Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Professional Writer (or: Better Sex, Part 1)

How does one go from being a professional-something-else (in my case, a veterinarian) to becoming a professional writer?

The answer: It Depends.

On what, you ask?

The journey depends entirely on the type of writer you want to become.

If blogging is your thing, the path is simple: Study your target audience (a.k.a.-future revenue source), decide on the best topics to attract said audience, create a killer web platform, then compose-measure-refine your message based on the results.

Repeat until you're sick of blogging or have become the next Pioneer Woman.

If you're a left brain sort, maybe your future lies in non-fiction. Say you're an expert at growing garlic the size of baseballs or a whiz at organizing socks. Perhaps you've produced eleven children and delivered them into adulthood without so much as a single detention slip or snotty eye roll. If so, condense those wisdomy pearls into something called a book proposal, then query agents who represent your particular flavor of non-fiction. Based on what I'm seeing on the grocery store racks these days, you shouldn't have much trouble selling.

Kicked your embarrassing butternut squash addiction? Lost half your body weight on a diet comprised of dill pickles, kale, and Diet Mt. Dew? Tell us how you did it in 1200 words or less (don't forget the bullet points) and send it to Men's/Women's/Kid's Health magazine.

Want a sure thing? Use the words 'Better Sex' in the title, regardless of topic.

Don't get me wrong. I understand how difficult it is to blog regularly and successfully. How tough it is to write (and sell) non-fiction books or magazine articles. In my veterinary practice I devoted long hours to writing client brochures and how-to handouts. In deciding to sell my practice to write full-time, I considered writing articles for equine publications in order to pay the bills. (And even now haven't completely ruled it out.)

But if you really want a tear-your-still-beating-heart-out-of-your-chest thrill, try becoming a professional writer of fiction.

To start, you find--and fall hopelessly in love with--characters who exist solely in your imagination. Maybe (like me) your first book begins as a lovely, vivid dream you can't shake. Just to clear your head, you write the scene down in a ratty spiral notebook. When it's done you shove it under the bed, then get up the next day and go back to your real job.

But when you come home that night, you can't wait to dig out the notebook and see what happens next. Soon, you're stealing moments to work on your story: sick days, lunch hours, that magic time in the morning before the kids get up. Your characters feel real, as if they're telling you what to write.

Before you know it, you've bought two more spiral notebooks and a package of really good black pens. Then, like a junkie with an ever-worsening need, you spring for a used laptop and download Word or Scrivener to keep track of all your chapters, character descriptions, and plot points.

At this point it hits: You don't want to just write this story. You want people to read it...and thinks it's good.

Problem is, you don't actually know how to write a book. Sure, you're a voracious reader, but appreciating a thing isn't the same as knowing how to do it. (Karaoke, anyone?)

Enter the next phase: Soaking-up-information-like-a-Brawny-towel-on-steroids.

(to be continued)


  1. Yep, it went just like this for me too. (Minus the spiral notebooks. I can't write things by hand nearly as quickly as I can type...and my brain was pushing things out WAY too fast.)

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    1. One of my favorite activities at the Colorado Gold conference was to plop down next to someone who looked as overwhelmed as me, and ask, "So what made you start writing?"

      Nine times out of ten, the answer was, "I didn't have a choice."

      As Jean Brashear so aptly puts it: If you can stop writing, by all means--do.



  3. Okay, you need to blog on Smart Women with us. You have a great voice! Just copy one of your blogs and plug it in. You'll reach more people and can send them back here, too.
    Come on. What'll it hurt?


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