Twenty years ago, I became a professional writer. How? I made the decision, said so, and lived the words.
The difference between professionals and amateurs when it comes to writing boils down to an attitude and a bearing. I’ve met well-known, well-paid writers that I would call amateurs. I know unpublished, unpaid writers that I would call professionals. One day, their fortunes will flip. If a rule of writing exists, that is the rule.
What does it take to be a professional writer? First, calling yourself a writer. Second, writing. Third, not getting caught up in other things. The amateurs call themselves something else, they don’t write, and they get caught up in other things.
Whether it paid well or not at all, whether my work published to acclaim or languished unsold, writing was my job during those twenty years. I sometimes starved. I sometimes drowned in debt. These days, writing treats me well. Do all writers need to starve? Do they need to drown in debt? No. I made many mistakes.
In that time, when I met people and they asked me what I did, I said I wrote. I never had a problem saying that, like some writers do. I did it, so I said it. But I had a problem answering the next question.
“What do you write?”
I wrote poems, short stories, reviews, interviews, articles, joke articles, haiku horoscopes, screenplays, true crime docudrama scripts, video game manuals, social media marketing copy, grant applications, newsletters, comic books… I worked in different genres, different styles, different mediums… I did not know what to say. All my answers sounded boring, confusing, stupid, or all three. They just led to more questions.
I took to saying, “I write the wrong way.” A joke at first, but as I repeated the joke it seemed to encapsulate everything I did as a writer, or at least everything I did well. I never wanted to be like other writers (with a handful of heroic exceptions). Maybe that means I will never achieve greatness, but I achieve other things.
Using the category “Time to Write,” in the coming months I am going to publish some of my thoughts on writing and the writing life. These will capture some of what these twenty years have taught me, in the form of short, sharp shocks.
I don’t want to exhaust you, so these posts won’t be exhaustive. You can reach into this pool of my limited wisdom, grasp a thrashing form, and pull it from the water.
Try to cook it up. See what dishes you can make.
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