Turning Pro: Ten Principles Define A Professional Writer

Check out the visual book summary by Sunni BrownLast week I wrote about Fiction Writing Success: The Markers And Achievements where I claim that the only true measure of success is in turning up to do the work. A successful writer, writes. Period.

Steven Pressfield calls it the act of “Turning Pro” in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. According to Steven, there are ten principles, ten qualities, that define a professional writer.

  1. “We show up every day”

    If you show up to your writing every single day you are successful. Every day we face and conquer the page. We put in time in the trenches of our work and treat the job with commitment and consistency. Some professionals don’t show up “every” day but they do show up every “work” day. A professional writer sets her own hours and work days and shows up on time, prepared to do the job.

  2. “We show up no matter what”

    Excuses can become addictive. Let them go. A professional writer knows that if she doesn’t show up for work she won’t get paid; food won’t go on the table; bills pile up; kids go without clothes; and we end up in a cardboard box rattling a tin for spare change. A professional can take holidays and sick leave if absolutely necessary but she doesn’t allow “life” to get in the way of doing the work.

  3. “We stay on the job all day”

    Equally, the successful writer works the entire allocation. There are various parts of our jobs that must be done. It might involve writing, editing, research, or even book keeping. But every day we put in the hours we’ve scheduled and, even when it’s hard, we work. Some writers prefer to commit to word count instead of hours but whichever commitment we make, we stick to it until the bell rings and it’s time to clock out. Barring true emergencies, the professional puts in her time.

  4. “We are committed over the long haul.”

    A writer’s success is built on the understanding that writing fiction requires true dedication. It takes weeks, months, sometimes years to write a novel. It requires a commitment to the task. A professional knows that writing success isn’t about being a one-hit-wonder. It’s not in the publication of a single book, it’s in the lifestyle, the career. There is no quick and dirty path to fiction writing success. It’s a long, slow, hard trek across monstrous terrain and we go into this journey knowing we may never come out the other side, and even if we do we’ll be vastly different than when we began.

  5. “The stakes are high and real.”

    Have you wondered what job you’d take if you don’t “make it” as a writer? Prudence would have us making a backup plan but to be honest I shudder at the idea of doing anything else. It’s just not an option. This is what I do and I couldn’t choose to be an accountant, or a doctor, or a saleswoman. I can’t quit because writing is the only thing I was ever destined to do. There are no options, no choices, this is it. When you know that the stakes are high you won’t be able to quit either, and not quitting is where true success lies.

  6. “We accept remuneration for our labor.”

    It’s one thing to love our job and another to get paid doing it. A lot of passionate artists create for the pure joy of creation. Professionals create because of that joy, and the need to put food on the table. We give a great deal of ourselves, our time. We sacrifice all else that might have come from doing other things instead of writing. Everything we give to the page has value and as such we deserve to be compensated. Our writing is a gift to our readers. Not only must we appreciate the value of our time and energy but we must acknowledge within ourselves that squandering that time and energy in unproductive pursuits is like burning money or destroying masterpieces.

  7. “We do not over-identify with our jobs.”

    “I’m a writer.” We say it all the time, don’t we? But it’s not really true. I write and therefore my title is “writer”, but that is not who I am. I am Rebecca. The writer hat is just one of the many hats I wear. It is one facet of what and who I am. A successful writer understands that she is not the work she does. If you over-identify with your writing you leave yourself open to the destruction of your self-esteem when your work is rejected. You inflate your ego with reader’s praise. Your sense of success becomes dependent on what others think and feel about you and your work. It hinges on having a good or bad writing session. You are yourself, and your writing is a single facet of your world.

  8. “We master the technique of our jobs.”

    The true professional and successful writer is an ever-learner. We understand that it is impossible to know everything. We remain curious, we study, we research, we constantly strive to hone and improve. I write well, but I know that I write better today than I did a year ago. And I wrote better then than the year before and that year better than the one before it. The growing up of writing comes through our constant striving to master technique. This blog is all about learning and honing the craft of writing fiction because we constantly seek to improve our skill; to master technique.

  9. “We have a sense of humor about our jobs.”

    Without a sense of humor the emotionalism of writing tears us apart. I know I have to laugh or I’ll cry some days. Writing fiction requires a strong sense of humor even when we don’t write in the humor genre. You can’t take the job too seriously. It’s important to be respectful but knowing that there is no perfection and that, this too, is a transition through our lives helps keep us sane(ish).

  10. “We receive praise or blame in the real world.”

    I think this is one of the greatest leaps between the professional and the amateur. Until you can break out of your Fear of Rejection, your Perfectionism, your Fear of Failure, and a deep seated sense of self-doubt, your writing success is limited. While it is important not to put the opinion of others on a pedestal, a professional writer finds the courage to share her writing. A writer might write the first draft in a poky closet but she has to bring it out into the light at some point. Writing in particular is one of those arts that requires interaction. The process of putting words on a page is solitary but those words are intended for a reader. You may start with your family (although I don’t recommend it) but the true test of a writers success is in their courage to submit their work on a grander scale. The writing is one part of a writer’s success, being read is the other.

I’ll leave you with another wisdom from Stephen Pressfield and The War of Art. He closes the chapter on “turning pro” with this, “No Mystery”.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Stephen Pressfield

No Mystery – Stephen Pressfield
There is no mystery to turning pro.
It’s a decision brought about by an act of will.
We make up our minds to view ourselves as pros,
and we do it, simple as that.

Image Credit: “The War of Art – Visual Book Summary” Part II by Sunni Brown.
Photo Credit: The War Of Art Book Cover from Grand Central Publishing (April 1, 2003)

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Rebecca Laffar-Smith

Rebecca Laffar-Smith is a publisher, children's writer, and novelist. In 2010 she gave up a successful 12-year freelance career to focus on her three loves; family, community, and fiction. She self-published her debut novel The Flight of Torque in June 2014 and the first three titles in the P.I. Penguin series in from Aulexic in May 2015. At The Craft of Writing Fiction, Rebecca shares her journey of creation and learning with readers. She loves getting to know her fellow readers and writers and can be contacted through Twitter and Facebook, or Email.

5 thoughts on “Turning Pro: Ten Principles Define A Professional Writer”

  1. This is a great list to keep in mind. Looking it over, the rules apply to most professions, but that’s what makes it so appropriate. As you mentioned, it is about ‘turning pro’. Getting paid for it, making it a job, turning it into a living.

    I know a lot of people say writing is an art, and can’t be approached in the same structured way you’d look at a job. But if you want to sell that art…if you’re not just creating for yourself…you have to make some concessions.

    Thanks for this – it’s certainly something to think on.

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