The Art of Writing Professionally (part 3)

Before I get into this, some background. I am not a full-time writer, at least not of the type this article is discussing. I have had a nonfiction book traditionally published, had a screenplay optioned, and am querying a novel. So I've written at a professional level but not made it my full-time job. I was asked several years ago to write this article for an event on Wattpad.

Part 1, part 2.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, you might have this stuff necessary to become a professional writer. But do you want to?

This Life is WORK

As I mentioned in the earlier parts of this series, professional writing isn’t all about getting that exciting first draft onto the page. It’s not unusual for the editing phase to take one, two, three times the amount of time (or more) that writing the first draft took. It can be a slog. You will get tired of it. You will get frustrated with it. You will have lots and lots and lots of shiny new ideas that begs you to spend time on them instead.

A professional writer doesn’t have the luxury of bouncing from project to project just because he’s bored. Although many professionals may have more than one project going at the same time, those projects are usually in different phases. One might be in the planning phase. Another might be in a heavy write/rewrite phase. Still another might be in pre-or post-production.

What professional writers really have is deadlines. Even self-published writers have deadlines. Audiences for self-published writers expect frequent content, and they expected on a consistent, predictable basis. If you have promised books on March 15, June 15, September 15, and December 15, your audience will NOT be happy if you get distracted by other projects or by real-life.

Day in the Life

So what does a day in the life of a professional writer look like? The answer to that is as varied as the writers themselves. Most have some combination of time spent writing, editing, marketing/promoting, and managing business issues, which range from choosing a cover designer, building the final digital file of the latest book, negotiating subsidiary rights, and managing distribution. Most professional writers will tell you that far too much of their time is spent on marketing and managing their business, and far too little is spent doing what they love, which is writing.

Professional writing is a job. Professional writing is work.

It’s also important to mention that professional writers almost never start off working exclusively as a writer. Most have full-time jobs or full-time families. That means there are far fewer hours available for writing, editing, marketing, and managing business issues. That means writing is an even smaller part of your day. When you do write, you have to write efficiently. You no longer have the luxury of writer’s block. If you are a pantser, you may find deadlines force you to work with an outline.

Being a professional writer sometimes means you don’t get to write only what you love. You have to study the market. If you are a traditionally published writer, you will find your agent and your editor have a great deal of influence on what and how you write. If you are self-published, you may find that you have to change what you write in order to appeal to enough readers to make enough sales.

No Guarantees

Probably the most sobering fact about writing professionally is that no matter how hard you work, you cannot guarantee you will become successful. The vast majority of traditionally-published writers do not earn a living wage. There are probably more self-published writers who are making a living wage these days, but those writers are a tiny percentage of the writers who self-publish. The percentage of self-published writers who are financially successful are those who “self-publish well.”

Self-publishing well requires a financial investment in your book. Professional writers put out professional products. Period. They do not EVER put work up for sale that has not been written to a professional standard. They invest in a professional, genre-appropriate cover and professional editing. Yes, this costs money. Sit on your heels and save your money. Running a business requires capital.

Conclusion

Many, many people dream of becoming professional writers. This is an incredibly exciting time to be a writer, and forming a career around something you love and are passionate about is a dream-worthy endeavor. 

The day-to-day reality of being a professional writer is not the romantic life seen in the movies. It’s not a life of sitting on the veranda type, type, typing away day and night. It take a lot of skill, and more than that, it takes a lot of work.

Are you up for the challenge?

a day in the life

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