Last Monday I put up a list of ingredients that I believe are essential for professional writers, and which I would love to discuss with you straight-out. Some of you guys are published, some are about to be, and some are currently drafting their first novel, and that’s all equally fine. Because bing professional has nothing to do with our publishing status, and everything to do with our attitude toward writing, and toward our future.
So let’s just start at the top of the list.
Professionalism cannot exist without dedication to our writing, and discipline in becoming and staying successful at it. The two spin a thread together, and without them, however much we’d love to believe otherwise, our work is nothing more than scattered bits of effort here and there, some lint, a coin and crumpled paper. Without the thread to bind the usable stuff together and make it amount to something greater, all of these things are just crap in our pockets.
In other words, without dedication to a clear goal and discipline in achieving it, all our writing is just practice.
But hey, we’re all passionate about writing and about our stories, and we’re always interested in improving the execution. So what’s the difference between good old passion & practicing and professional dedication & discipline? What do I have to do to turn one into the other?
Well, there are just two steps in becoming dedicated and disciplined like a professional. In reaching any goal, for that matter.
1. Understanding what it takes
2. Putting it into practice
Pretty straightforward, ain’t it? So why is it so hard?
Thing is, no one can staple our butts to them chairs and make us type out a novel. We have to do that ourselves. But that’s not even the greatest problem. The greatest problem is understanding what we have to work on first, in order for all our other efforts to be strung together in a useful way.
I can’t stress the importance of the right attitude and understanding of one’s goal enough. Because where there is comprehension, there is improvement. Where the mind goes, the body follows.
So I’m gonna do my best and flail my hands in the air, and yell a lot at the mirror too. ‘Cause there’s a difference between an amateur and a professional, and it’s important to understand how one of them is only effort, while the other is purposeful work.
– writes on the side
– must set reminder to get writing
– is easily distracted
– is dependent on the whims of her muse
– her writing interferes with her day-job
– dreams of becoming a ‘published author’
– tries to swim against the current
– fails and is disillusioned
– complains about the unfair odds
– goes on with her life
– does everything else on the side
– writing every day is a compelling habit
– channels everything into her writing
– is in charge of her inspiration
– her day-job interferes with her writing
– has a plan for becoming a successful author
– builds bridges
– fails and tries different approaches
– studies the game and adapts her strategy
– goes on to achieve her goal
A dedicated writer cultivates her hunger for storytelling and learns to master it.
A disciplined writer turns this continuous learning process into a lifestyle.
I’m sure Kristen Lamb (Self Discipline – The Key to Success), James Scott Bell (The Most Important Characteristic Every Writer Needs), Holly Lisle (How to Tell Who WON’T Make It in Writing), and Chuck Wendig (25 Reasons You Won’t Finish That Story) would all agree with this, because they all know this is the only way it’s done. And there are countless other successful writers out there who will tell you the same thing.
Try looking at it this way.
Dedication is simply focused passion. It’s the insurmountable desire to share that story with others in the most effective way. It means following your heart and writing that which has the deepest meaning to you, and working at it until it breaks through to others in all its splendor.
And don’t worry about your idea being “unconventional.” Excellent execution can make anything palatable. Instead of trying to fit your square into a circle and compromising it, try to make that square the best possible square there is, get people excited about edges and corners, and then give them squares to their hearts’ desires. Dedication means creating a whirlwind of excitement and passion about your fiction that rips people off their feet and brings them to you.
But that doesn’t work over night.
Discipline means trying again and again and again, until it does. It means you keep going even though there’s no instant gratification. You have to keep your eyes on the finish line, keep the engine running and those wheels spinning every day until you get there—and then shoot past it and go even further.
Discipline means creating momentum, so that it can push you through the hard times, and see you to the other side where all your other cumulated efforts (the honing of your skills, the generous networking, and your growing industry savvy) are ready to greet you and push you further still.
A successful writing career is not a miracle. It’s the sum total of many little efforts and many little victories, strung together with a clear purpose. We’re already way ahead of the game if we understand this, and learn to use it. True story.