There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well. -– Agatha Christie
Writing – and reading, for that matter – has been a part of my self-expression, exploration and growth for as long as I can recall. If not making up quirky short stories about evil chickens, or poems about my latest crush, I made daily diary entries and as I grew older, journaled.
Despite my own efforts, I never considered myself a writer. I maintained a certain envy for people who did. I’ll even admit to a certain awe for people I’d met or known who committed themselves not only to writing a book but following their dream through to publication.
But somewhere along the way, the mantle of writer fell across my shoulders and I found myself introducing myself as a writer even before revealing my professional day job.
I can’t quite put my finger on exactly when that happened . . . when writing became more than just a diary entry or something I did when I was bored or to pass the time. It felt like an overnight transformation. I suspect it started when a short story idea took on a life of its own and became starting point for the novel that would eventually become KAOS.
The problem I encountered was that though I’d read hundreds of thousands of books, I had no idea about the extensive process that went into producing a publication-worthy novel. Me, never one to back down from a challenge, started reading craft books on the subject. I returned to my graduate school technical writing tomes (not helpful at all, by the way!). Eventually, I figured out that I needed to network with others who were identified writers and try to learn as much as I could about the craft of novel writing from them. That lead to seeking out writers conferences, taking online classes and eventually joining several writers groups, both local and national.
Each of these factors taught me how to become a better writer but it didn’t turn me into a writer.
I wrote when I didn’t feel like writing. I created a writing space in my home and developed writing times that I held sacred. I demanded (in a loving kind of way) that family and friends view my time away from them with a similar respect. I continued (and still do) to identify ways to improve my writing but despite my areas of weakness, I write through it, until a better way comes to me.
I am realistic about my writing goals. I’m not a butt-in-chair-every-day kind of writer; my life as a full-time professional, a full-time single parent, and full-time friend and lover does not easily accommodate that goal. Instead, I identify weekly goals: if I meet this week’s goal in 24 hours – GREAT! – then I press on to the next one. If not, I keep at it until the goal is met.
Realistically, to say that the transformation from amateur to professional takes place in an instant is a bit of an understatement. As you can see by my development, and no doubt yours as well, there is a rather extensive process involved which includes not only mental adjustments but physical and social as well, not unlike the process from caterpillar to butterfly. While it may seem that a cocoon is a resting place for the caterpillar, there’s a lot of activity going on inside, as the caterpillar transforms into something new. The old body is broken down – our old way of thinking and doing changes and grows; priorities shift and our new identities as writers, refine from the inside out.
It’s the mental and emotional adjustments made as we accommodate our new identities that lead to changes in our behavior, that leads to, as Ms. Christie said, taking on the burden of the professional by writing when you don’t want to, write when what you’re writing is crap and writing even when your internal editor thinks you suck.
We’re writers. That’s what we do.
What about you? What was your transformation like? Your process from amateur to professional? I’d love to hear your story.