Being a professional writer is…kind of bullshit

The incorrigible Will Buckingham here literally de-bullshits the increasingly bullshitty idea of being a professional anything, and in particular a professional writer. Not because it’s bad to be a professional, but because our entire idea of what professional means has become corrupted away from it’s true meaning, to profess a commitment to a skill…


But what about professionalism? Let’s go back to the etymological dictionary, for the following…

professional n. c.1200, from Old French profession, “vows taken upon entering a religious order,” from Latin professionem “public declaration,” from past participle stem of profiteri “declare openly”. Meaning “any solemn declaration” is from mid-14c. Meaning “occupation one professes to be skilled in” is from early 15c.; meaning “body of persons engaged in some occupation” is from 1610…

What I love about this yes, I love it, because I’m an incorrigible amateur is that if you strip away bullshit going forwards, if you forget about suits and ties and stale-coffee boardrooms, you get to something much more existentially meaty: vows or commitments that are taken upon entering an order. In making such vows, you are not just saying “Oh, I’ll do x, y, or z” but you are making a much bigger commitment, a commitment that is public, one that marks the fact you are joining a community albeit a loose-knit one, and one that may change the direction of your life. In other words, you are making a commitment with a degree of existential heft to it. This deeper notion of ‘profession’ has two aspects: the making of an existential commitment, and the public declaration of this commitment, the willingness to say, “Yes, I have committed myself to this, and I’ll see it through.”

It is in this sense, I think, that it can be of use to writers to be not just amateurs, not just lovers, but also professionals. Love is a more personal affair. And love comes and goes. But as a writer, you may find that your writing really starts to bite, really starts to go deeper and further, when you decide that you are going to commit yourself to the act of writing, and when you make this commitment known to others, be they writers i.e., members of the loose-knit order of writers, or non-writers.

via Amateurs, Professionals and Bullshit Going Forwards | Will Buckingham.



Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

2 thoughts on “Being a professional writer is…kind of bullshit

  1. The etymology of professional and this post, Damien, now makes me muse about “Writer’s Guilds” in a medieval sense of the word, rather than just a fancy word for organization. Mmm.

    “Open up, Weimer! Stop Writing! You haven’t paid your guild dues!”


  2. Once again, you’ve read my mind. Since starting my blog and committing to writing whole-heartedly and publicly, a certain zany calm has descended on my life, like a bunch of balloons released all at once, if I were cloud-bound.



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