The Hard Truth About Being a Professional Writer
I happened to see this meme (above) on Facebook and I lost it laughing. This is such a great metaphor for what it is like to be a writer. In the beginning I was a rose, then I learned to become the dandelion. The dandelion might not be as pretty, but it is prolific and it is a survivor.
When I decided years ago to leave sales and become a writer, I had a far more glamorous idea of what it was like to be a professional writer (pieced together from movies). Additionally, it didn’t help that my first “novel” was so much fun to write.
Of course it was fun! I didn’t have to be constrained by these pesky things called “rules” and “craft.” I was like some kid banging away on a piano believing I was, in fact, making music.
Yet, when I joined a writing group and quickly learned how little I knew, there was this interesting change in my energy and how I approached writing.
Because now I had to think of things like “genre constraints”, “plot points”, “pinch points”, “pacing”, “scene and sequel” I found that all the fun rushed out of the process with the violent force of a depressurized jet liner. I started getting stuck. Then I’d flit from new idea to new idea trying to recapture the magic I’d once had.
Like all newbies I too started wanting to know how the pros found “inspiration” because the only thing I felt inspired to do was drink heavily and complain.
Thus, today we are going to talk about what it is really like to do this job.
When we are new, there are elements we believe we MUST have to be successful, when in truth? They are great, but seriously overrated.
Well, at least for the dandelion 😉 …
Inspiration is Overrated
Seriously. I do believe inspiration is there and it is a necessary and vital ingredient of what we do, but it’s like trying to bottle a rainbow. We enjoy it when it appears then move on when it’s gone.
When I was new, I had to feel in the “mood” to write and if anything interrupted that mood? I withered.
I was like the rose in the image, needing the perfect Ph to bloom. When I got good, though was when I became the dandelion. Any crack I could work in? I did.
CONCRETE! WHOO! HOO!
Talent is Overrated
I have met countless writers far more talented than I am. Problem was, they never sat down and got their a$$es to work. Talent is useless unless it is employed. We still have to do the work. And, the more we write, the more “talented” we become.
I know what it is like to sit in a critique group and hear another (more talented) writer read…then to feel discouraged. But, what I found happened more times than not was that super talented writer rarely finished. So me getting discouraged was just a waste of writing time.
Bees (readers) visit a lot more dandelions than they do rose bushes with no blooms 😉 .
Feelings are Overrated
Feelings lie. They are fickle and fleeting and secretly jealous when you pay attention to other things (like doing the work). One of the reasons I love writers (especially new writers) having a blog is it trains in discipline. Writing is a seriously tough job, especially in the beginning.
There is no evil boss who will write me up and fire me if I don’t get in my word count.
I have to be self-motivated.
Blogging trains in the discipline of a journalist. Journalists can’t wait to feel inspired to write about that five-alarm fire. They don’t have the luxury of reworking and reworking a piece because it isn’t worthy of a Pulitzer. Journalists have a finite amount of time to get the work done…then they SHIP.
Perfection is Overrated
One thing that will kill “inspiration” is to try to make the writing perfect. When we stop and fuss and futz with every sentence, we stall out. We leave a space for self-doubt, negativity and depression to creep in. Here’s the deal. No half-finished perfect book has ever become a NY Times best-seller, but a lot of crappy finished novels have.
Too may writers just are not giving permission to write that crappy first draft. Just write. Finish it. Then feel free to go back and refine. There is some really ugly hard work that is no fun that HAS to be done.
Guess what? The more you write the better you get. The only way to become really good at writing novels….is to write novelS. As in plural. This is science so don’t argue.
Seriously, would you trust a brain surgeon who’d only performed surgery once?
Think about it.
Pretty Prose is Overrated
One thing that stalls a lot of writers is they are too busy trying to craft every sentence to be so beautiful it makes angels weep. This is problematic for a number of reasons.
First, this verbal glitter often comes at the expense of a story. Pretty prose does not a novel make. I’ve gotten lots of submissions from writers who had glorious prose…but there was no hook. No story. Nothing to draw me in.
Fiction is about one thing and one thing only. PROBLEMS. No problem? No story. Now, if we do have a problem and also the ability to weave in glorious prose? Awesome. Just we have to make sure we are not trying to substitute fancy language for actual story.
The next reason pretty prose is overrated is that if we use too much, it can actually harm the story. It’s jarring to the reader and adds nothing but confusion. Remember that this kind of prose is like super rich food. It’s incredibly tasty but we have to limit it and balance it with other lighter pairings or it’s too heavy (and makes the reader sick).
So what I hope you will take away from all of this is that writers write. Plain and simple. There are good days and bad days and days you will wake to the sound of your cat puking and the toilet overflows and the kid is sick, but it is still a job. It is a job that can be wonderful and rewarding and everything listed above—inspiration, talent, good feelings, perfection, pretty prose—are great when we can get them, but not necessary to bloom 😉 .
What are your thoughts? Are you busy waiting for inspiration instead of writing? Do you find yourself procrastinating because you don’t think your work is good enough? Do you suck at finishing? Are you giving your feelings too much of a vote? Or did you once struggle with all of this stuff and now you are a proud DANDEFREAKINGWEED of a writer?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Remember that all WANA classes are recorded so if you miss, can’t make it or just want to refresh the material, this is included with purchase price. The classes are all virtual and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enjoy!
Blogging for Authors MAY 20th. Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.