Make Yourself A More Professional Writer


Make Yourself A More Professional Writer

It's a bright, sunny day. Your horse or lottery ticket just came in. Your significant other is happy and loving. You had a great breakfast and you're feeling fine. Of course you're in the zone where you can crank out a great story, possibly in record time, and feel just wonderful not only while you're doing it, but afterwards.

 But that’s not such an amazing triumph. Millions of people can do that.

 It’s when the weather is crappy, your horse or lottery ticket came in last, your significant other is feeling difficult and dissatisfied, you burned your eggs and dropped your toast on the floor (butter side down!), and you ache all over that it takes true professionalism to crank out that same great story, though perhaps not in record time, and feel proud of yourself for having done it.

 Professionalism isn’t always about overcoming a mountain of obstacles, of course, but it does tend to distinguish the best writers from the rest of the pack. It also promotes a high level of self-confidence and satisfaction with your efforts and your results. 

 Here are some hallmarks of professional writers and how to move closer, if not all the way in, to their ranks.

 Marketing / Getting More Writing Assignments

As you become more successful and well known, it’s easier to develop your own audience and have them transfer some of their money to you for nearly everything you write. But until you get there, professional writing normally involves finding publishers of one stripe or another to pay you for completing assignments.

To simplify and speed up the process of finding publishers and winning paid assignments from them, you want to establish a system that helps you:

1.     Identify publishers who are already interested in the kind of writing you want to do. You can find them through your own reading, through research into the literary marketplace, by word of mouth from friends and colleagues, even randomly by noticing who is publishing what people around you are reading.

2.     Make yourself known to such publishers and encourage them to dialog with you. This begins with developing and regularly updating an “introductory package” about yourself that includes a brief rundown of your skills, professional experience, and qualifications, plus a few samples of your best work. Have this ready in appropriate formats and fire it off whenever you identify a publisher who might be interested in your work.  

3.     Keep track of your professional contacts, including everyone you meet who might be interested in your work, everyone you’re currently working with, everyone with whom you’re dialoging about work, and everyone you’ve pitched for new work. It should include the date of your last contact with each one, the nature and content of that contact, and a projected date when you want to contact them again (if they don’t contact you first). Regularly review this list and keep current with your end of each interaction.

 Building Relationships with Editors

 By “editors,” in this context, we mean anyone with the power (and/or money) to buy some of your work, or anyone with the responsibility to “improve” your work after someone else has bought it. (Editors don’t always objectively “improve” your work, but they always think they do. To the extent you can, it often pays to humor them.)

 These are the key people you want to cultivate, befriend, and welcome into your professional world. Treat these relationships almost like you would a “dating” relationship with someone you think is really great. However, in these cases you’re not looking for intimacy, just a close working relationship that can last a long time. ‘Nuff said.

 Specialization vs General Writing

 Professional writers can go either way on this one. Some people find their writing more valuable because they have become experts in some particular field of information that’s valuable to the audiences of a certain set of publishers. Others find their work more valuable because they have special points of view or insights (think George Carlin or Rebecca Solnit) they can apply to a wide range of subjects.

 Construct and manage your professional writing trajectory to capitalize on your native talents and gifts. This way, what you tend to do naturally produces the output you can sell most easily.

 But don’t feel pressured to go just one way or the other. Some people can succeed on both paths for a long while and may never need to relinquish one for the other.

 Setting Up an Office

I’ve written on my blog about this subject. You can read that post here. Lots of other people have written lots of other words on the same topic. But however anyone expresses them, the basic guidelines encourage you to:

1.     Assemble the right tools,

2.     Put them into an environment that’s comfortable for you, and

3.     Spend a lot of time there.

Until someone comes up with a robot that does your writing for you (and does it as well as you), there simply is no substitute for putting in many hours of concentrated time. And that’s far easier to do in an environment conducive to your work. This helps explain why establishing a great working office brings a tremendous boost to your professionalism.

How to Make Your Finished Writing the Best It Can Be

Good writing requires re-writing. The more often you go over your text to re-read it, re-think it, and re-write it as necessary, the better it will become. At a minimum, putting in extra time to revisit your work will improve your chances of finding typos, misspellings, bad punctuation and other foolish errors. (I found a potentially embarrassing bunch of these in earlier drafts of this article.)

Beyond that, the more often you re-write, the better your chances of finding just the right thought, just the right phrase, even just the right word to elevate your writing to the highest level of which you are capable. (I made a large number of seriously elevating changes as I re-wrote this article. )

According to Mark Twain: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

In each piece you create, take time to include as much lightning as you can. Your writing will be more professional for it.

Planning for Retirement

This topic requires an entire course, and efforts to develop major competence in a complex profession. Making money is one matter. Retaining the maximum amount of that money for when you’re done working requires entirely different skills.

While there are many nuances and bits of knowledge involved, it boils down to:

1.     Spending less than you make.

2.     Retaining the extra money.

3.     Finding financial vehicles (savings accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds, options, mutual funds, or whatever) to help it grow.

4.     Doing all this for as many years as you can.

 Perseverance is critical in this. The earlier you start saving and earning compound interest, the more you’ll accumulate for retirement. If you earn just 1% per year on savings of $100 per month for 10 years, a total of $12,000, you’ll wind up with $12,615.99. Do the same thing for 20 years, a total of $24,000, and you’ll wind up with $26,556.12. Do it for 30 years, a total of $36,000, and you’ll retire with $41,962.82. As you might expect, when you collect higher than 1% returns, this kind of long-term compounding generates even greater benefits.

 So do this, and start right now.

 In fact, do all of these, and let me know how significantly your professionalism improves.

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