I put this up as a comment on another post yesterday, but I’ve moved it into a post all of its own as I’d be interested to see what other people think about the question – the question being, “What is a real writer?”
A writer of adult novels annoyed me recently in an email discussion by defining a Real Writer as someone whose main source of income is writing. Which lets out Shakespeare (who probably made more money as a property dealer and shareholder), to say nothing of Chaucer, Spenser, Milton (civil servants all), and the many writers from Sir Philip Sidney to Jane Austen who lived on a private income. Then there are those such as Emily Dickinson, barely published in her life, so therefore doubly unreal! The list could easily be extended, but such definitions are testicular in all but fertility: whether we define Real as “financially sustainable” or “commercially published”, the main purpose of these shibboleths is usually to prop up the shaky egos of those who apply them. Using the ‘main income’ test in the case of children’s writers is particularly perverse, given that the average writing income of children’s writers in the UK is (from memory) under £6,000. As for publication, all published writers were unpublished writers once: they were none the less Real for that.