My Experience Shifting Between Hobby and Professional Writing

See? He’s professional now because of the bowtie!
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

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:

Burnout suuuuuucks

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!

April/May Retrospective

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

As this is the first retrospective, allow me to explain what the heck that is.

In the software development world, a retrospective is what’s called a “ceremony.” The dev team looks back at the last “sprint” (typically about 2 weeks of work) and writes down what went well, what didn’t go well, and if there is anything they can do differently for the next sprint. This places great importance on improvement.

With that, I bring you my first monthly retrospective! This one combines April and May, since I started mid-month and didn’t launch anything until recently.

Monthly Totals

Totals for May
Why yes, that 52 IS representative of how many days I’d been quarantined by the 3rd of May…

April:

Total Words Written: 18,840
Total Writing Days (since April 12): 16
Days Missed: 3
Average WPD (words per day): ~1,178

May:

Total words written: 19,209
Days missed: 11
Average WPD (words per day): ~620

What Went Well:

  • I actually managed to launch a thing! I honestly never expected to grow a pair big enough to put anything online. 
  • Lots of work happened in April, and my consistency with writing overall has been pretty cool to see. Again, I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself, with work wearing me down and the ‘rona keeping me stressed.
  • At the beginning, I didn’t have a great sense of what needed to go into an outline. I’d have some that were four pages long and others that were four lines long. This obviously produced inconsistent results. With practice, however, I got better at crafting an outline to get an article of good length without too much effort when it came time to write.
  • Improving my editing skills is a similar story. I actually sucked at editing in general until I needed to do it with all the posts I’ve prepped. This is what people mean when they say that you should finish your stories, by the way. You can’t improve until you actually do the thing you need to improve upon. 
  • I’ve narrowed down what my voice should be for this blog. It took time, and lots of editing in the beginning, but it is consistent and natural now.
  • After doing some more reading about writing, I’ve figured out what my recently rejected story “The Errant Crow” needs to be better.

What Didn’t Go Well:

  • Physical/mental/emotional neglect. I didn’t take breaks as often as I should. I stalled my health by not exercising. I didn’t take any planned days off. This all accumulated until I burned out for a bit and pulled muscles, pinched nerves, and had panic attacks. This might be more related to anxiety over the ‘rona, but burning myself out definitely didn’t help. 
  • At the beginning I tried to write without outlines, and this lead to a lot of unusable crap on the page. Which isn’t bad when you’re still trying to figure things out in a story, but isn’t sustainable when you need to write a bunch of posts within a short amount of time.
  • I kept trying to write just whenever. A lot of mornings were spent shuffling about until I had to log on for work, costing me writing time. At lunch, I typically needed to, y’know, eat, and after work I wanted to hang out with my spouse – or rather, he was done with work and it was impossible to concentrate with him loose. So the morning was the only guaranteed time I had to get some work done.
  • I had originally started with the plan of alternating what I was going to write every day. Monday would be a post writing day, Tuesday a short story day, Wednesday I would work on my novel, repeat for Thursday through Saturday and then Sunday would be whatever I needed to work on most. What it turned into was me writing a lot of outlines, then some posts, then a tiny bit of a short story, then burning out and not writing anything for a few days, and then realizing I’m not on track to meet my self-imposed deadlines and panic-writing posts for awhile, then feeling guilty about not writing any fiction, then burning out again…whew! That’s exhausting just to type out, let alone live.
  • Having not sorted this last point out until very recently, means that I didn’t actually write anything toward any of my novels (as you can see in the picture above).

Goals or Action Items for Next Month

  • Take planned breaks.
  • Stick to a schedule that makes sense and is doable, while also allowing for flexibility.
  • Exercise regularly – at least stand up and stretch every so often.
  • Eat well and (gasp) don’t drink too much coffee.
  • Continue to revise and change “The Errant Crow” until ready for submission.
  • Start working on my novels again, alternating with the short stories, if at all possible.

The schedule that I’ve settled on (for now) is writing posts in “seasons.” Basically I’ll write a bunch of articles during a set time while taking a break on my fiction. After I’ve got enough to last for a few months (assuming new developments or feedback don’t require rewrites or extra articles), I can go back. This is excluding the retros, obviously. I can’t write those in advance.

This takes away the stress I feel not doing one or the other, since I’m not expecting to do both at the same time (which is madness, really). 

I’ve also written up a loosely-structured schedule for both weekdays and weekends and have posted it up on the cork board in my office. We’ll see how well I actually stick to it, as I’ve taken up some side projects. If I don’t, it gives me another method that doesn’t work, and I can try something new next month.


What about you folx: how has your month gone well, not gone well, and what can you do in June to improve?

Obligatory Introduction

I must have written a thousand of these introductory posts. Hell, I’ve rewritten this one four times. Normally I get excited about an idea, hop on over to a blogging platform and get to introducing myself again. I don’t typically have more of a plan than that and it all falls apart in a week. This time I have a plan and a dream. Though all this does is make me more nervous to put myself out there. Whatever. We’ll see where this goes:

Hi. I’m Charlie and I’m going to be a full-time writer even if it kills me.

Photo by Karl Starkey on Pexels.com

What does this have to do with you?

Ah yes, the age-old question.

I got tired of a lot of the other writing blogs. The blogs that give you guidelines on how to submit or find an agent, but don’t actually tell you what any of it is like. Those ones never say anything about how long it took them to be published or how many rejections they got, or what the rejections letters said. Those don’t talk about the many, many mistakes they inevitably made or what it cost them. There are a thousand and one blogs out there telling you exactly what to do, but few that actually tell you what it’s like.

If you want to be a writer as well but are afraid of the unknown, then this blog is for you. I’ll be recording both failures and successes, acceptance and rejection letters, things I know as well as those I learn along the way. 

There will be times, especially in the beginning, where there’s nothing happening. When this is the case, I will be writing about the process. My advice will be most helpful to those just starting out, but sometimes it’s helpful even to the experienced to read about it from a fresh perspective. 

The thought on the schedule – subject to change – is that I’ll post on the writing process for most of the month, have a review of something every so often (probably once every month or two), and begin each month with a post that dissects the previous month. I will write on the publishing game more as I get experience.

What to expect

Tips and tricks. How do you decide what to write? What do you do about writer’s block? Where do you even start when you’re worldbuilding? I’ll be answering these questions and more.

Reviews. Fiction books, guidebooks, organizational systems, writing software, journals, etc. I will only be reviewing things that I have personally used and recommend only things I like.

My story as it happens. Even if you have read another blog of this type before, this will still be unique in that no one will have exactly the same story. I want to have complete transparency into what the writing life looks like as I try to go from full-time software dev to full-time writer. 

Let’s get caught up with that story, shall we?

The Crisis. I won’t bore you with all my existential thoughts in the introduction to my blog; I’ll save that for another time. However, it boiled down to the fact that I have literally always wanted to be a writer and I haven’t actually made any real attempt to do so. Now I will.

The Plan. Knowing what I wanted to do, my partner and I sat down and talked about the logistics. He drew up a budget to figure out how much money we would need to save so that I could take a year off to make an actual attempt to do this. 

Everything I read said I should have an author’s site even before getting published, but what on earth would I even put on it? In doing research I found so many blogs that talked about what to do, but not how to do it, or they talked about steps but not experiences. Enter the idea for the blog. 

What I’ve Done So Far. At the time of writing this, I have added to a growing list of post ideas, outlined about 20 of those, and written up about 10 of those 20. I wanted to have a schedule of writing a post every other day while working on a short story or a novel the other days, but I’ve put that aside for now. Ultimately I’ll be writing blog posts in “seasons,” where I put everything else to the side to write up a batch of posts and then go back to writing fiction. I’ll schedule the posts so that I’ll still need to write the monthly review of course, but the rest of it will be released week by week.

After writing up those 10 posts, I began to edit them. Editing so many things in a row has made me realize that I am terrible at it, but that’s okay. Now is the time for learning these things. And I’ll be getting plenty of practice as this blog goes on. 

Now You

I have comments enabled for a reason! I’d love to hear more about you and why you’re here. How long have you been writing? What do you typically write? What would you like to see come out of this blog?