True story :
A friend of a friend goes to a posh dinner party.
‘And what do you do?’ the hostess asks her.
‘I don’t do anything,’ the friend says. ‘I’m just myself.’
‘Well,’ says the hostess, ‘That’s not good enough!’
A dinner party guest asks the writer what he does for a living.
‘I’m a writer,’ he says.
‘Oh really?’ says the guest. ‘I’m going to write a book when I retire.’
‘What do you do?’ asks the writer.
‘Funny, that,’ says the writer. ‘I’m going to take up brain surgery when I retire.’
Such stories put me in mind of all the times when I’ve been asked what I ‘do’ - the added implication being for a living. Conversations usually run along the following lines:
Host: ‘And what do you do?’
Me: ‘I write.’
Host: ‘Are you published?’
Host’s eyes assume a distant, glazed look and he finds a pressing reason to bustle off to harass some other poor soul – preferably one with a career. After all, why be bored by someone who hasn’t ‘made it’ in their field?
It can be tough to stand up and say ‘I’m a writer’ when your work isn’t being published. And yet that’s what we are. Writers. We may not be making much (or any) money from it, but we may work just as hard and with just as much commitment (possibly more, since we write with nothing but hope) as those who are published. And all this for no paycheck at the end of the month, no return for our investment of time and energy, not even, often, a reader or a witness. Yet we may be regarded as ‘dabblers’. Second rate. Amateurs.
In fact, we are amateurs. In the original and best sense of the word, since it derives from the Latin amo – I love. We write because we love to, have to. And loving someone, or something, means being committed to it. Attending to it regularly. Wanting the very best for it.
It’s time we as-yet-unpublished, committed writers had a name. So here’s a suggestion:
Prose-Ams are amateurs (lovers of the craft of prose) who practise that craft in as professional a manner as we can.
A Prose-Am is likely to do most or all of the following:
- read widely in their chosen genre
- learn their craft thoroughly – from courses and workshops, from writers groups, from ‘how to' books
- spend inordinate amounts of time writing
- gather with other Prose-Ams to exchange information and expertise
- take criticism and separate the useful from the non-useful
- learn to trust their own gut instinct, their own voice, their individuality
- research their market thoroughly
- revise, revise, revise
- submit intelligently formatted, grammatically correct manuscripts
- learn to take rejection (and how!)
- develop the traits of persistence and tenacity, together with the skin of rhino and the sensitivity of a deer.
So next time that party-host spits peanuts in your face and asks what you do, draw yourself up to your full height, thrust your shoulders back, look him in the eye and say:
‘Me? I’m a Prose-Am. And I’m proud of it.’