In defense of the amateur

For every professional author, artist, poet, photographer, there are thousands* of aspiring amateurs; milling around, filling the forums, the blogosphere, and the twitverse with their drive and enthusiasm.

You know the ones I mean.  They’ve had a poem published in, and have their “book” proudly on display at home (not to mention many copies sent to relatives).  Their walls are covered with paintings of lopsided buildings, mentally challenged cats and psychedelic flowers.  They post their stories on message boards with the cheery demand of “I just wrote this what do you think?!?”.  They write fanfic about their favourite show/book, because they can’t bear to think that it’s over.

They love what they do.  Their enthusiasm is boundless.

Their skill, not so evident.  They’re the ones whose blurry photos get sent in to magazines.  Whose NaNoWriMo novels end up in the slush pile every January, without fail.  Who are completely over the moon about getting published in an obscure little non-paying journal**, and will post it on their blog as a “writing credit”.  Who firmly believe that “no new authors are getting published”.

I’m sure you’ve met one, or two, or a hundred or so.

But before you roll your eyes and mutter rude words, take a moment to consider this.

The people who write, or paint, or take photographs do it because they love it.  They may not have the skill, but they have the enthusiasm.  And it’s more than likely that they started to paint, or photograph, or write, because they bought something that moved them.  Something that made them think, “I’d love to do that.”

And whatever their skill level, or lack of it, they’re going to continue to buy books, and art, and magazines about the things they love.

These are the people who pay for writing classes.  Who buy anthologies about vampires, because they just can’t get enough.  They purchase subscriptions to e-zines.  They buy prints from their favourite artists.   They have a library of novels large enough to start their own bookstore.

These people are fans.  And fans are more precious than gold.

So next time you’re tempted to laugh behind your hand at someone’s songfic epic with matching pictures of characters in skimpy outfits, don’t.

That person may have bought a short fiction magazine with your story in it.  They have, indirectly, paid you.  And one day, they may be drawing disproportionate pictures of characters from your books.

Most of them will never produce work of any decent standard.  You are not competing against them – you are competing against other professionals.  A goodly number of these amateurs don’t even care about the standard of their work – they just want to share and enjoy.  And I say, good for them.

A little less mockery, people, and a little more appreciation.  Your life is funded by these enthusiasts.  Try not to forget that.


*Rounded to the nearest thousand

** Addendum: In defense of non-paying markets


24 thoughts on “In defense of the amateur

  1. I loved this piece you’ve written – very well said and I agree on all counts. Passion is a driving force that shouldn’t be negated, and many people choose different methods of investment to express it.

  2. We are all guilty of picking fault with the over-enthusiastic amateur and you are right to suggest there is something noble and noteworthy in that persistent belief in their own literary talents.

    After all, every professional writer at some point started out by writing for free or producing dodgy fanfic or whichever path allowed them to learn what does and doesn’t work. If I were to pull out the old scribbled notebooks, photocopied fanzines and overambitious short stories from my teenage years, I would definitely share virtually every characteristic with the amateur you described. (Oooh, now there’s a blog post I need to write!) Those early scribblings, failed submissions, and forgettable credits are the apprenticeship we all must serve.

    There is a place for discussing the common mistakes of amateurs, but rather than sniggering at them, we should instead write advice for them – passing on the hard truths, uncomfortable realities and literary lessons we all had to learn.

  3. I still worry about some of their critical analysis skills. But will cheerfully admit that’s my own hang-up of having to see some evidence of the pairing in the canon. Yeah, I don’t read too many Harry/Snape fanfics. ;)

    Nice piece pointing out the good things about fans. :)

  4. Pingback: Addendum: In defense of non-paying markets « Not Enough Words

    • Sorry, Merrilee, I can be a bit of a troll sometimes. The point you made about enthusiasm and fans was actually a really good one. I’ve just got a bee in my bonnet about non-paying mags.

      • No harm, no foul. :) And you (and Simon, and Patty) are right; there are quality non-paying markets out there.

        In fact, someone *coughheyyouthreecough* should do some exposure piece on the better mags. It’s a minefield out there for writers looking to publish short fiction.

  5. Hey, while we’re being generous about amateur writers, let’s not get too snooty about non-paying mags. Some of these are terrific, even if obscure, and I’d stack my favourites against the so-called ‘pro’ mags any day (‘so called’ because the pittance they pay isn’t all that far off nothing at all – whatever Scalzi says.) The editors of these mags are working hard to deliver a high-quality read and they are doing a huge service to us all – usually with no personal reward except the pleasure of doing it.

    I’m very proud of my non-paying ‘credits’ and always will be. The fact that a magazine pays 5c a word doesn’t seem to me to mean it gets better stories, or, if it does, it doesn’t seem that the editors are any better at selecting what’s good.

  6. Yup. And don’t forget that the little guys of today may well turn out to be the bug guys of tomorrow. Some of them at least. Heaping scorn on small magazines/publishers and their authors shouts out pretty arrogantly: I was sooo goooood that I didn’t need any of this.

  7. “Who are completely over the moon about getting published in an obscure little non-paying journal”

    I have to say, I was bouncing-off-the-walls thrilled to have a piece accepted by LitNImage, as I’ve been enjoying their zine and submitting to them for 9 months. Obscure? Perhaps. Non-paying? Sure. There’s still some gut-wrenching fiction published there.

    That said, I understand and appreciate your point. Those legions of vampire fanfic writers are paying the bills of many, many authors nowadays. :)

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