The Shocking Truth About Being A Professional Writer

I like to cut to the chase and spell things out the way I see them, especially when it comes to business. And from what I’ve learned and studied so far, the single most important fact about being a professional writer is this:

We alone are responsible for the success of our writing career, and we are responsible for it 100% of the time.

That’s the truth.

If it makes you dizzy and weak in the knees, welcome to the club. Had my little birdies all fluttering around my head when I found out about it too. Got over it though. And then got really excited, because it’s also a pretty awesome thing to grasp once you get a good hold of it. Know why? Because it makes you boss!

The power to turn us into professional writers doesn’t lay in the hands of agents, editors or publishers (even if we choose to go traditional, or are already traditionally published), and it doesn’t lay in the hands of our peers or our family, however smooshy their love is. This doesn’t mean “OMG, I’m alone and everyone’s against me!”. All this really means is that we can directly influence our success every step of the way.

Family cannot push us out of our comfort zone and turn us into warriors against our will, however supportive they are.
Agents cannot endorse and sell something we are not fully convinced of ourselves, something we have not given our best, our downright ALL to create and polish.
Editors cannot correct and improve our work if we are unwilling to correct and improve it ourselves, and to keep learning and growing.
Publishers cannot push us to the top of any list if we don’t stand behind what we do with all conviction and all effort we are capable of, and yes, that includes networking and marketing. Never mind the necessity of our product to be sellable in the first place. No agent or publisher out there wakes up one day and decides “Gee, today I think I’m gonna get out of my way to help this selfish lazy bastard and his pile o’ paper make it big!”
And our fellow writers, our peeps and peers cannot turn us into successful writers either, just like we cannot transform any one of them into a success. What they can offer is understanding, support and shared experiences that we can derive confidence and comfort out of, but we still have to work our asses off to build our careers from scratch. Writing groups and forums fall under this exact same category. They’re awesome for feedback and support, and it’s one of the better things you can do with your time online, but they need to have something to support in the first place.

Just think about it. People wouldn’t have any such unreasonable, damaging expectations in any other field of work. Or would you expect your family and friends to hug you reeeeal hard and turn you into a doctor through sheer love and support? Would you expect the guy interviewing you for a new job to get out of his way and invest time and money into making you a big fish in his company? Would you expect people to flock in front of your door and throw money at you just because you spray-painted Attorney on your doormat one day and sprinkled glitter all over it? No way.

Truth is, if we want to be successful in any field, including writing fiction, we have to come prepared and do our job every day.

Sounds like a lot of work? Well, what did you expect? If this doesn’t make sense to you, here’s a cookie. Go sit in the corner and play with your crayons while everyone else pulls up their sleeves and gets working. See you in the audience, down the road.

Did that last part make you wanna rip my head off? Good! You’re eager and determined and won’t let hard work (or a crazy ginger) talk you out of your plan for word domination. Highfive! Besides, I still need my head. There’s no refund.

The fact that being a professional is a matter of choice and is well within our direct influence is a very empowering realization. It also means we get to keep our integrity, which is crucial to our writerly life. We don’t have to grovel before anyone else, and don’t have to kiss ass and shovel all sorts of bullshit into our pie-holes so others will approve of us. It means we can make this ride be as fast or slow as we please, take as many detours as we want, or be as focused and dedicated as we choose to be. And that’s damn right awesome news!

But first it’s important to understand how careers that require exposure really work. The most important law in this is that we get exactly what we invest. If we give more, we get more. If we work more, we get better results. If we write more, we learn and grow more. And if we network more, we get to see more funny cat pics. LOL. Aaand extend our reach, also known as — The Platform! *crack of thunder*. The way we network with others is a tremendously important component of our writing career, but more about that later.

So gather your thoughts. Begin as early as possible — begin right now. There’s no time like the present, true story! And there’s just about a handful of ingredients we need to pay attention to, and the rest will fall into place:

dedication
discipline
savvy
focus
sociability
growth
patience
perseverance
positivity
vision

Of course, having a kickass story is THE key ingredient, but stories come and go. If one story doesn’t make it, you write another, a better one. Hell, even if a story does make it, you still write another. And then another, and another. We’re professional writers, not one-book wonders. This is not about fifteen minutes of fame and screaming, shirt-ripping groupies. *it’s not? …pout*

So the ultimate truth of life, the universe and everything is this:

Attitude + Body of Work + Network = Success & groupies

And the best way to make sure we’re headed in the right direction with our body of work (aka stories) and our networking (aka social marketing) is to sharpen our attitude.

I’ll be posting my two cents on the major ingredients that make up a professional attitude regardless of the publishing status. This won’t be just my afternoon hallucinations, but observations and conclusions from dozens of books I’ve read (and #amreading), qualified blogs and crazy useful advice by people much further down the rabbit chute than me. Also, from my job experience as a system analyst and team leader, because with respect to being professional, one profession is much like any other. Same rules of common sense and personal investment apply. So if you like, join me in exposing the components of a professional mindset and pimping up that writer package!

 

Tell me what you think. How important is attitude in pursuing a career as a writer? What about becoming fully in charge of our attitude, and start getting results even before we’re published?

 

45 Replies to “The Shocking Truth About Being A Professional Writer”

    1. Dear Veronica. Everything you say is so true. Out ofwork 6 years I started writing books in 2010. In 2013 my first book BASEBALL TEAM NAMES was published by McFARLAND. It got 6 good reviews and is listed No. 37 of the Best 100 Sports Books of 2013. Even so I only earned a few hundred dollars in royalties. But I’m undaunted. I writing team names books on football, basketball, soccer, and hockey. When you become a pro writer it’s: 1) YOUR JOB, 2) your battle against deadlines, lack of discipline, and lack of will, 3) your responsibility to market your book. Actor Tom Hanks said “I’ve made 25 movies and five of them were good!” Physicist Robbert Oppenheimer said “To gave a good idea you’ve got to have a lot of ideas.” Same with book.s Write as much as you can. Sign contracts with publishers and market as hard as you can. The world economy is distinegrating. You’ve got to find some way – not to be a millionaire – but to earn money for a living. Writing is a good way to do it. A’int easy. But not too much is. Thanks for your website.

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      1. πŸ™‚ The Englsh language evolves, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ‘affected with nausea’ definition become the primary one before long. Almost no one employs it with the primary meaning; almost every time you see it, it’s intended to convey the ‘affected with nausea’ meaning. It’s probably a tiny fraction of your readers who really care about the distinction. I have the dubious distinction of being one of those.

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  1. I’ve never had any patience for those who don’t take responsibility for themselves – whether it involves becoming a “successful” writer, or a neighborhood watch president, or a top-notch CEO. The fact is, we’re the ones driving this vehicle (aka, the body). At the end of the day, it’s on our shoulders.
    I learned quite some time ago if something doesn’t work out the way I want, to ask: What was my role in this?
    Responsibility = empowerment. And yes, writers need to practice being responsible to their own selves.

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    1. That’s very true, Tracy. Well said.

      Responsibility comes with the power to steer things, and understanding one’s role comes with a great sense of purpose.

      Nothing beats the convergence of all our little efforts into one single, clear direction. No obstacle withstands the constant trickle of purposeful work.

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      1. Oh, I am so quoting you…

        “No obstacle withstands the constant trickle of purposeful work.” – The Vero.

        (y) <- (Hopefully that looks like a thumbs up after I post this comment. If not, well, thumbs up!)

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  2. I also found this from Les’s plug on FB. Just curious though. Can I have the cookie and crayon in a corner, if I still plan on fighting to get published with all of this in mind? I really like cookies, crayons and corners, so it’s not like it’s a punishment to me. πŸ˜‰

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    1. LOL, sure, Lynn! Look, right over there I’ve drawn a little giraffe, and just about… there is where I broke my red crayon trying to overwrite “nauseous”. πŸ˜›

      Thanks for stopping by! Glad you found my blog. (Thanks, Les. You rock!)

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  3. Well said! I think one problem writers have that is somewhat unique compared to other occupations/jobs/professions, etc. is that so many friends and family members, and others, tell us that no one (or only a very few) can make a living by writing. This negativity, while perhaps well-intended, rarely leaves the writer’s consciousness, and thus a sense of urgency and impatience enters the consciousness, and a lack of early success breeds premature frustration and resignation. We want to show them that we can make a living at it, but we want affirmation and success quickly, partly just to shut up the naysayers. Writers must fight through this, and recognize that, in any endeavor, there are precious few who achieve success quickly. All other professions/occupations/jobs have their difficulties, though the reality is that those in the “arts,” including writing, must know that the road is difficult, and perhaps uniquely difficult. But, doctors and dentists and lawyers and engineers work a long time to get credentialed and licensed, and then work to build a practice too. Writers must have the same dedication and perseverance. And most of all, they must have patience, as you said. It does take work. One problem for writers is that there are many “part-time” writers who are in competition with full-time writers. As such, there is a lot of “supply” for not enough demand. So that is another “problem” for writers. But, it goes with the territory. There are few part-time doctors or lawyers or engineers, etc. because those professions are very demanding of one’s time. And most writers are not only artists, they are their own business owners as well, encompassing the usual business aspects (accounting, managing the business, technology manager, etc.). So you are right: the writing is the product, just as toothpaste and cars and cameras are products, but the makers of those products usually have warehouses and production employees and sales forces and advertizers and HR depts. But the writer is the producer, the manufacturer, the sales force, the marketer, the CEO, the manager and so on. And this does make it extra difficult, especially as we try to beat the naysayers. So the writer must work harder and be more creative. Though hard work never guarantees success, the odds are much better for those who work hard than for those who don’t work!

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    1. Starting out with unrealistic expectations is like trying to run with your shoelaces tied to each other.

      Writing is an occupation, and later hopefully a career, that comes only with long-term results and no immediate gratification other than the satisfaction of manifesting one’s creativity. It’s because of this difference to most professions that aspiring writers start out with a wrong impression, expect results before their time and if these fail to come, give up in disillusionment.

      There are a number of things that come with any career choice, but to significantly improve our chances, despite ourselves and other cynics (or naysayers, as you said), we must start out with a clear head, and realistic expectations regarding the industry, the amount of effort we have to invest, and the amount of time it takes for us to see any results.

      Thank you very much for sharing your opinion on this, Daniel. It’s definitely important for all of us to remember that “in any endeavor, there are precious few who achieve success quickly,” and to stay focused on our goals.

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  4. Like any job, there are good days and then there are those days when I have to drag myself to the desk and make myself write. I’ve also had days when I gaze out across the future, at the daunting amount of work I have to undertake to get anywhere as a professional writer and end up wanting to hide under the desk instead β€”I wonder if architects or rocket-scientists ever feel that way? One of the things that keeps me going, and my head above the desk, is the awareness that there are others out there, not only undertaking similar journeys, but who are willing to share the knowledge and experience they have gained on the way. Thanks for doing so Vero.

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    1. Thank you for the wonderful encouragement, Simon! Much appreciated.

      True, some days are very difficult, and the more of them come strung together, the greater the frustration. But when writing and sharing your stories makes you burn with excitement, and you know this is what you want to be doing for the rest of your life, then giving up no longer remains an option. And sharing your experiences with others, learning from them in return, can give you a good nudge and have you back on track.

      Thank you very much for stopping by, and have a great time chiseling The Different! πŸ˜‰

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  5. Oh yes, girl, sing it to the choir! This is true in EVERYTHING in our lives. You’ve got to have talent, but if you can’t finish a book, you ain’t going anywhere!

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    1. That’s right, Jaye! Finishing a novel is a must — but it’s important to remember that you have no deadline. Any pace is fine as long as it’s a pace, and not indefinite stagnation. Keep going!

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  6. “We’re professional writers, not one-book wonders. This is not about fifteen minutes of fame and screaming, shirt-ripping groupies.”

    Dang, guess I’d better go back to playing the drums then. Seriously, though, this article made me realize I learned at least ONE thing from all my years in the banking industry: Professionalism. And crayons. (Well, I did give them to my son when I had to bring him with into work on a Saturday several times.) Never underestimate the power of crayons.

    β€œNothing beats the convergence of all our little efforts into one single, clear direction. No obstacle withstands the constant trickle of purposeful work.”

    Not to take away from your article, but this reply of yours to a comment was probably more insightful than anything else above. You rock! \m/ ^.^ \m/

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    1. Thanks a bunch, Tim! πŸ˜€

      Writing isn’t just an isolated activity, it’s a funnel for everything else in your life. You can use a huge amount of skills from other parts of your life and experience very effectively, and everyone has those to draw from. They’re an often untapped reserve, like professionalism and patience learned at the workplace, like persistence learned by not buckling down to neighbors, colleagues or mothers-in-law, and so on.
      It’s very much a matter of flipping the finger and just doing it! πŸ™‚

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  7. Great post, V.

    I know many talented writers, but they don’t have the dedication and fearlessness it takes to do much about it. They dream about it, and might start projects. But fear grips them and they don’t finish out of fear.

    So very sad.

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    1. Thanks, Jay!

      That’s so true.
      It’s a huge pity that having a creative streak and desire to share your brainchildren also comes with paying too much attention to how people react to you — this easily turns into waiting for them to be positive about your endeavors FOR you, until you start doing something more consistent about them. Placing the judgement of your writing’s worthwhile-ness in the opinions of others is immensely damaging.

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  8. Great post, Vero! I’m cruising your blog to see what I missed while on vacation, and it seems I missed some good stuff.

    It’s so important to take responsibility for the path ahead of you, and you’re right–it’s up to us, no one else. And it doesn’t stop with planning our journey either! So many writers plan, plan, plan and stop there, but that’s not good enough. You can line up your shot all day long, but you won’t hit anything until you draw that bowstring back and let ‘er rip. And only you can do that.

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    1. Thanks, James! Awesome comparison — planning alone is like constantly aiming, but not firing. You must take that step, get going and keep going, for your plan to become reality. πŸ™‚

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  9. Without the proper attitude your writing will never move from hobby to career. Millions of people (even published authors) are hobby writers–only a small portion ever make the leap to thinking of their writing as being important.

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    1. That’s true, unfortunately. Writers are very prone to self-doubts (I should know), but way too many let these fleeting insecurities affect their future and their decision to actually fully be writers.

      Thank you very much for the comment, Lauren! πŸ™‚

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  10. Hi Veronica,

    I’m Chelsie and I’m studying to become a Professional Writer at Baylor University. One of my classes requires me to interview a working professional in the field. I was wondering if you would be interested in allowing me to ask you around 7-10 questions via email sometime in the next few weeks. If you have the time and will to be an interviewee please email me at chelsie_stanford@baylor.edu

    Thank you,

    Chelsie

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    1. Hi Chelsie, nice meeting you!

      Sounds great and I’d love to help, though you’re probably required to interview someone who’s published, which I’m not at the time. I’ll email you, and see if we can find a fitting alternative together, if that’s the case, alright? πŸ™‚

      Thanks for asking!

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  11. Hi, can I ask about this? You linked to “get known before the book deal”. I’m just working on my first “real ” novel , first draft right now. It might be just a shelfer obviously (my first) , I’m in my 30’s. I don’t have finances for things that require technology beyond a laptop , so i don’t do twitter or anything social media. I Hoped that maybe later later when I get a lot more writing under my belt and am comfortble in that , then maybe start a blog…or maybe get the angent first, then a blog. etc…
    I don’t know. I have to work within my mean you know?

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  12. The essay writing industry is a source of interesting statistical data. There has been a steady growth in this industry. Basically, the essay writing services writes the academic essay that helps the students with below average capacity but slowly orders from the students who are the lazy one who only find the easier way for the messy situation as well as really smart young people who simply couldn’t find the time to do their own work.

    Some Shocking Truth about Essay Writing Services

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