I’ve written a retrospective, but no posts about my experiences. This is what I had originally intended for this blog, I just haven’t felt like anything I’ve done or been through was worth mentioning yet. I’ve started to reflect on what’s changed, however, and I wanted to talk a little bit about the overall shift of attitude and habits between hobby and professional writing. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t earned a dime yet, but I have committed to writing in a “professional manner,” so there’s still at least a subtle difference.
When you’re writing as a hobby, there’s zero pressure to do well. Don’t like a story you’re writing? Toss it. Don’t want to finish it? Don’t. Is editing the bane of your existence? Forget about it. There’s no reason to agonize over tone or flow, and if you write something that’s not great but still okay, that’s fine. No one is going to read it anyway.
The shift that happens when you try to write professionally, is that you have an obligation to keep going. Don’t like a story you’re writing? Figure out why and fix it. Don’t want to finish it? Too bad. Is editing the bane of your existence? Deal with it. “Git gud,” as the kids say.
This isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying this. On the contrary, I feel that it lends the credibility I needed for my new
addiction profession. I no longer feel like a child now that I’m paying attention to schedules and I’m actively reading about writing. I’m setting goals and objectives, planning out my learning and doing all of the career ownership I never did in any other job I’ve had before. I enjoy this and take it more seriously than anything else in my life, and it feels…purposeful. Liberating. It’s why I’m doing the retrospectives and keeping tabs on metrics. I’m my own boss, yes, said with all the puffed up pride as the next guy. But I’m also acting as my own manager.
I’m sitting in my new writing spot as I type this. My “writing spot” has moved multiple times over the past couple of months, indicative of the changes I’ve gone through. There’s a lot more pressure now, but it feels good. When I write something terrible, my first thought is still “oh god, why?” but that’s followed closely by “How can I make this better?” and “Editing this will be great practice for me.” It’s a strange shift, going from a fixed-mindset to a growth-mindset. I’ll have to write more on that as well.
We are getting closer and closer to the day when I’ll be able to actually quit and write full-time, though I’m not counting this as my “be a full-time writer” goal until I’m actually making money from it. I also don’t have delusions that I’m going to write the next Big Thing that earns me millions, but I suspect that I might be able to make enough each month to cover the gap between what my partner makes and what we need to both make rent and eat out a time or two.
This gets me to the part where I write a little more about the lessons I’ve learned in this process.
Lessons Learned Thus Far
Letting a piece rest
When you cook meat, you always want to let it sit at room temperature to rest for a little while. This allows all the juices to redistribute, otherwise when you carve it, you’re just going to have a wet cutting board and dry meat. When you finish a draft, what I’m learning is you want to let the story rest, lest you cut into it for editing and…your story juice gets…you know what? Terrible metaphor. I find that it gives me space and clarity. It sounds a little less like my own writing and it makes it easier to tear apart. The longer a piece rests, the easier it is to edit, but you don’t always get that luxury. Letting it rest between edits is useful as well, especially if you change a significant portion or are doing rewrites.
Setting your objectives
If you have a lot of projects you are trying to get done all at once (say, a blog, a book, and a short story or five), it may begin to feel like you aren’t making progress on any of them. I felt this. It was like I was pressing the pedal all the way to the floorboards and my wheels were caught in mud. Pulling away from everything and writing down exactly what I wanted to accomplish this year made it clear where I wanted to go, and writing down exactly what I aimed to accomplish when gave me a plan for how to get there (this might actually be the next article, since it has been so helpful). This allowed me to simply trust in this plan, as long as I could stick to the daily tasks. It also allowed me to plan for time off. That brings me to another item:
I cannot say this enough. If you are trying to get through a night class, do homework, work full time, and start a brand new career, you will need time to rest. Not having the clear plan I mentioned in the last point combined with a need to be constantly working sapped the life out of me and reduced me to a panicking, sobbing mess two or three days out of the week. Don’t be like me–er, the old me. Be more like the me now. Whatever – don’t burn yourself out is the important bit. Plan for down time.
Find a writing group
I haven’t actually done this one yet, and I hate it. I need to have someone who I’m not married or related to read my work for feedback, and I need to get better at critiquing others’ work as well. Why the second one? It’s important to learn from your own mistakes and writing habits, but you get double the lessons out of learning from someone else’s as well. There also inherent risks involved in writing groups, but as long as you remain aware of them, it makes for a great way to grow.
Sometimes you need to completely start over
The other day I was working on a flash fiction piece that I wrote the first draft for a year or so ago. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to work – the descriptions were clunky, the piece had no point, nothing really mattered. I hated it, but as we’ve just established, professionals at least try to finish what they start. For a week I wrote a paragraph here, did some copypasta from the first draft there. Removing lines, adding words. Taking out and promptly putting commas back in (seriously, I have a problem). In frustration I opened a new document and started from scratch. In about an hour I had something far better than I’ve written in a long while.
Once you figure out that a piece isn’t working, and you can’t get it to – nix it. Toss it. Kill it. Not the whole idea, but parts that aren’t working. My example was flash fiction, so I could afford to start from scratch all over again, but if you’re working on a chapter that doesn’t fit – get rid of it and try again. No need to throw away the book, but the chapter can go, I promise. You will soar once out from under that dead weight.
Most importantly, be honest with yourself
If you know you aren’t going to work on Tuesdays, don’t try. Make that your Saturday. If you know that you like your spouse and you want to spend time with them once they get off work, make sure you finish your tasks for the day before then. If you know that you’re very “out of sight, out of mind,” hang your tasks and schedule on the wall where you see them every day. Stay mindful of what works and what doesn’t, and don’t be afraid to change something, even for a day, if you think it will help.
What have you been learning about yourself or your process recently? Any specific tips to share with the rest of us about making the switch to “professional?” Share in the comments below!