A few years ago, during a night out, I was introduced to a man in his early twenties that was the school acquaintance of a friend. During the general polite conversation that followed I asked him what he did for a living, to which he replied, “I’m a photographer.” I immediately found the subject interesting (I love photography) and started asking him lots of questions – what his main points of interest were, who he worked for, how he got into it – and after a few minutes it became evident that he wasn’t a photographer at all. In truth, he was a barman with a good camera who liked taking photographs. I was a little confused (and slightly insulted) by the fact that this man had ‘bent the truth’ in an attempt to appear more successful or creative – I’ve done plenty of bar work over the years and in my experience it is a physically and mentally exhausting job that requires lots of patience, particularly when dealing with drunken, aggressive members of the general public. It’s a shame that he felt that he had to hide a profession that he should have been very proud of.
When I first started this blog I had quite an unnerving experience with a man who persistently harrassed me for my personal Facebook details with the excuse of wanting to connect with me because he liked my writing. He didn’t write anything of his own – his blog consisted of reblogged posts. His messages became more frequent almost aggressive, and after several polite ‘no’ responses I eventually grew tired of his requests, quite nastily asked him to leave me alone and blocked him from my account. He sent one more message that went straight to my ‘spam’ folder which said:
‘I am a professional writer too, just like you. I want to speak to writers.’
I am not a professional writer. I am a teacher who likes to write. Writing is a hobby, teaching is my profession. I gained my QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) years ago and have been permanently employed as a teacher ever since. I feel that this qualification allows me to refer to myself as a teacher when asked what my profession is. I am also a violinist – I have a performance degree from a good music college and am a member of a professional string quartet – and I can claim this because we have been paid on hundreds of occasions for our music-making services. However, as this is a creative subject I find there are often lots of people who are willing to argue the point of professionalism, particularly when discussing the idea of how good someone is at something.
In a world of daily advancements in affordable technology and social networking, everyone now has the opportunity to explore their creative side. Anyone can take a photograph, start a blog, self-publish their own book and/or create their own internet pages and websites. Of course, that doesn’t take anything away from the sheer amount of work and courage that goes into the self publication of books and novels, courage that I don’t possess myself, but it is possible for anyone with drive and ambition to do it. I’ve only had my blog for sixth months and in my own little world I feel that I have made a small success of it, but I never write in the hope of becoming a professional blogger. Admittedly in many of my posts I have referred to connecting with ‘fellow bloggers,’ but in truth I don’t feel qualified to refer to myself as a ‘writer’ or ‘blogger,’ I simply use this phrase because it seems easier to do so in order to create a sense of community. I also spend lots of time taking and editing photographs and I’ve had some fabulous feedback about the pictures that I have posted, but I would never refer to myself as a professional photographer as I have never earned any money for it.
This morning I had a conversation with Caitlin Kelly, the author of Broadside Blog. I’ve followed her blog for a while now – I admire her writing style and the hints and tips that she offers about writing, blogging and jounalism – and a comment that I made on her latest post about writers that are expected to work for free led to a short discussion about the concept of professional job titles that are sometimes exaggerated in order to gain a higher status in the eyes of others. I asked her what her thoughts were on the appropriate time for someone to start referring to themselves as a professional ‘writer.’ This was part of her response:
‘…someone who is soi-disant “a writer” is someone I would need to show me their commercially accepted and published work — and a consistent sales record in the thousands — to qualify.’
Essentially, I feel that the term ‘professional’ should be used when the subject is actually a profession ie. money is earned for creating a piece of writing or taking and editing a photograph. However, this also poses the question of the regularity of payments earned from creative work – does somebody earn the right to call themselves a writer if they have been published once? Does a piece of work have to be published in a nationally or internationally recognised forum in order for it to be recognised as valid?
But what do you think? Do you refer to yourself as a professional ‘blogger,’ ‘poet,’ ‘writer’ or photographer when asked what your job is? At what point do you feel it is acceptable to use these terms?