So Harry was kind enough to ask me contribute something about writing and professionalism. I’m going to assume you know the three basics:
• The necessity of tweed jackets
• The essential nature of coffee shops
• The need to publicly hang those who hate on Scrivener
(I make fun, but I do in fact on a corduroy jacket that I wear to make myself feel more authorial. But don’t tell anyone because I’ll sound like an idiot).
More seriously – I suspect most people reading this do know how to be professional. Because most people reading this, I suspect, have had a job. And to enjoy any degree of success at a job you have to be professional. And the sad thing is that writing, if you want to make a serious go of it, is a job.
I think that job-like aspect of writing often gets lost. Because it’s what we do outside of work hours. Because it’s what we do to relax, what we do for fun. But it is a job.
It’s just a really fun, awesome job.
Showing up for work every day
The bit of writing advice which gets thrown around the most, is “Just write.” This is also the least satisfying piece of writing advice. Because writing takes a long bloody time. It took me over two years to write one novel that will never sell. Two and a half years. And the book sucks.
But there is a reason we are told to, “Just write.” It’s genuinely important. You have to put the time in. Same as you do at work.
I’ve been working in advertising for about nine years now. Over that time period I have been promoted a few times. My salary has gone up. It’s not terribly unusual, and it’s basic function of getting better of my job, which is a basic function of having done if for nine years.
No one assumes that they’ll show up to work the first day and get the corner office. You show up every day whether you want to or not, you put your time in, you learn when you can, you get better, and you hope to hell that someone notices. Writing is exactly the same way.
Engage in professional training.
While writing every day is the best way to become a better writer, it’s not the only thing you should do. Jobs offer professional training to help. Writing has its equivalents. Instead of training manuals we have writing books. We probably all have slightly too many.
It’s easy to make fun of writing books. They tend to speak in absolutes, and talk of immediate success. How many training manuals have got you a promotion at work? Exactly. But that doesn’t mean writing books are useless.
In another of my trunked novels I obeyed every rule I had ever read in a writing book. It is, and this is possibly being kind to it, excrement. But writing that awful book was also one of the most helpful experiences I’ve had, because it helped me learn those rules. Not just learn what they are, but learn which ones worked for and which ones didn’t, and when and where those things flipped around.
I’m not suggesting everyone spend two years writing a bad novel, but learning what advice in writing books works for you and what is useful. Just like you do with a training manual. In the same vein, writers groups, online blogs – all this can be helpful as long as you come into it with the right attitude. The professional attitude.
Know your market.
When you go to work, people generally assume you know about the industry you work in. Writing is the same. You have to know the environment you’re operating in. You have to know about stories and storytelling. And while writing books do have their place, seeing the practical application of that knowledge is essential. To quote the author James Rollins, “Write every day, but read every night.”
I should mention here—I wrote and sold an urban fantasy novel without ever having really read any urban fantasy novels. I don not mention this to demonstrate what a monumental jackass I am, but to make the point that your market is not your subgenre. Your market is storytelling in all its wide and diverse ways. It is movies, and videogames, and books of all genres.
I had a hard time reading outside my genere. I grew up reading solely fantasy and sci-fi. That’s all I wanted to read. But, I did not sell the aforementioned urban fantasy novel until I started reading thrillers. They let me see the application of frenetic pacing in action. They let me learn new rules and apply them. So I realize it can be tough, but it’s probably worth it.
Don’t be a monumental jackass.
This may sound obvious, but I’ve been on Twitter, so… Think of your coworkers. Think of the ones you like. How many of them spend time screaming about how awesome they are and how much everyone loves their work?
Exactly my point. When it comes to promoting your book, especially on social media, please for the love of all that is good and clean in the world, do not simply yell about your book, and how good you or somebody else thinks it is.
If you are going to engage in social media, do it as a good and decent human being. Do it to share funny pictures, to engage in conversations, to make friends. And then, when once in a while, you do want to link to a review of your writing, or to ask people to check out something you have for sale, then they may actually be inclined to click that link. Because they like you. Because you’re not a jackass who stands around screaming
“look at me.”
Those people don’t get promoted at work (usually) and they don’t get promoted in writing either (usually).
Running screaming for the door when the clock hits 5:00=
So that’s basically it. Treat work like a job. Even before it pays money. Because when it does, it’ll be crap money, and if that’s your whole incentive you’ll realize you’ve wasted your time.
Writing is a job you do for love. If you love it you’ll treat it like a job. And then it will be the best job you’ve ever had.
Jonathan Wood is an Englishman in New York. He feels entitled to jabber at you because he sold a few urban fantasy novels. You can’t buy them right now (that’s a longer story than he’s willing to tell) but they’ll be available again in 2014, starting with No Hero. He’s blogs intermittently at cogsandneurons.com and also hangs around on twitter where he masquerades as @thexmedic.