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Ken Honeywell

Ken Honeywell
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
March 20
Well Done Marketing
I'm in love with my wife; a writer and producer living in Indianapolis; partner at Well Done Marketing; founder of Tonic Ball, a benefit concert that's become one of the city's favorite annual events; co-founder of Second Story, a creative writing program for kids; a vegetarian; lead singer of Yoko Moment; a life-long New York Mets fan; a sucker for waltz time; crazy about Pernice Brothers; etc.


SEPTEMBER 27, 2010 6:06AM

What We Write About When We Write About Writing

Rate: 46 Flag

For more than a year, I’ve been blogging on Open Salon. I’ve written lots of different things here: fiction, poetry, social commentary, criticism, even the occasional link to some goofy thing I found on the web and wanted to share. It’s been a lot of fun having a place to put any old thing I felt like writing, and I love having readers. It’s motivating to know that people like what you write.

Every once in a while, the citizens of Open Salon start lobbing word grenades at each other on the subject of writing. “Real” writers get snooty about all the “amateurs” who’ve “taken over the site.” They’ve turned it into more of a social network, less of a writing community. The “amateurs” point out that the “real” writers are a bunch of pompous jerks who are free to leave at any time.

None of this makes me happy, but Open Salon does not exist for my happiness. It will be what it will be, with me or without me.

But it does make me wonder what people mean when they write about “writing.”

In the Internet Age, everyone can have a blog. Everyone can voice an opinion about every little thing. Anyone can, by force of personality, gain a following for his or her writing, regardless of writing talent.

But does that make everyone a writer?

Maybe it does. And that’s just great–right up until we all start praising each other for mediocre writing. When mediocre writers praise each other in a public forum, they create an echo chamber very much like the one Tea Partiers have mastered. They are always right–and any suggestion that they might be mistaken or short-sighted is met with self-righteous anger. The “real” writers are held up as elitists and snobs who are trying to spoil everyone else’s fun.

In truth, I have mixed feelings about the whole situation. I would never, ever discourage others from writing–even if I don’t think they’re very good. I would never, ever discourage anyone from reading–even stuff I don’t like. The world needs more thoughtfulness, and writing and reading are parallel paths in the thoughtfulness direction. As I’ve noted, I’ve devoted a lot of time to helping kids learn to love writing. I think it can help make their lives better and help make the world a better place.

But we are not children, and we do not all deserve trophies for our work. And writing is one of those things that “everybody” thinks he or she can do, in a way that’s almost unprecedented among professional pursuits.

Why? I have been a practicing, professional writer for thirty years. I write “writer” on my tax return. I would never consider myself to be a doctor, a lawyer, a graphic designer, or a carpenter–even though I routinely self-diagnose illnesses, sign legal documents, doodle cartoons, and make home repairs. That I fixed  a toilet this weekend does not make me a plumber.

Throughout my career, clients have supposed they know better than I which words I should use. Doctors have spouses who remember rules from third-grade English they think should apply to my work. Lawyers employ me for their convenience; they’re sure they can do what I can do, better than I can, but don’t have the time. I was once fired from a job because I insisted that “judgment” was the preferred spelling of “judgement.”

Perhaps all of you “amateur” writers don’t understand what “real” writers deal with every day–the rejection and the second-guessing and the condescension that come with the territory. Perhaps you ought to be cautious about reading your own press clippings. (Wow. There’s a cliche from another age.) Most writers on the Internet aren’t very good writers. They haven’t worked at the craft of writing. They may have some natural talent. But–again–just because I have insight into the human condition doesn’t make me a therapist.

I think this may actually be the crux of the issue: lots of people conflate writing with thinking and feeling. When amateur writers admire each others’ writing, they are actually expressing their admiration for the thoughts or feelings being expressed–not the actual writing. Because the form those thoughts and feelings take is “writing,” the writing is what gets praised.

This, then, is where I leave it: when “amateurs” and “real” writers talk about writing, they’re probably not talking about the same thing. I hope the “amateurs” can see why the “real” writers get cranky: we’re surrounded by people who don’t recognize or respect our craft. I hope the “real” writers can accept the enthusiasm of the “amateurs.”

And I hope that writing–real writing, whatever that means–still matters. 

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Everyone is "surrounded by people who don't recognize or respect" his or her craft. It's human nature to believe that what one does is special in some way, and what everyone else does is by-the-numbers mindless crap.

I doubt that "real" writers get any less respect than anyone else.

If you want to feel sorry for someone, try professional photographers. They don't get any respect any more. At least amateur writers have to spend time and energy on their prose, but anyone with a cell phone, a thumb, and two seconds of free time can take a photo they think deserves to hang in a museum between the works of Herb Ritts and Ansel Adams.
"worked at the craft of writing"

Immediate gratification makes work seem so tiresome.
@ Danny: your example of professional photographers is apt--and makes my point exactly. Blogging is to professional writers what high-quality point-and-shoot cameras are to professional photographers. Just as professional photographers have struggled mightily to make a living (I know--I work with lots of them.), so are writers who used to at least pay the rent with their writing having to find different lines of work.

Please don't misunderstand me: I think the "real" writer tag is silly. But I also think writing is a serious craft. And I don't think amateur writers spend much time or energy on their prose at all; in fact, more than one person in this forum celebrates his/her ability to knock off a blog post in a few minutes. I can build a shelf in a few minutes, too. It might even support the weight of books. It just won't be very beautiful, nor will I claim it as such.
Makes sense, but I sent you a pm too. ~r
Ken, I think you've got a good point here, that there is some talking at cross purposes going on--typical of many disagreements, really. And as another "real" writer (wordsmith for hire), I cringe sometimes when I read here grammatical errors or see glaring word mis-usage. At the same time, as someone entirely unschooled in writing, I am also conscious of how little I know of form or . . . hell, I don't even know the vocabulary for what I don't know. So when I put up my little poems or memory pieces, it is with the consciousness that I'm also exposing my ignorance, and thus done with fingers crossed (making typing very difficult . . . ).

Which is to say (finally!), I feel as though my feet are firmly planted in both camps. And I know that my amateur poetry-writing feet, though unschooled in the steps of the meter, try very hard to find the right word, the right combination to make whatever I'm attempting sing. And I believe many of the other "amateurs" here are like that, too.
Note that as I was posting my comment, you did your response to Danny, so I feel compelled to make an addendum. Yes, there are many posts that represent nothing more than a rapid run over the keyboard.

I think (1) we can all recognize them as such; and (2) don't need to spend time worrying about them. Generally speaking--generally--the quality here is noticed.
Bravo! I got so excited reading this that I typed "Bravo!" as my log in. It didn't work. I'm definitely an amateur!
Well said, timely, fair and balanced - you rock.
What he said.

It has taken me a while to find the professionals at OS who write for a living and have for decades. When I find them, I follow them -- because I came to OS for community. NOT the hand-wringing, hank-clutching "OMG, My feelings!!!!!!" stuff that (over) populates this site, but a place to read terrific work and get inspired and have intelligent conversations about ideas.

I don't care who I read -- if they're good, they're good. But there is a night-and-day difference between someone clumping around a bar doing karaoke and an opera singer at the Met. Practice, training, discipline and, yes, the ability to withstand a tremendous amount of criticism and rejection IN ORDER to improve.

The one weakness of OS that is apparent within minutes of arriving here is that people who bang away at keyboards consider that "writing" when expressing feelings publicly is something else entirely. It's too bad there's such defensiveness because in the very best communities, people are eager to learn from those who do what they do very very well.

A few of my favorites are not professional writers and express themselves with great eloquence and skill. I'm glad to have found them.

Too bad, then, it doesn't both ways....
That should read "doesn't work both ways." Sorry.
So well said, as always, Ken.

I am a graphic artist. And I believe we have the exact same problem. Anyone with WORD and a few "cool fonts" thinks they are a graphic artist. Oy.
I try not to get bogged down on the whole "writing" thing. If I read something that's interesting, I respond and say that. I'm a writer, but I'm not pretentious about it. It just means I craft words well. Doesn't mean I always have something wonderful to say.
Ken, I think what you discuss is true. We all have these interests. There's a few commonalities we share as humans. Communication and its forms, being one. We all have political points of view, as well. There are avid sports fans who are frustrated high school jocks who figure they know better than pro athletes what the pro should do in this or that situation. It takes a huge leap to truly pursue one of these universal experiences as a profession. Writing, acting, stand up comedy, for example.

Went to the Last Comic Standing road show over the weekend. Lots of talking and parsing of the acts. Some critical. Some envious. Some thinking. "I could do that."

But I don't have the balls to put it all out there. Rationalize it's money. The need to provide, rather than live cheaply traveling from seedy bar to seedy bar to try to build an act as was highlighted in a document DVD on Seinfeld rebuilding his act after his fabulously successful show ended and he released his old act into the public domain.

I love finding good writers around this joint. And I would be lying if finding them wasn't a little bit humbling and capable of generating envy.

I get it.
Exactly why I limit myself to comments only on this site. I'm leaving the real writing to real writers.

I have lots more to say, but it wouldn't be as concise as what you've written here, and it would get tangled up in feelings.

But, yes.
Wayne Theibaud, the famous painter of pies, whose cake drawing is now being used as an icon for google's birthday celebration, who received the National Medal of the Arts, and at age 80, had a major retrospective at the Whitney, when asked about being an artist, responded that Picasso was an artist, that he (Wayne) was a painter. I have always loved that way of self labeling. I like to draw pictures. Some people think I do that well, and happen to pay me. There are plenty of others out there who make much better pictures and no one is paying them. Maybe they are an artist and I am a good drawer. I like the rubberiness of that :-)
Try being an artist and a writer. ("My kid could paint that!" Oh. Really?).

OTOH, I just got an email from an editor for a publication I write for with a note that said, "I love your writing but maybe the economy is not a good topic for this week." The editor is obviously an idiot. I didn't write about the economy at all. I wrote about eavesdropping. I had to remind him he had me confused with someone else. Grrrrrr
Good thoughtful post, Ken. I think the points you make about craft are especially important. I'd guess there are a few talented people in the world who can write well without thinking about craft, but most can't.
"In the Internet Age, everyone can have a blog. Everyone can voice an opinion about every little thing. Anyone can, by force of personality, gain a following for his or her writing, regardless of writing talent."

Ken, why do you pick on me so?
This is really interesting - it's a sticky issue. I do write for money, but I also write for pleasure, usually on OS. The twain don't meet much. My understanding, ages ago, was that a "blog" was short for "weblog," and back in the day I read blogs that were serious, and blogs that were about what someone wore every day or cooked every day, or cute stuff their kids said. The former were sometimes better written, but the latter were amusing, and, literally, a "log" of life. I have never equated blogging with preparing pieces suitable for publication; there is crossover, and this is a great platform for floating a piece or an idea, but I do not come here expecting to see only polished, professional work. I also feel no charter to critique, judge or otherwise presume to be "better;" I just look at certain posts as beautiful writing or the bearers of interesting ideas, and others as marginally written diary entries. Real writing matters to me a lot, and I am ecstatic when I see it. The other stuff is what it is, and mostly I think that I am undiminished if someone who writes poorly calls herself "a writer." We (almost) all know quality when we see it, and I know I automatically function on two tracks here, praising the expressions of people I care about because they have bothered to write them, and praising good writing because I admire and cherish it.
I just posted about getting depth into whatever you do. I think you are confusing being a good writer with being a good craftsman. As an artist I see a deep meaning and symbolism in everything around me. I try to express what I am learning in my art and my writing. The fact is QUALITY is illusive. A well written piece with editor approval and public money is no more important than something of LOW QUALITY that a child might give his mother or an essay in a high school English class that a teenager creates. An OS post that speaks to me may not speak to you and there is the difference. It is not a matter of word craft.
When you become a professional writer or artist or musician or actor in life and label yourself as such you lose something. When you die you won't have the labels anymore. You will only have the true grit and that is what is really important and valuable.
"Open Salon does not exist for my happiness". Actually, you could have stopped right there - and found very few who agree with that in practice!
I agree with what everybody says here, to one extent or another, so rather than try to say the same things in my own words I'll take the discussion one notch further and try to distinguish between craft and art. It seems to me that most of the discussion here is about craft. To bring art into the equation I would suggest that what is called "primitive," i.e. unschooled, in the graphic field can also be applied to writing. This aspect falls within the domain of that elusive judgmental yet almost universally recognized quality known as "talent."

Some people here seem not to have studied the craft of writing formally or at least as much as those of us who have written commercially. Nonetheless they exhibit a raw talent in expressing not only feelings but dimensions and layers of thought and timing of expression - a grace, if you will - that at times sings as delightfully as the work of those talented writers who have developed their craft as serious professionals.

Even among folks who make their living writing there is an informal rating vernacular used to describe the quality of their work. When I wrote for newspapers I turned out some zingers as well as some stinkers. Editors and other readers would grade them in several usually euphemistic ways - the stinkers would come back with suggestions, unless they made it into the paper and then would be met with faint praise if any praise were bestowed at all. The more successful pieces "worked," which was a way of saying the reader liked the effect even if liberties might have been taken with acceptable style standards. The message that came with this praise was OK, you got away with it this time, just sayin'. If something "sings" - invariably delivered in the present tense - it worked magically and all was forgiven no matter what else might be said about its craft.

I see all three kinds of writing on display here every day.
Well said Ken ... without antagonism or derision.

You note the blur between writing and feelings getting all mixed up in the assessment. Working closely with a graphic designer with over 30 years experience, I constantly witness people get their personal "tastes" mixed up with good design. Like writers, everyone thinks they are a designer, so I get it.

I find it disheartening when this place takes on a Facebook mentality and then it seems we go down that slippery slope. As far as marketing oneself and popular opinion goes, it's a shame but we all know the Britney Spears of the world are way more successful than the Lucinda Williams ...

p.s. we spell it judgement in Canada. :-)
I just wrote a piece with my tongue so deeply embedded in my cheek that it was sticking out my ear about a completely meaningless subject for the express intent of stimulating negative feedback....on purpose. (Not that I don't believe the premise; I just don't think it was worth the words I spent on it.)

I am very tired of the debate over who's a professional writer and who isn't. The Rubicon here is very clear: if you get paid, you're a professional. If you don't, you're not.

I made a living as a writer for almost 40 years, but I haven't been writing professionally for several years now....which means that I am no longer a professional writer, until I start getting paid again, at which point I would be a professional writer again.

Being a professional writer, however, doesn't mean you're a good writer....because there are very bad writers making fortunes at writing really bad stuff. And then there are the really good writers who have published really bad stuff on occasion. On the other side of the aisle, there are really great writers who have never made a dime at writing and, therefore, aren't professional writers, no matter how good they are.

Now, my personality - here - is clearly based upon my poetry rather than my prose....but I've never made a dime from my poetry, so I can't consider myself a professional poet.

Poets are in even worse straits than photographers and writers because no one really knows how to define poetry, although we all know good poetry when we see it.

I see a lot of very bad poetry here, but I never criticize poetry except to provide helpful suggestions where they are warranted for the simple reason that I know from my own life that poetry is deeply connected to the angst of the poet and one should never criticize the angst of others lest their own angst be gored as well.

Which brings me to the subject of the correct use of metaphors....but I see that my time has expired.
I am a scribbler. I do not "work at" writing. I do not WANT to work at writing. I just wanna scribble. I'm like most of us here on OS.

Those who are "professional writers" here are in the minority. Some of them have co-opted the term "real writers" to describe what they do. I suggest a better term might be "commercial writers". They write what editors or others who will pay them, want them to write. Many of them exhibit talent, and many of them have learned to write skillfully. A few can even do both. But many also have only learned to write in the way a carpenter learns to cut boards. As a skill - talent not included.

As I look over the offerings of the many people, both "real writers" and "bloggers" I note that the percentage of those with talent in each group is about the same. While professional writing includes the ability to spell moderately well, to punctuate properly, and to follow the basic rules of grammar, it does not follow that those who are "professionals" are anything more than workmen.

The bloggers, on the other hand, often exhibit a sad lack of basic grammatical skills. Yet some of them are able to communicate so effectively that their lack of such can easily be overlooked by readers looking for writing that displays that ineffable thing called "talent".

I, for one, am glad to offer ratings and encouragement to these unskilled writers. It is my hope that they carefully observe who it is that is complimenting them on their writing. Needless to say nice compliments from unskilled friends are nice; but compliments from professionals count for something more than polite applause.

The blogger is, to me, similar to a young bird. Its first few flights may not exhibit much flying skill but as time goes on and it gets more practice, those skills develop. The rare one is found to be just that tiny bit better than its peers. In writing they are "writers". It has not a damn thing to do with "working stiff writers" or writers who "work at writing". It has to do with talent, pure and simple. And talent rears its shining head in blogs by the hoi-polloi as often as it does in writings by "pros".

A "scribbler's" viewpoint.....
Well put, Ken. In the short year I have been writing here, I certainly strove to make each piece better than the last by practicing the craft like a runner in training. There is no ceiling on evolving the work of writing to be better and better.
Would OS exist without all of the above?They are banking on you all. Great post.
There are only two types of writing- Good and Bad

amateurs ... amateurs ... amateurs

This is a word I use here all the time though I do not remember reading it a lot.

My use relates to political and business issues.

I can be a condescending prick, but would never directly use the term in a so called critique of the work of another.

i think you already know i agree with you. but i thought i would say it.

at the end of the day i dont are what someone calls themselves, scribbler, blogger, writer or whore... its the work that matters.

if a whore (or a plumber or anyone else) writes tight, stunning prose then it should be praised and held up as such. and if a writer (or a whore or a plumber etc) writes crap then folks might wanna walk away or hold their noses or mention the stink or...something.

but like ya said, it seems we arent all speaking the same language here. *sigh*
Hi, everyone. Great discussion, and thanks for being here.

Just want to make sure one point is clear: I think anyone who works hard and cares passionately about his or her writing is a writer. Most writers these days don't get paid much, if at all. It's not about being a "professional."

The most interesting thing to me is the idea that we're not talking about the same thing. It's like true believers who say, "God is good." When I point out natural disasters and Hitler and all manner of bad things God could have prevented and the believer shrugs and says "God is good," I have to conclude that we mean different things by "good." (And, probably, by "God.") Similarly, when some self-appointed tastemakers say, "Your writing is excellent," I don't think we mean the same thing by "excellent."

Louis Armstrong once said, "Good music is what you like." I've always loved that quote. Then again, Louis Armstrong spent most of his adult life stoned.
Louie wasn't stoned the one time I met him. He assured me that the funny smelling cigarette he was smoking was French, which made it all right.

I distinguish professional vs. non-professional writers on the basis of getting paid, yes, and there are a lot more people who do make a living writing...but not for periodicals or trade publishers. I did. There were years that I went without a by-line, but still collected checks for writing, and it was even legal.

I distinguish between good and bad writing on the basis of my subjective analysis, based upon heuristic assumptions about the quality of the average. The only way to determine good is by finding it better than average, as the only way to determine bad is by finding worse than average.

You also well distinguish between the quality of the writing versus the quality of the thought behind the writing. Sometimes, good writing can render bad thinking less banal, and good thinking can render bad writing more palatable. One might say that the meme of good writing trumps the meme of bad thinking and vice versa.

I always tip....but do you add a tip to your bill on the take out Chinese meals ....can you even get good Chinese in Indianapolis?
This is a very thought provoking post. Even though I have been paid (badly) for my writing, I don't like the idea that those who haven't aren't real writers (I get that you didn't come up with that one and don't fully support it). The great thing about OS is that I get to choose who I read. Also, someone else's error doesn't bother me; it's my own that kills me.
Ken: A lot of good points here, but I'm uncomfortable with defining "real" writers and "amateurs." Does getting paid for your writing make you a "real" writer? Then the guy who wrote "Shit My Dad Says" is a real writer - and that was heavily taken from Twitter feeds. Meanwhile, I've read a lot of "amateur" writing here on OS that has more wit, depth and eloquence than a lot of stuff I have seen in professional publications.

Even though I have never been paid a cent for my writing, I put a lot of effort and thought into what I post here. So when I read someone claiming to be a"real" writer complaining about this site, I wonder if they're just insulted that we "amateurs" are on equal footing here.
If not for this community I would have no understanding from anyone in the world. It is both my social whirl and my creative outlet to the world.
If I ever make a dime out of it that would then be icing on the cake.
But since I am not clueless, my expectations are somewhat lower than that.
If incisive critique is what you crave without suffering the "Press" of the "hoi-palloi" pick some writers that you do respect
(if you can find any here) and message them requesting same.
I see O.S. as a virtual coral reef, somwhat pink, made up of individual barnacles, hermit crabs, and sunfish and such - all in different stages of development, and wouldn't want it any other way. For me anyway it is the sine qua non of peer review. Peers are so hard to find in my real world.
@Cranky: You'll note that "real" and "amateur" are in quotation marks. I don't care for either term. I think anyone who takes the craft of writing seriously (which you, clearly, do) is a writer. I also think we don't all mean the same thing when we praise people for their "writing."
I agree.

OS is where I mostly dump out my thoughts & feelings, with some minor attention on the craft. I like to write and I like to write here.

My book project is where I struggle & sweat with structure, theme, wording & rhythm, working and re-working each page in the hopes of one day earning the title of Writer.

Thank you for this post, Ken. You have helped me clarify something I've been thinking about. I have always enjoyed writing because it helps me process things. And I have always appreciated the craft of writing and aspired to move up to the next level. I'm working on that. We'll see how it goes, I guess...
Makes at least as much sense as anything else I've read on the subject. Part of what I do for a living is writing - business/proposal writing, but it more or less pays the bills. Some of what I do feels so formulaic, it's hard for me to think of it as writing . . . but I suppose I am a writer.

I guess, when it comes right down to it, I think this discussion is interesting - interesting as points of contemplation, interesting as a give-and-take about what/how people think/communicate.

When I read, I can enjoy a well-crafted piece on the merits of its craftiness, even if the heart isn't all there; I can enjoy a piece which has a lot of heart, even if it's not well-crafted. On the continuum between . . . I like what I like.
Ken: One of your valid points is something I've been guilty of in the past, which is overpraising the writer. I generally limit my criticism in comments to the content, and I won't criticize the prose unless I find it has a tone that is intolerable. I've made a point in recent weeks to focus my praise to what I really think is praiseworthy, and to keep quiet about the things that aren't. As a result, I've done much more reading without commenting.

B I N G O !!

(I can't rate "comments" here but would if I could!)

@RJHeart: You are right: this is an open playground. I hope everybody here has fun, and I invite you to call your fun anything you wish. I'm just pointing out that what some mean when they praise your "writing" is not what other people mean.

Because you're also right that "writing is not always a craft." Just like "football is not always a sport." Sometimes, it's just my son and me playing catch in the back yard. It's lots of fun. But I don't expect to make the Pro Bowl, even if I can throw a ball through a tire every now and again.
Oh, my, RJHeart. I believe you have completely misunderstood my comment. I sincerely apologize for that.

I was quite sincere when I wrote that everyone should write more. And read more. And I wrote this post not to hold myself above anyone else or to ask anyone to conform to my standards--only to explain what I thought was a disconnect in how we talk to each other about writing. (And, to be honest, to bitch a little about people disrespect professional writers. It's an irritation, but no big thing. If it were more than that, it would have killed me a long time ago.)

I love writing and reading on Open Salon, and I've never insulted anyone intentionally. Sorry again for the misunderstanding.
If this was a "writers' site" it would be called Punctuation Playground or Grammar Gathering or maybe Metaphorical Masturbation.

"Open Salon is a publishing platform with a built-in audience. It was developed for writers, photographers and artists of any stripe in need of a smart home for their work..."
"Most writers on the Internet aren’t very good writers."

And Tink is the worse!! Wooooo!!! :D

But it's all good, I write for me, yes, it is crap, but it's my crap and if 375 people want to read me(on average!! Woooo!! :D) and my thoughts on why cats rule and the rest of the world drool, who am I to stop them!!!

Well stated Ken and I'm in 100 per cent agreement. I would never dream of calling myself a photographer simply because I can operate a digital camera. So why is calling oneself a writer if you don't actually know anything about it, or as one commentor wrote here, don't care about it either, so often labelled "elitist," "arrogant" and "condescending?" Would that same individual go to a dentist who "liked" dentistry but had never studied or practiced it simply because they called themselves a dentist? Of course not. That kind of attitude is a way of discounting writing and the people who have worked at it their whole lives because of an insecurity or jealousy that they're NOT writers.

I can't remember who said it, but I read it recently. "A writer is someone for whom writing is hard work." 'Nuff said.
@rjheart: I don't know whom you are addressing, but if it is me, I am just as entitled to my opinion as you are. I've never had any contact with you on this site, and I don't know Ken either.
We can probably all agree that fasefea sdjfsae up there isn't a writer or a blogger, jaysus I hate the spam.

So many good points have been made in your post and the comment string here, Ken. This has been a civilized, reflective exchange of ideas and it's a pleasure to have the benefit of input from so many of those I actually do read on OS.

I'd have to fall on the side of the fence that agrees with the statement that if you put 'writer' on your tax return, and your 1099s are all for work you've done by stringing words together, you're pretty much stuck with the title. I would go so far as to say you'd be considered a 'professional writer' in the truest sense of the term.

Speaking for myself, I'm definitely a blogger here. I do a great deal of technical writing in my other life and am pretty good with a semicolon, but the interest factor would go way down for the readers here were I to publish it on OS, so you are getting off lucky.

I'll continue to enjoy the "real" writing, the "not real" writing, the good, the bad, and the ugly writing (well not so much the ugly), from my perch here in amateurland. Thanks to Sage, rjheart, Rob, Pilgrim, Matt, Crank, Wooly, Trig, aim, bluestocking, Joanie, Kate, 'touche, Anne, Zanelle, Scarlett, Linnn, Fred, and that wise old bird ms. greenheron for giving me hours and hours of reading pleasure in the last year and a half (oh, you too Ken, you too - thanks!) I think ol' Louis may have had it right, it's good if you like it.
Ken: Here's what hit me between the eyes:

"I think anyone who works hard and cares passionately about his or her writing is a writer."

I think that's a perfect summary of what you have so rigorously described. It's beautiful because it takes all judgment (implied or inferred or assumed) out of the equation. Also removes the need for quote marks. Though you make your argument eloquently and carefully, I'm not sure there's more to be said, after all is done and read.
Very good essay, Ken. I am a serious amateur and have only admiration for those who are the real pros. You gave me some insight into the life of writing for money that I had not considered. It has to be a constant struggle. I think it is good that others are trying to communicate and understand that you do, too. Those who excel at nearly anything always get second guessed.
for those who know my work, my writing here is full of feelings, emotion etc. but i also work at finding the right words, rhythms, structure. my dad was a free-lance writer. i grew up proofing his stuff. if it is going out under my name, then i want it to be the best i can do matter how few readers it gets. i am currently working at making my writing clearer, more precise...losing the floweriness. a sort of cutting it to the bone when i can.

do i consider myself a ' writer'? no. i think i sometimes show a bit of talent. and i work REALLY hard at poetry. but i am primarily a visual artist and that's difficult enough. there's the same vulnerability, rejection, dry spells, that blank sheet of paper staring at you saying 'go ahead! make a masterpiece of me! think ya got it in ya???' etc.

i have often wished i were less left handed and more left brained as i think being an accountant would be less angst filled and more profitable.
I came over here after I read rj's apology. I can't quite get my thinking around what's being discussed. Maybe this is because I'm new to OS. I call myself a writer as an affirmation. Hopefully the day will come when I call myself a writer because I've earned money writing. In the 3 weeks I've been on OS I've posted pieces it took me several hours to write, some that took only an hour or two (or less, like today's rambling 30 minute post) and others that were revisions from work I considered done months ago. I've written to think out loud, share a memory, share learning or just play around with words.

As far as people thinking completely different things when they say the same word, this is one of the major hurdles to clear communication period.

"This, then, is where I leave it: when “amateurs” and “real” writers talk about writing, they’re probably not talking about the same thing. I hope the “amateurs” can see why the “real” writers get cranky: we’re surrounded by people who don’t recognize or respect our craft. I hope the “real” writers can accept the enthusiasm of the “amateurs.”" - It sounds like you're asking for respect and understanding for and from everyone. Sounds reasonable to me.
"I think anyone who works hard and cares passionately about his or her writing is a writer."

I think the converse is true. "Anyone that doesn't work hard or care passionately about his or her writing isn't much of a writer."

And, in fact, you pointed out that we don't give A's for effort to adults.

I like OS. I had some ideas. I tried them out. Some of them worked out better than others. I don't feel like working that much harder for free. Or caring that much more.

And, this isn't a tragedy.

PS.... Your novel needed more sex.
I just found this post because of the apology rjheart posted. I've been a professional photographer for 45 years, a union card actor for 35, a paid writer for 30. The tension between amateurs and pros has always been there, in all of those crafts. Pros want to earn a return on the investments they have made in learning their trade, while amateurs just want to express themselves "for the love of it." Neither is wrong, and neither is superior to the other. They're just steering by different stars.

What the internet has done, though, is to lower the threshold for amateurs of every ilk. Write a song, record it with your webcam, publish it to YouTube, bada-bing, you've just hit the Express Lane to the Public past the whole traditional path of getting demos in front of executives who passed judgment on what was commercial, got you recorded, etc.

The problem I see is that this new torrent of self produced videos and books and all the rest is churning out a helluva lot of mediocre material, and the good stuff gets swept down the drain with everything else as the next day's crop is delivered. Very, very little enjoys any real hang time today, regardless of worth.

The only thing that keeps me going today, since none of the crafts I studied and worked hard to master is producing much income for me now, is to relax back into amateur status a bit myself, creating and sharing what I do because of my fundamental love of it.
I got here by way of Caitlin's excellent post and between the two posts I feel like I hit a jackpot. These are things I have been thinking about and questioning to find my own answers, so having the two of you professionals discuss these aspects of writing and the profession is terrific. I've seen that the appeal of the content gets confused with quality of writing. Now I will keep reading the comments and both of you fine professional writer. Thank you.
Myself, I have this notion about writing: If you can put a few words together, you can write. You're a writer. But, are you a good writer? Are you a great writer? Are you a mediocre writer? Do you stink like shrimp sewn into the curtains in your ex-boyfriend's house? (Not that I know ANYTHING ABOUT THAT.)

In the end, I usually end up somewhere around in the vicinity of sagemerlin with"Do you get paid?" I gave up on the concept of "It takes a long time to write a good story" after that butthole Stephen King confessed that his short story, one of his best works, which won an award, was thrown together in a half hour. Talented jerk. Although he's written a lot of schlock, too.

I also find myself mightily amused by the concept of "REAL" writers and "FAKE" writers. Let's all take a philosophy class together and figure it out.

Look, anyone who can string together words belongs here. If those people string together their words in a manner that is moving, so much the better. But schlock or not, it's often in the eye of the beholder. There may be some egos showing a bit too much here and there. You need to tuck those things back into your shorts or the police might take you away.

Not you, Ken. You're lovely. It's a thoughtful post. Thank you.
Great, thought-provoking post, Ken. There is so much that I relate to here but I'm not sure I agree with dismissing those on OS who are amateurs. There is no question that there are brilliant writers on this site (you included) and their words blow me away. Yes, there are definitely those who have proven themselves to be "real" writers. But I try to see the value in all people's writing, even if those words reflect poor training in writing and grammar. At their core, they are expressing some honest emotion.

I would not be happy if this site turned into more of a social one than a writing one but so far I've found that there is a bounty of really great writing to be found on any given day.

And it's not just the internet that has tons of unqualified writers--I see terrible writing in magazines and newspapers all the time, which is even more annoying because they're getting paid to write.
Hi, everyone. Glad this post inspired so much comment and thought, and glad it didn't turn into the uncivil bloodbath it might have.

Clearly, I've been uncomfortable with the tags "real" and "amateur." A friend PMed me and suggested that "novice" may be a better word. I agree: I'd be happy to talk about experienced writers and novice writers, without quotation marks. I also don't think we need to make value judgments; things get bolluxed up here because there are so many writers doing so many things. In truth, ain't none of us getting paid for our work here. Some of us may be professionals, but we're all amateurs on Open Salon.

And with that: I hope everybody goes and reads some good stuff today, and writes some good stuff, too. The shitty reality of Open Salon is that this sort of navel-gazing post is what sells. The poem I posted on Sunday, which I really like, gets read by a small fraction of the people who read this.
Speak to a doctor, and he will tell you how people always think they know more about medicine than him. And we are all experts on climate science, right?

To me, a writer is someone who writes for a living. I don't, so I'm just a blogger. Of course, both writers and bloggers write, in their way. But I do it for fun, which also means I don't put that much effort or pride into it. And I see nothing wrong with that, so I tend to get snippy when the professionals act as if we the great unwashed are depriving them of their well-deserved place in the limelight. Professionals don't have a monopoly on the joy of writing, nor should they. Like singing, it's an activity people can enjoy even if they're bad at it, and I consider a place like OS to be a karaoke bar for people who like to write. And if the pros lose readers to amateurs, it may be a sign that they're not quite as good as they think.

That last one is not directed at you, by the way... ;-)
Writing about writing is what I do all day as an English teacher specializing in rhetoric and composition. Writing serves different functions. Writing that gets read usually is writing for which the writer considered readers' interests when writing. However writing to express one's feelings and to get them on paper or the screen is also fine. This has devolved somewhat into another "cool" kids discussion since OS serves as a social network as well as a writing site. Much of the writing posted here is by writers who have formed informal writing groups and the writing serves to maintain relationships in the group. Some of these groups are larger than others. The writing of any group is not more or less real than the writing of another group. I am grateful for OS because two years ago or more I promised that I would write everyday and OS is a forum for doing that. Sometimes there are readers and sometimes not. It has no real effect on other areas of life. If someone wants more readers to read one's posted writing the solution is simple. Get busy commenting on others' writing in a sincere manner as often as possible. There are rarely more than say 500 people actively posting daily or weekly on OS. Find out who those people are and comment on their work. They one can be most popular if that is a value something one values. I don't equate popular with real or with cool. It is fine if others do.
This all makes sense....from the confines of a box. I suppose I am from the camp "What difference does it make?" Everyone has the ability and the choice to give and take from OS whatever suits them. As soon as divisive reasoning enters any forum, the opportunity for true growth is over. At my age, I can't afford to shut anyone's voice out regardless of their ability to convey it. I might miss another gem.
This was a wonderful, thought-provoking post, Ken. Thank you...:)
As someone who has worked hard at my writing all my adult life, but who does not make my living from it by any stretch of the imagination, I say bravo.

Everyone can write--we learn that in grade school. Learning to write well takes years. I started a blog to keep in practice and to give myself a reason to write regularly with no illusions about turning a profit from it. Earning money from my blog was never the point of starting it. I have been professionally published once, and want to repeat the experience. But I'm wary of calling myself a professional writer. I'd like to be able to at some future time, but I'm still a wannabe for now.
Meh. odetteroulette got it right.

I don't give a flying crap if you call me an amateur, novice, fake or a freak'in ham sandwich. No skin off my nose, because it's just your opinion - which you get to have.

HOWEVER, the same goes for me. If I like a post (for whatever damn reason) don't go all "you don't appreciate 'real' writing" on me. If I like it I like it. If you don't like me liking it, bite me.

BTW, most of the criteria for what constitutes being a "real" writer is making me laugh. If I write a summary of somebody's finances, I work hard on my wording, I "craft" my presentation AND I get paid for it. So by most criteria that makes me a "real" professional writer.... what bullshit!

P.S. I personally think this keeps getting raised because so many people from print journalism are out of work. "Bloggers" and "amateurs" are just a handy group to take a swipe at. So, like I said: Meh.
Some people say they don't like the blues,
but they's wrong.

mr waters.

Every single soul here writes sublimely.
Thank you, Kim. You demonstrate my point perfectly.
It's the least I can do.

Did you clean up "practicing" ?
Sorry Ken.
Practicing with a "c" is acceptable in the US, I'm told just now.
I guess I jumped your snark.
I guess I was misinformed.
In Casablanca for the waters.
it's all true ken but the "job" is to keep going no matter what the mother fuckers say or how much rejection has to be endured.

i'll take a piece of writing from the heart with every word mispelled before a stylistically perfect piece that takes no risk and tells me nothing. my blog says the rest, and at least I now have that to point too. fuck 'em, and i mean fuck 'em.
I understand what you are saying.
I also understand why this post seems to have caused a flurry of reaction.
This has been a very interesting discussion. I've gotten nothing done tonight. :)
I have a day job. It has nothing to do with "writing". I blog what I like and comment on people's blog based on if the content appeals to me and has been put together thoughtfully. Sometimes I just want to get in on the party (remember them). I do not confuse my work with others on this site who write professionally. Nuff said.
the problem is, as a 'wanna-be writer' the only way to get feeback now without paying a fortune is to blog. At the very least it gives a great opportunity to practice.
Two of the finest wordsmiths on this site, Writer to the Stars and Homer Langley, never seem to get involved in these discussions about what constitutes real or good writing, but set examples of the art for us all.
Hi Ken,
I think I should introduce myself as an "amateur" because I am completely new to this thing called "blogging", in fact I was reading another article titled " Ten ways to improve your writing" and your post was provided as a link at the end of that. Most of what you say is completely true and agreeable.
You mention that "lots of people conflate writing with thinking and feeling" and then at the end you also say "I hope the “amateurs” can see why the “real” writers get cranky: we’re surrounded by people who don’t recognize or respect our craft." these were your exact words.
Although I agree to what you said, you opinion and intention seems to clash in a sense that, when you say you are surrounded by people who don't recognize or respect your craft, you sound a bit frustrated or irritated, I might be wrong, so please correct me, because i really appreciate criticism and correction. If that is the case then you did express your frustration or irritation in writing too, right?
When one writes it can be feelings, intentions, assumptions, wishes, fantasies, and the list goes on, but the difference between a real writer and amateur is not about how craft you are in writing, it about how influential you are in making the reader feel. A good writer can never be called a good writer, if the reader does not "feel" that way. End of the day feelings to matter, Ken.
Like I said, I am sorry if I said anything wrong or misunderstood your post, I loved your post and appreciate you sharing this with us. Thank you
Hi, everyone. This stuff seems, unfortunately, to keep going around and around.

Kathy: You are so right. Getting so deeply into so silly an argument is what makes this site frustrating for me. I was trying to make an observation about how we talk about writing. I should have known better.

Mapigude: I have no anger or frustration about my work, or about working with writers who are more or less experience or skilled than I. I like working on writing, and helping others. I think everyone should write more, and I help everyone I have time to help. I will listen to suggestions from anyone. I do sometimes think it's curious that everyone feels qualified to weigh in on writing when they wouldn't weigh in on how most other people do their jobs--which has little to do with the writing that gets done at Open Salon. Which is different for different people. Which is really all I was trying to say.
Thank you Ken, I really appreciate you taking the effort to clarify what you meant and what your intention was. If you do not mind Ken, you also mention that you are willing to help anyone who needs help. I think I might be one for those people who need help really bad. I love to write and I love to learn the skills to good writing. When ever I get the time or at random intervals I stop to jot down interesting thoughts and things that I notice. I have a dream to write an article or a book some day about little things in life we take for granted or miss to notice. I ma not a person of high calibre when it comes to vocabulary, but I love to be grand and bold in my writing style. I can really use some help and advice from writers from writers like you or any professional writer as to where I should start and what I need to go up the ladder.
If you are willing and of course have the time I would love you to be my "Guru" in teaching me how to write like a "Writer" would.