The Professional Writer
Okay, so I’ve read Lisa Morton’s take, Brian Keene’s retort, and now Hal Bodner’s very ridiculous, but enjoyable response to both. I think they all have something positive to offer us little guys–the amateur hour brigade (our numbers are infinite). I’m new to the scene, and only have a handful of short stories published in non-pro markets (my first pro market will be out in October), but I figure I have a brain, I have an opinion, and dammit, I’ve got something to say.
Right now, I’m typing this on my laptop without fear of backlash or ridicule. No one else can see it unless I post it. My six and three-year-old are watching Fairly Odd Parents, and my baby boy is trying his darndest to sooth that pesky incoming first tooth threatening his gums. This all means I probably have about fifteen minutes to get some writing in before the “I need this, I need that” starts up, and the baby cries because he needs to be rocked to sleep. So here we go:
Let’s start with a fact: I am not a pro (yet). I can’t say with any amount of certainty what the actual requirements are for being a professional writer, but I’ll share what I think it should include.
Writing, or trying to, when you can because a) you feel compelled to, b) you know you need to practice, c) you love it is how a lot of professionals and amateurs attack their passion for the art on a daily basis.
Seeking out pro markets to test the merit of your work, competing with the big dogs of the literary world as opposed to only sending you stories in for a chance to join the endless flotsam and jetsam of the amateur leagues. (note* As a new kid, I send my works to both. Hey, for us youngsters it feels good and helps our confidence to find someone who likes our stories. That said, I still try sending what I consider to be my strongest work to the pro markets first.)
—First baby care break—
A commitment to excellence. Okay, that’s pretty broad, but I think it’s also pretty obvious. If you want to be a pro, you need to take your work/art seriously. Whether you’re a first year writer, or a published veteran of twenty plus novels, you can’t half-ass your stories.
A commitment to learning. No matter your skill level, there’s always something to learn. The second you think you know enough (or God forbid, you actually know it all!) you’ve stunted as a writer, and will need to be humbled to regain some prospective.
—First timeout issued to my three-year-old—
Willingness to be a mentor. This doesn’t mean you have to have a “mailbag time” where you’re answering every question for every wanna-be under the sun, but you should be open to passing along positive nuggets to those who are expressing an honest desire to get better. Whether it be via a Facebook post, or an email, or in person at a convention, a true professional takes on at least a small part as a role model. (note* Since I started writing two years ago, I have received great advice from a number of pros in the biz- two of them, RJ Cavender and Ronald Malfi, have helped me make strides in my writing and in the way I approach my goals.)
There are a lot of other things that can be brought up: Attending Cons (I encourage any aspiring professional to do this–the panels alone are worth it. You also get to meet a lot of cool people with common goals!), signing up for writing workshops or taking creative fiction classes (I received a great tidbit on taking Creative Writing courses from Rena Mason–she told me just “to be careful. You don’t want to lose you writing voice.” A lot of teachers will try to mold you into doing things a certain way- that way is not for everyone), writing groups ( I haven’t tried this yet, but I like the concept. However, I know a few people who became a little arrogant once they participated in them for an extended amount of time. That’s probably more of a reflection on those individuals and not so much on the concept itself), and cheerleading community (I come from a punk rock background. When I was coming up with my first band, we had a great community of bands helping one another out and celebrating each achievement our friends accomplished. Don’t be jealous, be supportive. The writing community, like the music biz, is full of disgruntled folks who want to drag everyone down with them-The whole misery loves company thing. Don’t be that way. Just don’t.)
That’s my two cents. Maybe I’m a fool (I know I need some editing lessons), but maybe this helps someone. Take it as it is, or ignore it all together.