Friday, June 14, 2013

How to Become a Professional Writer

Now that I am what I hesitantly call "a writer," I have had to think about the fact that I am not just doing this for fun, and that doing something else is somehow cheating on writing. And I'm not even talking about overcoming my well-known tendency to procrastinate. I'm talking about real stuff like vacuuming, cooking, and making the girls' beds.  I have begun to look under every literary rock to see how the other writers do it, especially the successful ones (meaning the ones I've heard of) so I've  been reading a book edited by Mason Currey, called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which is exactly what it sounds like, a compilation of the daily habits of working artists, composers and writers.  Now, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, and I am always ready to read something like the How I Write blog featured on the Books section of the Daily Beast. I'm also quite the stalker of the Brain Pickings site, because they often feature writers discussing the creative process and how they have harnessed it to suit their work. 

See, Jane Austen took breaks... from Jane Austen info page
The problem with reading about all of these routines is that none of them say anything really helpful, like "...and then, dressed and coiffed by ten a.m.,  Jane Austen arranged the day with the household staff before she went out and gathered flowers from the conservatory garden. When she came back into the manor house, her writing had neatly completed itself and was piled cleverly in chapters on her escritoire."  Or "Sartre and De Beauvoir sat sharing cafe au lait and croissants, discussing the existence of existentialism, while the typewriter clacked merrily away in a darkened  corner of their pied-a-terre. In the late afternoon, fortified by more pastries, they argued playfully and drank some wine while their writing checked itself for grammatical errors and philosophical inconsistencies."  

Lots of cafe time for Simone & Jean Paul here
Perhaps you sense the nature of what I am really hoping to find: some magical, mystical incantation to perform over my lap top so that I could get my housework done, read to the girls, then sit and read a novel over a scone and a latte, while my writing writes itself.  Apparently, there is no such thing.  Let's all hang our heads in disappointment for a moment, shall we, because then I have to take a deep breath and get to work.  My research about writers of the well known variety confirms this truly unfortunate state of affairs:  To work as a writer, you must actually work as a writer.  You have to get your butt in the chair and write.  Like, all the time. 

But here's something that may surprise you, if you've been to my house: when the house is a mess, I don't feel like writing. (If you know me, I know you have to be thinking "she must never feel like writing!")  More to the point, I don't feel like I should be writing. I feel like I should be cleaning. But I know that cleaning doesn't make me a writer, because we've just learned, apparently, only writing makes me a writer.

In fact, to a person, every single creative professional to offer advice about things such as writing and creating and making art, insists that one must actually show up, work hard and then work hard some more if the art is going to happen.  But first, even the productive writers have to get some things out of the way, like washing and grooming.  Many of them even mention getting kids off to school. So Currey's book and all of those other providers of details about how to get your butt in the chair, so to speak, have been helpful to me. This is because, in every case, the writers reveal that they do a couple of things, like brushing their teeth and getting caffeinated and even getting the kids to school, but it is all in the service of getting to their work.  No one mentioned housework.  No one mentioned cooking.  They give themselves permission to ignore those daily tasks and get to work.  Isabelle Allende put it well:

The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.

And even though I don't really need to cite anyone else, I have to mention that Cheryl Strayed, writing as Sugar, the sensible dispenser of sensibility at The Rumpus, gave this simple advice at the end of a long answer to a young writer who wanted help getting out of her own way so she could write:  "Write like a motherf@#!er." Now, despite years as an enthusiastic participant and proponent of both parts of that colorful compound epithet, I've never really embraced the word for personal use. But here, it makes sense to me.  When I think about what that means for me, I know it's about sitting down and writing, even when I feel I should be doing something else.  So that's what I'm going to try to do.  For those of you who come to my house in the next few months, don't mind the motherf@#!ing mess-- take it as a sign that I am taking myself seriously as a writer.


  1. Another awsome blog my friend. Look foward to reading the next!!! Love and miss ya janet

  2. Now that I am what I hesitantly call "a writer," I have had to think about the fact that I am not just doing this for fun, and that doing something else is somehow cheating on writing. Professional writing services