There are writers – and I could name several off the top of my head (and the bottom of my shoe) – who, when you refer to treating writing like a job, lash out in anger.
“It’s my art,” they proclaim. “It’s my soul.”
Yeah – okay.
But here is the reality – if you want to be successful at anything, you have to treat it with the seriousness and respect that you would any other profession. How about if your dentist just wasn’t feeling his or her muse the day you arrived for your check up? Or if your lawyer just didn’t think he or she could practice law the day you had a court appearance?
Successful writers know something important – and it goes beyond the “write every day” concept that some claim as the source of all things important. There is far more to it than that. The successful writers know that in order to be successful, you have to handle your writing as your career. This includes becoming more knowledgeable about the skills and crafts needed to be good, participating with others who are committed to the same level of success, and also knowing when it’s time to go home for the day. This one is probably the hardest.
Most writers will confess to being incredibly interested in people – it’s a 24/7 hazard of the job. But certainly even the best writers can’t be monitering and assessing people all the time. Speaking for myself, I love watching people, picking up on their interesting quirks and habits, especially in places like airports or department stores. People watching is a fascinating activity, but sometimes it’s more important to pay attention to what you’re in a certain place for than to be researching new character traits for your latest book. Let’s say you’re at an airport, and the people watching is prime. Get carried away with it and you could miss your plane.
“Oh, not me,” I can hear some people saying. That’s good. That means you know when it’s time to quit working and go home.
My brain is constantly on the lookout for new materials for a book, not that I don’t already have stacks of notebooks filled with ideas, but you never know when something good might pop its head up for you to capture and use later. There are, however, times when those ideas need to be left for someone else to harvest because my focus is required in the here and now. Driving would be a great example of that, along with shopping, or teaching, or watching one of my kids’ activities.
Another aspect of treating writing like it’s your job is continuing education. A lot of writers attend a conference or a workshop every now and then – like once a year or less – and call that good. But the publishing world is a dynamic industry, constantly changing and evolving. Editors leave and go to other houses, one publisher gobbles up another, agents move into publicist jobs, etc. The market changes all the time, too. When Harry Potter was first released, you couldn’t swing a dead cat and not hit a wizard book. Now the rage is vampires, but as I mentioned in my post Writing to Trends the time for submitting a vampire book was a year ago, not now.
Attending a conference or a workshop is a great way to improve your skills, but it’s also a great way to network. This is a critical step in becoming more professional, and it’s also a good way to keep up on what is going on in the world of publishing. Unfortunately, doing this too often can get really expensive, but not doing it means you’re limiting yourself and your potential. So where is the happy medium?
There are many options open for keeping in touch with the ever-changing marketplace. There are dozens of magazines, hundreds of newsletters and on-line journals that are there to meet this need for writers. Depending on the genre in which you are interested, you can find any number of magazines at your local book store or library. A simple Google search will bring up the names, ads, subscription information, and anything else you need to know about the publication. There are also numerous professional organizations which are local, national, and even international in their membership. Some hold regular meetings, some host critique groups (another important part of professionalism), some sponsor guest speakers, and some even hold conferences or workshops. All of this is like continuing education training for writers.
The internet offers many web sites and email lists for writers of all kinds. Search Yahoo Groups with the word “writers” and you’ll find hundreds of listserves for like-minded people. These web sites and lists are excellent sources of information, idea exchanges, and updates on current news from the publishing world. They are also free, which is really good for those times when the royalty checks just aren’t coming like you’d hoped.
Treating writing as if it is your profession is far more than writing every day. I know a lot of highly published writers who don’t write every single day, but who treat their writing as their job. They know when to go home, they know how to stay on top of a constantly changing industry, and as a result, they experience great success.
So don’t wait for that mythic muse, and quit giving her undue credit and power. Get up and go to work!