Monday, July 20, 2015
Should Writers Be Licensed?
You don’t need a license, a college degree, or even any substantial training to hold many jobs. Data entry, secretary, hotel clerk, and pizza maker come to mind. So do waitress, shoe salesman, shipping grunt, and bathroom attendant. Anyone, if they so choose and exhibit the raw ability to do so, can be any of these things. But imagine a job – no, a profession – being so rare that only 541 people have held such a position. That’s how many astronauts have flown in space – globally – ever.
Being a writer or a published author is the opposite of such rarity. Thousands of authors mint new books every single day. There are millions of people who earn a living by writing words in a sequence that make people feel, think, and understand life in a way that engenders a fulfilling, productive, and enjoyable existence. But, like the stock boy and guy who delivers newspapers, being a writer requires nothing of the writer.
But writers take on a big responsibility – they influence others and shape society. They feed us information, inspire, motivate, record history and give us a vision to shoot for or steer clear of. The writers out there become initiators of the world we could live in, as they share a fiction that could become a reality.
I don’t advocate for any type of government requirement or restriction to be set for writers. There are laws on the book regarding libel, defamation, and copyright that theoretically protect us from lies, intentional false claims, and intellectual property theft. But the truth is, these so-called protections have many flaws. Further, they only deal with things after the fact. We need some voluntary standards for writers to adhere to so that we avoid misinformation, propaganda, and faulty research from infecting society.
Now, think about it. So much is written each day, via traditional media, social media, books, newsletters, trade journals, and pamphlets that it’s impossible to enforces laws, fact-check and correct the writings of others, and to second-guess if drawn conclusions have validity. At any point in time of the nation’s discourse on anything – even a dialogue between two friends – there’s a certain percentage of inaccuracy, confusion, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and a miscommunication of basic facts. What can be done to minimize or eliminate such situations?
I don’t think one needs a degree or a certification course to validate their skill and knowledge, nor do I believe everything learned under these programs will make one a better writer. Learning and getting an education should make one a better person, not just technically qualified to hold down a certain job.
However, training is a great idea. Writers need help – and the public should demand that writers seek out expert training. There are all kinds of things writers could be taught about their craft, from how to write, edit, and research to ethics and values.
There is no shortage of writing workshops, conferences, and seminars, though many of them don’t collaborate to make sure that in the totality of offerings a writer will come to learn collectively what is needed to be not only great at what he or she does, but responsible, accurate, and informed.
Writing is a right, protected by the First Amendment. We can’t install requirements that infringe on such a right. But writers must police themselves and be aware that they may benefit from more trainings and mentoring. Writers have a great responsibility – to influence public opinion and educate the masses. They must use that power in a way that truly serves the needs of the people.
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