Professionalism

Widdershins On Red VelvetWe work bloody hard, we Writers. We don’t have a union to guarantee us a livable wage. Almost all of us have ‘day jobs’ to put the roof over our heads and food on the table.

We’re one of the best organised professions, yes, professions, ever. Everything we ever need to know about all aspects of our craft is somewhere in the interwebz, or in the resources section of our local libraries. We, in general, help each other up rather than tear each other down.

… so, when someone makes a comment like this, I get steamed.

Every sunday evening The Writers Chatroom has a regularly scheduled Guest Speaker. Two Sundays ago it was a bloke by the name of John Yamrus who writes poetry. Not that he calls himself a poet. He’d rather be a plumber than a poet.  He finds being called a poet ‘degrading and limiting’.#

# Source – Lisa Hazleton’s Reviews and InterviewsInterview with Writer and poet John Yamrus

 This is the verbatim text of his response to a question I asked that evening in the Chatroom:

4:19 PM [Widdershins] … what is it about the genre/format(poetry) that speaks to you as a means of telling your ‘songs and dances’?

4:20 PM [john yamrus] i think the thing that keeps me going at this (i’ve been publishing for 42 years now) is that i’m still capable of surprising myself. when i can’t do that anymore, when it’s no longer any fun, i’ll take up house painting. done

 4:21 PM [redacted] LOL

 4:21 PM [redacted] house painting sounds fun

4:21 PM [john yamrus] and it’s more honest work, too. done

It was an off-the-cuff remark, intended (I hope) to be funny, and in keeping with the persona he portrays in his interviews. It didn’t do a thing for me, but I thought at the time, ‘What the hey, everyone’s entitled to their opinions’.

They I thought about it some more.

When the Writers Chatroom opens it’s doors twice weekly, an eclectic mix of writers gather. All sorts of genres are represented, and the writers themselves are at all levels of experience. (there’s also usually a great selection of yummy eatables on a table at the back of the room)

I wondered if someone, standing quietly to one side of the room, or sitting in the very first row scribbling notes furiously, heard that comment and thought to themselves, if someone who’s been in the business that long, and with so many pieces published (do a search of his name and you’ll see what I mean) thinks that his chosen profession is less honest than house painting, then maybe I’m in the wrong business.

I’m not saying we should coddle or lie to ourselves and each other, about how bloody hard this work is. That would be a grave disservice, and no, there aren’t fancy degrees from prestigious universities and colleges that will guarantee us a living wage, but writing is an HONEST, valued, essential, PROFESSION.

Without writers (of poetry, of fiction, of self-help, technical manuals, non-fiction, prose, plays, screenplays, travel guides – I could go on but you get the point) our society wouldn’t function in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed.

For those of you who have doubts, or feel vaguely guilty that you don’t have a day ‘real’  job, or steal minutes away from other demands on you time because you MUST write, do not let anyone (including those pernicious inner voices) convince you that you are somehow ‘less than’ because you’ve chosen to join the HONOURABLE PROFESSION of WRITER.

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“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it”  – Anais Nin – 1903-1977

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“Some critics will write ‘Maya Angelou is a natural writer ‘– which is right after being a natural heart surgeon” Maya Angelou

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15 comments on “Professionalism

  1. suelange says:

    You’re thoughts are correct, but regarding the comment Mr. Yamrus made: it sounds to me like he was just being self-denigrating.

    I like this:

    “…writing is an HONEST, valued, essential, PROFESSION”

    Like

  2. It does amaze me how writers who’ve been at this for a long, long time have a tendency to say cynical, disheartening things to an audience of newbies. I’m advanced enough in my own career to understand the fringes of what he means–because the business/career, as opposed to the craft, of creative work can leave one feeling a bit sour in the mouth–but there’s no way in hell that Jane Innocent-and-Hopeful can see it as anything other than a hope-killer. I try very very hard not to do this myself, and I get equally annoyed when someone Respected says such downer things without thinking of the effect he’s having on the dreams of his audience. :/ Thanks for posting, it’s a good reminder to watch my own mouth at the upcoming conventions this year! 🙂

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    • Widdershins says:

      You’re welcome. I reckon there should be a required class on ‘Be aware of what comes out of your mouth’ in the I-am-going-to-be-a-public-figure manual, that everyone has to pass before they get their Certificate of Public Figure-ness

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  3. S.P.Bowers says:

    Yikes. I can’t believe he undervalues something he’s been doing for so long. Writing is HONEST, it is HARD, it is also a WORTHY profession. One I am honored to be a part of.

    Like

  4. Erin says:

    There are those who don’t think something you can do when spending most of your time staring off into space counts as real work. I would imagine that his comment may reflect that — whether it’s his own belief, or something he’s merely heard from a lot of people. It’s sad that he’s perpetuating this idea that ideas and art aren’t important.

    (Fortunately, my husband is a mathematician, so he completely understands staring off at nothing. Or suddenly going “That’s it!” and scribbling notes on the nearest scrap of paper while in the midst of doing something else.)

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  5. Wonderful, wonderful rant, Widdershins! Thank you!

    Or to quote my granddaughter: “And now we need a story.” 😀

    Like

  6. jannatwrites says:

    That is an interesting comment he made. ‘Honest’ is an odd choice of words….I don’t think there’s anything dishonest about writing.

    Like

  7. Nisha says:

    If he thinks its less honest work, then why does he do it???
    I won’t lie, I sometimes feel this way myself, I feel like I’m wasting my time but that’s only because society has created a framework of rules to live our lives by. If you don’t have a 9-5 job and earning a set salary every month then there’s something wrong with you – that’s THEIR rule, not a personal truth. Writers make invaluable contributions to society and I like to think I’m doing my part, even if its in a small way. So he can take his comment and…(bleeeeeeeeeps)

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  8. I hope he was just being funny. When I’m tired and fed up and feel like a blank state or a hack (which has been a lot the past lately), I think about other things I might do. But not ever do I think of my profession as a writer as being less worthy than any other…It makes me wonder—just a bit—why he thinks his work is not honest. Fortunately, people who are passionate about writing will do it regardless of what others may say to discourage them.

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