The same day I got the pictogram, a work colleague from a remote office asked me if I spend only part-time at my full-time job of, among other things, managing (editing and writing) a busy blog. And that was just before one friend corrected another’s misconception of what I do: “He’s a blogger, not a writer,” she told him. Sigh.
Perceptions are always hard to influence, especially when there are broadly accepted mis-generalisations about one’s calling. For example, on the one hand, being a ‘medical professional’ seems always to earn everyone’s instant respect, even without any further information. On the other hand, in many parts of the US, a waiter just won’t be able to finesse the job description. If you’re young and fit, most people will assume you’re a wannabe actor.
So it is with most bloggers. Unless the people you’re dealing with have had direct experience with the substantial challenges of maintaining a blog (whether or not you’re trying to make a living from it), the assumption will always be that you’re a wannabe writer. Not a ‘real’ writer, just someone still learning how not to leave ink blots from a dipped quill. Someone trying to build a following bigger than just your mom.
But it shouldn’t have to be that way. While much of what I write here will certainly be rudimentary to many of you, perhaps even sound silly to others, I can’t say how often I’ve had to remind bloggers to be a bit more earnest and aggressive in establishing their credentials as meaningful contributors to society. Just because blogging has barrel-bottom low barriers to entry (dropping lower by the day) doesn’t mean it’s a sphere of bottom feeders. There are things we can and should all do to help ourselves – and one another – out. Here are the four most I consider to be most fundamental.
1. Think and speak of yourself as a professional
You may have a day job. You may have several of them. Most or all of them might be bread-winning engagements. You may even be earning a living through your words, some of them made public on a regular basis. Or you may be pumping out parables on your own time at lunch, after the kids are at school or during the late-night 30-minute buzz after Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert set the news neurons spinning. It really doesn’t matter.
As far as I’m concerned, if you self-identify as a writer, then say it loudly and proudly. I don’t know many companies that will hire anyone who’s ‘sort of’ a specialist in anything or simply does it in his or her spare time. They want confident practitioners. So don’t cut yourself short. Even if you get by on bravado, as long as you can do what you say you do, no one will complain. Well, you better be able to do what you claim, because if you don’t you’re muddying the waters for those of us who are. And we will complain. Loudly.
2. Broadcast what you do
Regular and reality TV have done wonders for a growing number of featured careers. No one questions the workplace intensity in a hospital, law firm, or police or fire station. No one laughs at the perseverance of garage-based craftsmen churning out art on wheels. But no one yet really gets what writers do, something that doesn’t quite lend itself to action-based serial broadcasts with no voiceovers. How many times (and for how long) can you watch someone sitting at a desk researching arcana and then weaving it into a gripping narrative?
Yes yes, we all know that there’s a lot more to writing than the time spent actually writing. Someday a scribe with the right television credentials will devise a Smash that glamorises the novel-writing process, but until then, we’re left to own devices. Which means you need to talk (nay, boast) about how you fill the hours of your day. An article or self-imposed deadline may not put lives on the line, but I still think of myself as part doctor, part lawyer, part cop, part fireman and even part artisanal mechanic and I routinely try to communicate the intensity and discipline required to write something meaningful. Now if only my work colleagues were listening…
3. Bury your doubts
Think carefully about how you and your blogging buddies answer the question “So what do you do?” Even if someone coughs out the words “I’m a writer” or “I’m a blogger,” four times out of five it will be with a question mark at the end. “I’m a blogger?” Is it that there’s a chance no one will know what a writer or blogger is? That’s not usually it. Really, there’s a deeper and darker skepticism that you need to stifle. It means you’re not sure that blogging measures up well against whatever social and career standards have tortured you since youth.
It’s time to close the huge gaping opening for doubt. If you’ve done any public speaking, or, better yet, standup comedy, you know that your listeners’ confidence in you can be easily and quickly undermined by as little as a faint or tremulous voice, unsteady stance, agitated hands or poor eye contact. In conversation, answering a question with an end-inflected assertion is pretty much the same thing. It’s like when an insulted Mr Somebody Famous aggressively asks “Do you know who I am?” as a way imposing his ego, only to have Mr Unimpressed say “Quick, call the hospital! We’ve got another one who’s forgotten who he is.” Pie. Face.
4. You are a writer who blogs
In our age of specialisation, going granular can be important. All those expensive grad-school career tracks insist on it. However the environment in which a work focus is practiced is more or less immaterial. An obstetrician is still an obstetrician whether in a hospital, a private clinic, the back of a taxi or a refugee camp. Lawyers skilfully bill for time no matter where they are.
So why does it matter where writers are published? That’s the immaterial environment. We should happily explain the subject areas in which we have a depth of experience – in my case travel and culture – but who cares whether I publish in print or online? I do both. And who cares whether I get paid for my byline, I volunteer a guest post or I self-publish? I do all three. After all, I’m a writer. I’ll turn my words to any service and on any platform. Am I blogger? Yes, because I’m a writer. Do I like macaroni? Yes, because I love pasta.
How do you label yourself? Do you make pick a well-defined small niche, or do you go straight for the core principle behind who you are?
Image via BudgetAir