March 10, 2016

Five Ways to Treat Writing As a Profession--Before It's Your Profession

I hear a lot about writing for the love of writing. I completely agree, and if you always want it to be a hobby, then 100% yes, do it for the joy of writing. But I also think if you want to make it a career, you should think of it as a career. There are pieces you can work on at any point in your writing journey. So here are five ways that you can start now to treat writing like a profession, even before you're published or succeeding professionally. 

1. Do the job consistently--I can't tell you how much difference it has made for me just to go from the mindset of writing when I feel like it to writing on a predetermined schedule. I write every day but Sunday, and it gets me in a mode where it's easier to start each time, the ideas come more freely because my book is always percolating in the back of my mind, and even if it's only a tiny bit each day, it adds up quickly to make me feel like I've accomplished something substantial. 

In any other career, you're exposed to your profession regularly (usually five days per week), so why should writing be any different?

2. Schedule your time--this goes with the first one, but I've found that when I decide to do writing after everything else that has to be done, it never happens. That doesn't mean neglect your housework or your kids or your full-time job, but it does mean to make the shift in mindset that writing is your profession, and that means it's a top priority. Schedule time to read. Schedule time to write. Make those firm, like you would any other meeting. Missing a day here or there is fine, but waiting until the day when life will settle down and you can BE a writer isn't going to happen. 

You're selling yourself short not to schedule it in now. Even for five or ten or twenty minutes at a time.

3. Grow professionally--the focus of this blog is crafting and I obviously love books about writing craft, so that's a part of growing professionally. This also means going to writing conferences. It means networking on social media. It means studying and honing your craft in whatever way works for you. There are hundreds of online writing courses, free or paid, about any topic you can think of. Don't try to tackle it all at once--that's way too overwhelming--but if you do a tiny piece, a day at a time, you'll be surprised how much you can accomplish in a month or a year. If you're in this for the long haul, it will make all the difference! 

Besides, what I think makes writers the best kind of people is the never-ending curiosity and desire to learn more about the world around us.

4. Present yourself professionally--you hear all the time about "building an author platform" even before you're published. I think that's important, of course, but even more important are: being nice to other people; saying things on social media that won't come back to haunt you when you're rich and famous; not submitting crappy, unpolished writing to contests, agents, or editors. 

You know, in general, be the professional you expect those around you to be.

5. Don't take shortcuts--this one's hard. I think I've mentioned that this is my third year of hard core, every day "professional" writing. I meet with two writing groups nearly every single week. I push myself harder each year, hoping if I just do more/work faster/think better, something will work out. I've had some heart-breakingly close calls with agents and publishers. It's times like these that I have to face the hard reality that I'm just not quite there yet. That doesn't mean I can skip steps because I'm not seeing the results I want. 

I firmly believe that anyone who puts in the time and effort, who keeps plugging along, who adapts as the industry continues to evolve, will be successful. Writing ability increases with time. We don't lose physical prowess with age like athletes or dancers. We don't have to be young and beautiful in front of a screen. We can keep working hard until it happens for us. That doesn't mean we'll all be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King someday, but it's not over till it's over. And for most of us, we have a lot of time left and a lot of potential still to achieve. 

Be a professional along the way, and chances are, someday you'll get to try it on officially.

What kinds of things do you do to make creative pursuits part of your professional goals?

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