Writing like a pro... or a celebrity

Exciting news! Kylie Minogue will be editing next month’s Vogue Australia magazine.

To me, this seems strange. What would a singer and actor know about editing a magazine? Has she been studying for a new career in her spare time?

Not really. Magazines have recently been guest-edited by people like Cate Blanchett, Giorgio Armani and Jarvis Cocker – and it’s nothing new. We’ve had celebrity writers for years. Most writers could tell you how hard it is to get a book published… unless, of course, you’re a famous name like Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates… or Kylie.

But magazines have taken the whole “celebrity writer” thing to the extreme. Last year, Rolling Stone did the 100 greatest rock artists, as voted by their successors. And you know what? Somehow, Rolling Stone didn’t just get them to vote. Every single entry had an article, written by one of these rock stars! Wow.

What was truly amazing was that, unlike their music, all of these people had the same writing style – and it’s conveniently similar to the house style of Rolling Stone. Some of it is disappointing: Elvis Costello’s tribute to the Beatles isn’t nearly as witty as his lyrics. Others are a pleasant surprise: I didn’t know they could write magazine essays!

And then there was Time magazine’s series about the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, for which – we were told – Colin Powell, Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson and other VIPs took time out from their busy schedules to write feature articles on famous people. Yeah, right…

Of course, there was some ghost-writing involved. Even if any of these celebrities to go as far as actually writing an article, their work would usually be extensively rewritten by staff writers.

Why this is a shame: It makes writing seem easy, something that anyone can do well, even someone with a completely different profession. Sadly, this isn’t the case. As a writer, who has judged contests, edited websites and read many pages of less-than-brilliant prose (some of it my own), I can promise that writers (and their friends, the editors) are not so dispensable that any famous person can do the job just as well.

I’m sure that Kylie is a very nice person (and certainly bright and hard-working), but I'd like to speak up for writers. I’m not saying all writers are geniuses – if we were, we’d more likely be physicists or doctors or cleaning ladies – but they are certainly not so unskilled that any celebrity can replace them.

Sure, everyone can write - just as everyone can sing. But some people can sing more sweetly than others.  Most professional writers can write at a higher standard. 

Why? For the same reason professional carpenters and electricians can work at a higher level than the average home handyman. They have more experience, more skill... and perhaps more natural talent (though talent on its own isn't enough). That's why they write.