The number of people who think of themselves as writers is far greater than the number who are writers. A writer is someone who writes. I wish to argue this using definition.
Shades of gray: If I drive stunt cars once a year, then I am a once-a-year stunt car hobbyist. If I do it once a year for enough money to live on, then I am a professional stunt car driver and can keep my mouth shut about how often I do it. If I do it every day without being paid, or once a month (think regularly, okay?) pretty much without fail, then I am an amateur stunt car driver.
The word “amateur” is applied to activities that not everyone does. If everyone does it, then there is no question of being an amateur or professional. You just do it. You have to do it, just as you and I have to breathe. I breathe for a living. And so do you. Does that mean we are professional breathers? We all know it pays to breathe.
What about this: everyone writes. Everyone I know, anyway. Unlike breathing, not everyone I know who can write does.
Let’s compare it to eating. Everyone eats, too. But if you stop eating, you are considered to be starving, which will have the opposite effect of eating. Technically, you are no longer an eater. You were once. Were you a good eater? That depends on whether the goal of eating—health and life—was adequately attained. If, given a dutifully functioning body, your activity of eating resulted in health, then you performed eating well and correctly. You may have been (or still are) better than an amateur eater; you were professional.
Hold on; I just established “amateur” as applying to activities that not everyone does. So breathing and eating do not work in terms of being broken down into amateur and professional, do they? What if I could give a definition of eating being both amateur and professional (a means of making a living)?
Professional eating usually results from study. One kind of professional eater is a nutritionist; the other is a food critic, often writing about restaurants. A more outdated professional eater is the royal food taster who eats in order to determine whether food has been poisoned. (Voila, a case of a “professional” eater who does not need study.)
I contend a writer is a person who not only writes, but who feels compelled to do so. It has nothing to do with whether a writer is any good in the eyes of a wide general public, dead or alive, nor indeed to a captured audience of kindred souls interested in whatever topic the writer writes about and in whatever style.
Think of the writer who is very good, like Emily Dickenson who wrote for no one but herself. Now think of the writer who is very bad, stylistically, in the opinion of at least ten thousand people with literary degrees, yet which person runs a blog and has a captured audience of three who enjoy what the writer is writing in his or her bad style.
There are people who enjoy dreaming of themselves as writers, fantasizing what it would be like to write the book of their dreams. Are they writers? No. They are dreamers. Nothing wrong with that. However, they are not actually dreaming of being writers, but of having written something.
Sidestep to sculpting. It would be lovely if I could say, “How do you like this wondrous statue of President Obama I have just done in my garden?” For that statue to be good enough for reporters to want to interview me and take a picture of my work, I would have to spend time learning to sculpt well. If my statue of President Obama could be mistaken for Hilary Clinton, I doubt I would achieve what I want from the dream—the fame, admiration, and money.
If it matters not to me whether my sculpture looks like Obama, Clinton or my husband, then it is the act of sculpting that defines me, and you will find me doing it in my garden, for the pleasure of the activity and what I learn to appreciate from it.