Monday, August 25, 2008

Is Being a Writer Less Prestigious Now?

I saw this post over on Bly's Blog the other day asking the question: is it easier to become a writer now than it was? And does that make the job less "prestigious"?

There's a certain glamour to being able to call yourself a writer. It's one of those jobs a lot of people wished they could do--and who succeeds and who fails, particularly in fiction, is often up to chance and the fickleness of the market. Like many "glamour" jobs--actor, artist, musician--most people don't make any money in this field, and a chosen few strike it rich.

But how prestigious is the type of writing freelance copywriters do? I would put forth the opinion that it's got more in common with other freelance business owners--like freelance graphic designers, coders, SEO's, and so on--than it does with fiction writers. We don't work at the whim of a market. We don't usually go through agents. And from what I can see, anyone with the requisite abilities and a smattering of business sense can make a living in this field. Sometimes people are impressed when I tell them I'm a writer. And I love being able to say that. But really, it's not as impressive as they think.

Bob brings up the fact that there is more competition than ever--and that more people than ever are becoming writers. That makes it less prestigious. But to be honest, I don't find myself tripping over someone who's a freelance writer every time I go out. To be honest, I rarely meet other people who do what I do. And I live in a pretty big city.

I think what's important isn't how "prestigious" your job is, but how much demand there is for your services and how much competition you have to deal with. While there is definitely competition out there, I still find there's plenty of work to go around--enough that I'm perfectly willing to refer a businessowner to another writer who specializes in the project they're looking for. There might be more competition due to the Internet and bidding sites nowadays than the old-school direct mail gurus experienced in the past, but let's face it: a lot of that competition is from people who write severely-misspelled articles for $3, not people who write expert direct mail copy that pulls in sales for $3. This is not the same level of competition that people like Bob are working at, and I don't feel professional writers should be threatened.


Anonymous said...

I think it all comes back to the definition of "writer." If you're thinking Pulitzer Prize winning author, you think "prestige," but if you think of the local newspaper journalist writing stories about the local fair--or the one writing the obituary section--well, not so much! All writers work hard, it's just that some aren't going to get the credit for it because they're not writing bestsellers, or making $100K a year.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!

Star Lawrence said...

A lot of "real" writers think the present atmosphere isn't "threatening" them, but I disagree. I have been full-time freelance, sole support of my family, for 27 yrs and the atmosphere is horrible now with the $3 garbage jobs and bid sites--I call it a white collar Rust Belt. This attitude and tendency to want something for nothing or move on to someone else is trickling up, let me assure you. Medical Economics--a big boy--cut rates from a buck to 40 cents! That is only one example!

Peter Jurmu - Creative Byline said...

Regarding prestige:

"If you have a success you have it for the wrong reasons. If you become popular it is always because of the worst aspects of your work."

I marvel more at the writer who toils in obscurity than the one who can't say two words without people writing them down as though the writer had just delivered a sermon. The dignity of one who perseveres is unassailable.