’t worth 0.00001% of what they’re paid to produce it (the U.S. Congress and Wall Street brokers leap to mind).

          • August 7, 2013 at 4:42 PM //

            Caveat emptor.

            “Professional” means more than just getting paid. It also connotes credibility. Us editors deal with this a lot because we’re not certified or licensed like some other professions. So prospective clients get duped far too often by “editors” who can’t tell a colon from a rectum. That helps me understand why writers who take assignments and commissions might want to distinguish themselves from the professional lawnmowers. Which is why getting paid matters less than being demonstrably dedicated, disciplined, discerning, experienced….

          • In this case, “professional” is an essential bare minimum, and if you want to know just *how* professional a writer is, the great thing is that writers generally write into a public space. Our body of work is our resume. This is largely true of editors, too, who have a theoretical body of clientele who will speak to their merits (or lack of them).

  • Hi Chuck,

    Tried to go to the HWA article by Lisa Morton: “Ten Questions To Know If You’re A Pro.” by clicking on the link. Got an all-black webpage and no way to read the article. Bummed

    • Hi. Ran into the same trouble. There actually *is* text there, as I saw when I highlighted the page (learned to do that as a rule for sites with dark background). In Firefox, you can choose to strip the page of its style (View>Page Style>No Style) so as to view it.:) Hope that helps! (I’m hoping there is a similar fix in other browsers. I tried in Chrome, but as I am unfamiliar with that, I wasn’t able to find a fix.)

    • Something’s either wrong with the site or they’re taking the article down, as everything’s broken. Though Dume is right you can still swipe to highlight to read the article.

  • I have a slightly different take on professional: the day you print something that some one pays to read, you became a professional writer. (I developed this definition teaching journalism students who probably make less than book writers.) Writers write. Professional writers take their readers seriously.

  • I am always saddened by the amount of inter-group shaming that people engage in, whether they’re writers or fashion designers or garbagemen. A lot of it seems to be missing the point. When I go to get lunch, I could care less what the short order cook’s qualifications are. I just want a good burger. As a reader I don’t give a hoot about whether a writer has been to conference X or has an MFA from Y or is a member of Association Z. I just want a good story.

  • Neither rain, now snow, or sleet will stop a writer from their appointed number of words for the day – you are a writer – and it doesn’t matter what you write.

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