Friday, June 10, 2011

Professional vs. Amateur writer

I have wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. I have vague memories of scribbling curlicue lines across a page, in ordered rows, when I was too young to think of an actual story with actual words. If you held it at arm’s length and squinted, it looked like prose. As I got older, I wrote real stories and went through a few years of angsty teen poetry writing, which mostly just made my friends roll their eyes. I took a creative writing course in college, but most of writing shifted to research papers and essays. As I moved into motherhood and professional work, my personal writing subsided even more. I did a lot of online writing, but it was emails and bulletin board posts, nothing formal. I blogged, but only sporadically.

I missed writing, but I had two major problems: lack of focus and lack of confidence. There was a time when I would have said lack of time, but that is just an excuse. If you are motivated and focused, time can be found in all but the busiest schedules--I mean, I am sure heads of state don’t have time to devote to writing, but I could have easily cut out tv watching, for instance. (Or drinking. My god, in my 20’s, I could have gained a lot of time by not going to bars--not that I spent all my time there drinking, I did a lot of dancing and socializing, too, but still. How much socializing do you need to do in bars? Less than I did, I assure you.)

For a long time, I thought lack of confidence was my problem. I could not sit down and write because I didn’t have anything interesting to say. I would write three sentences, become convinced they were the worst examples of uninspired dreck ever written and give it up for the day, or the week, or the month or the year. Why sit down to write at all when it would just be awful? Reading good literature made it even worse. I would be so inspired to write something of my own, but convinced that everyone had already used up all the good ideas. When there is already an Ursula K. Le Guin or a Chris Moriarty or a Rachel Swirsky or a Charles Stross in the world writing, why should I bother?

(Imagine a break here where I write down the name of many, many writers that I admire, then erase them all in a fit of depression, plus the realization the list isn’t actually that interesting to read....)

But then, I went to the doctor and got some magic pills effective medication to treat my lifelong issues with attention, and I discovered that focus was really the biggest problem. When I sit down at the computer and write anything at all, it gets easier. The blank page is the hardest part. I also let go of the thought that anything I write will be any good at first, and realized that is not a problem. That is what revision is for!

I began to get more serious about writing. I followed authors that I like on twitter and started reading blogs directed at writers, to get in the right frame of mind. I realized that writers write, and I just needed to write something down, anything at all. I started writing more on my blog, just to get myself going. I began writing at, just to have a weekly goal. When I would have random ideas of things I would like to write about during the day, I made a note for later, and I went back and read those notes. I picked a character and wrote two random sentences to start my fiction writing going.

I discovered something powerful through all of this. Once I started writing, it got easier. Not that writing itself is easy, but my mindset changed, and it became easier to actually sit down and write. Now, when I read interesting news articles, I think about how the story might affect my fictional world, or how to express my reaction coherently in a blog post, rather than just passively taking in the information. I discovered that having a writing habit feeds itself. I miss writing when I am doing other things, and I do *something* writing related every day, even if it is just making a list of questions I want to answer.

In the traditional sense, I am by no means a professional writer. No one pays me for my writing (unless you count emails at work, which I don’t really). I did find this article interesting, though. By the definition that Kirkland sets out, I am getting close to being a professional, even though there is no pay on the horizon. I write every day, and I am getting closer to a real writing schedule. I am not yet at the point where I have a regular routing to my writing, or a word count goal, but I am getting closer.

To that end, I am coming up with some goals for myself:
  • 3 posts on my personal blog per week
  • 1 Pulp Angels post every week
  • 1000 words of fiction per week

I know, that last goal is a bit wimpy. That one is the hardest for me, though, and I don’t want to intimidate myself too much. I anticpate that it will go up soon.

No comments: