Let me preface this rant by saying that I feel a little–hell a lot--like Gandalf speaking to Frodo at the beginning of Lord of the Rings: “I’m not trying to hurt you; I’m trying to help you.” So keep that in mind as I get on my writing high horse. Now I probably am going to piss people off. Probably people I’m friends with. Probably a lot of you reading this as well.
Yet once again I find myself perplexed and more than a little frustrated with people who label themselves “writers” yet appear to have no idea what comprises being a professional writer. I’ve read blogs, posts and even “classes” by and from people (hang on to your underwear Stephen King, I’m not going to list them by name) who claim that if you write a word on a piece of paper or your document in MS Word that makes you a writer. Pardon me but no it does not. I’ve seen and rolled my eyes at posts, comments, whatever that have no idea of even the definition of a professional writer.
Here it is: when people pay you. When they sign a contract with you to sell and/or represent your work (read: writing) and feel you writing is good enough to plunk down their (this includes publishers, editors, agents and readers) hard-earned dollars for it.
Now, I’m not going to pound you over the head about learning your craft or grammar or other writing lessons. I’ve done enough of that in my blogs, guest posts, etc.
I’m going to talk about the concept of “preparation” and/or “inspiration” to write. Or the lack thereof. Don’t get excited this isn’t what you may think. At first, as always, I assumed I was the one in the wrong when I heard of other people having “rituals” even to the point that I tried to create some of my own. I tried to pick out my own “special” coffee cup or mug for writing; I tried to listen to the sound of nature before I wrote. Hell, I tried drinking tea for Cripe’s sake! I hate tea. I’ve always hated tea. It has a terrible aftertaste to me. Each of those rituals lasted about two and a half nano-seconds. I got depressed. I pictured myself as some type of weirdo (well, I am that but just not in writing) who varied widely from the norm of writers.
Then I started seeing posts constantly in writing groups, guest posts, even people’s bios about having rituals in order to be able to write. As if that is a necessary ingredient to creativity. I thought about my own process of writing. I never needed a ritual to write. I sat down and freaking wrote.
This then is the delineation between professional and non-professional writers at least in my opinion. What the hell is my opinion worth? Well, let’s see. I was a professional newspaper reporter, I was a radio news director and announcer, and now I am a multi-published author. I was PAID for them ALL. Someone found me competent enough in writing to hire and pay me to do the job(s) professionally. Publishers have found my novels worthy of their time and effort to present them for sale to the public.
Why? Because a professional writer generally doesn’t have time to wait on rituals, preparation, or inspiration to strike. As a reporter, I could not sit at my desk and wait for “the words” to come. I didn’t have time. I had deadlines. I had to be competent enough to whip together a complicated news story in sometimes only minutes. That competence doesn’t come from self-indulgence. It comes from necessity and serious professional attitude.
Let me at this point reiterate my preface: I am not trying to degrade you; I am trying to make you professional. I am trying to make you be taken seriously by other professionals and by yourself as well. It’s great to sit about burning candles and incense, doing yoga poses, and opening your mind to whatever creative forces you think exist outside it, but I’ve seen supposed aspiring authors (just like I’ve seen supposed aspiring actors and musicians) fritter away precious time and creativity by waiting on The Muse. (Oh, I believe in Muses–the ones in my brain.) That’s my definition of self-indulgence. Half of my definition anyway. I’m sure many of you are highly insulted by my words. Good. Prove I’m wrong by starting, writing and finishing your novel and make it so damned good you get acclaim for it. If that means blowing out your candles, making a 65,000 word count in four months, and chucking your “writing” mug of tea into the sink permanently so be it. What gets me so crazy about this? Your brain, in addition to being the sexiest organ in your body, is the fount of all creativity. No incense burned (yes, I’ve burned it and my faves are Wisteria and good old classic Sandalwood) can infuse your mind with creative expression, even if you wait a thousand years watching smoke waft from those embers. Yoga can “free” you possibly but the only connection I find necessary between body and mind are the images and words transmitted from my brain down through my typing fingers. What then does infuse creativity? Nothing. Your brain emits creativity and your body translates it and transmits it via writing, painting, music composition and performance.
For me, all else is indulgence and the dangerous blaming of these rituals and their effectiveness or lack of for your unfinished or rejected or lazily written work. Then rituals become excuses. Excuses destroy success however you define it: selling ten millions books, getting critical acclaim, or simply getting that nagging story out of you and published.
Professionals don’t wait for inspiration, neither do most masters of any craft. They get it done because they are professional. They don’t waste time, energy or creativity. I’m not calling myself a master by any means. I am not. I’m calling myself professional in attitude, performance, goal-achievement. If you want to be taken seriously as an author (or in fact any profession) you first must behave as if you take your work and yourself seriously.
If this sounds harsh and insulting to you remember I am trying to make you better. I’ve written numerous posts and instruction on writing itself. This is about attitude. Yours and mine. You want to be a writer? Then write.