Wannabe Writer vs Professional Author

I’ve been writing for a long time, but throughout my experiences I haven’t always been a “pro.” There are a lot of differences between a “wannabe” writer and a professional, that sometimes can be hard for passionate wordsmiths to admit. But the reality is, being a writer isn’t some romantic “get-away” job, where you magically have tons of cash that allows you to whisk yourself away to an undisclosed location for months on end–where of course you work on your masterpiece.

Yeah, there’s a reason why that’s “only in the movies.” The reality of being a writer is that it sucks. Sometimes, it really, really sucks. It’s harder to make friends, because you spend a lot of time behind a computer; and you have a lot of competition. You often put more hours of work into an assignment than what you get out of it; obsessing over phrases, characters, and things you “could have done better.” People proclaim themselves to be writers all the time, but it doesn’t mean that they are. Even when you are officially “a writer,” there is no “insta-reward” where the sound of a thousand trumpets heralds your success. Oh, if only that were true, right?

Unfortunately, because everyone is a writer, it means that people who write for a living-full or part-time-have to work twice as hard at gaining credibility. Or does it?

I say, “No, that’s not true.” Here’s why. Those of us who want to call ourselves writers do so to make money. Period. We are entertainers, bloggers, marketers, information specialists, wordsmiths, and a host of other roles to use our talents to put food on the table. No credibility is necessary because if you’re earning income from putting words on the page, then you’re making it, regardless of what anyone says or thinks.

Here’s the sad part about this: It takes a lot of time and effort to get there. I’ve written for free, for newspapers, as part of other jobs, and pretty much anywhere I could (pending a wicked case of self-defeatism and writer’s block) until I got into a position that I love. Ramen noodles and tuna fish? Don’t like them so much now, but they are quite handy when you have a strict budget because you’re working a job you don’t like, along with a job you don’t get paid for, so you can get the job you want.

Wannabe writers are the folk that tell me, “Oh yes, you’re a writer? Did you know I used to write in h.s.? I’m sure I can write, too.” Or better, “Can you teach me how to write?” Or worse, “I have unpublished work that I’ll never submit, based on Harry Potter, but you know you have to protect yourself so I buy copyrights like crazy.” As a rule, I try to be nice to everyone, because you never know where someone might end up. But wannabe writers get on my nerves every once in a while because I literally eat, sleep and breathe words. I’ve visited forums all over the web, and the last thing that I want to be is an arrogant writer who is so condescending toward everyone else they couldn’t get a fan-base if they’re life depended on it. Believe you me, there are a lot of people who “claim to know,” but…if they aren’t making money doing what they’re doing, then it’s probably not someone you want to get advice from.

So if you sit on your laurels, don’t make money writing, whine and moan about how “talented” and “undiscovered” you are, and never submit, then you probably are a “wannabe.” That for me, is the difference between a wannabe author and a professional writer. A wannabe may write, however frequently or infrequently, but doesn’t know the market and doesn’t submit. Even if he (or she) submits occasionally, writer’s guidelines are more like “suggestions,” and rejection letters turn into bouts of major depression where each one requires a trip to the therapist, a jar of chocolate ice cream, and a crab session for six months to five years.

A professional writer keeps their head, knowing that sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that cause rejections, and keeps submitting. A pro writer might flinch at the rejection letter, but she certainly won’t stop writing as a result. Rejected work are excellent opportunities to look, see, and feel if there are improvements to be made or other markets to submit to. Period. A pro writer also knows that he is not a machine; there will be highs and lows, there will be times when you write 20,000 words and times when you can’t put one sentence together. Above all, a pro writer never stops thinking about their career because she knows that the minute she stops? She misses out on potential opportunities. Writing truly is a lifestyle–not just a job.

I’ve found that “wannabe writers” are very sensitive, so much so that any criticism-no matter how diplomatic it is-sends them crying or in a tizzy. Decide for yourself if you want to associate with those types of people; it’s up to you to build your own network. On the other hand, the ones that enjoy learning, the ones that work hard to be a professional writer and know the business, are the authors you do want to connect with-because we were all there one day.

Other writers are great for networking, but don’t take it personally if they make assessments about you and don’t return the friendliness. Every author has their own set of criteria who they want to network with, no matter how nice you are.

So next time someone tells you, “I’m a writer,”smile. So are you. Right?

About Me: Appearance at GenCon-Indy

In about two weeks I will be attending the 40th anniversary of GenCon Indy as a panelist with W.H. Horner from Fantasist Enterprises, and veteran freelance author, editor, and panelist James Lowder who has worked with Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, Eden Studios, and White Wolf to name a few. My portion of the seminar will cover self-promotion. Here are some of the highlights I intend to cover:

  • Conventions & Seminars
  • Building Contacts Online
  • Asking for Work
  • The Follow-up
  • Difficult Personalities
  • Air of Neutrality

I will be presenting for about a half-an-hour, after which we’ll open up the panel for Q&A. Handouts and other info will be provided on my end, so bring your questions if you’re in town or post here for more information.

Be Political, but Be Smart: Freelance Writing Tip #35

One of the easiest ways to start a war online is to push someone’s political or religious buttons. As the holy trinity of things “you’re not supposed to talk about,” politics, religion and money are instant, sure-fire ways to ruffle someone’s feathers. So if you’re going to write about politics, be smart about it.

A long time ago in a media world far, far away, there was this thing called “journalism.” In this world, journalists and reporters had time to thoroughly research their stories, find leads, and crack mysteries. There were ethics, there were morals, and there were deadlines.

Unfortunately, today’s world doesn’t allow for the time and energy it takes to not only find out factual information, but it’s now a rush to get instantaneous, immediate coverage. While many people many postulate what the problems are with today’s media, in my humble opinion, it really comes down to time. When you have to “produce” an article or blog post “instantaneously,” your content will suffer. Period. And if your content doesn’t suffer, the delivery most assuredly will.

What I recommend, if anyone is going to do any political blogging or writing, is that you do take the time. Not only is your reputation on the line, you are talking about something that is larger than you–and that can be a pretty powerful experience. There are media watchdogs that exist to help you make smarter decisions, places like Think Progress, Game Politics, AMERICAblog, and Media Matters, might be good places for you to start.

Remember that when you write for a newspaper, you’re writing in an upside-down triangle, with the most important snippets appearing up top. That hasn’t changed since ye days of olde, just the content.

I should also mention, that a good way to prove your point is to take the passion out of your writing, and save it for the gym. In a world where everyone is screaming, no one is listening. So attract your audience, but don’t run them over with your car. If you are writing an article to prove a point, remember this: Not everyone will agree with you. Period. It-will-never-happen. The best you can do is present your case, so isn’t it worth it to spend a little bit of time doing some research before writing your mind?

Blog Announcement: New Features

As I work to bring you relevant, new content, just wanted to let you know that I’ve been approached to review non-fiction materials related to freelance writing. Be sure to stop back and read my reviews for some potentially, powerful books that can help you grow your career.

In addition to book reviews, I will be adding commentary for new sites and forums that I come across, in an effort to give you my opinion of places where you might want to post (or avoid).

In the meantime, stay tuned, and happy writing!

Don’t Rely on History : Freelance Writing Tip #34

If you’re writing an article, novel, or game, sometimes you will want to utilize historical-based people, places or events to fuel your creativity and your ideas. While history offers you something invaluable–a focused area for you to research–writing historical fiction, non-fiction, or games can be problematic depending upon what your intent is.

For example, is your intent to entertain? If yes, then you may want to take liberties with history to modify your plot or story. When you entertain your audience, you need some elements that may not be apparent through a researcher’s lens. Characters may seem larger than life, conspiracies may seem darker, and everyday activities become extraordinary. Although we’ve all heard the phrase, “The truth is stranger than fiction,” the cold, hard facts are—If an event happened in the past, then you may not ever know the big picture.

Take for example this native american permanent settlement in Wisconsin known as Aztalan. The history of Aztalan is rather sketchy and, interestingly enough, the Wikipedia entry for Aztalan downplays the questions that this site offers. Here’s the amazing part about this settlement–it’s a mystery, plain and simple. Over 500 years had passed since the settlement was abandoned, and no one knew why.

Now say this site has piqued your curiosity, and you either want to write a story, an article, or an adventure that revolves around this settlement. You have a few choices, you can either write like a historical textbook (especially if you’re concerned about the preservation of history and ancient cultures) or you can make something up. In this case, the fiction aspect would be relatively simple because there is a lot that archaeologists don’t know. Why did people leave? Why did people build a permanent settlement surrounded by well-fortified stockades? Why people build mounds that were not crafted to preserve their dead?

When you use history for fuel, a good thing to keep in mind is to utilize the questions that history is left behind. If your writing “goal” is to be historically accurate, you’ll need to wear the hats of a researcher and archivist. Sadly, the nature of history is that no one will ever know the entire truth of any circumstance, simply because they weren’t there. Sometimes, even if you were, there might be skeptics or conspiracy theorists that poke holes in strange or unusual events. Like most things, “what really happened” is usually the cause for a lot of headaches because there is always room for debate.

Historical accuracy is something that many people feel the need to achieve, but there is one important thing to consider when weighing the pros and cons of your resource materials. Time. You could literally drive yourself insane for years trying to find out every minute detail around key figures like Cleopatra, Aristotle, Michaelangelo or Sitting Bull. The trick is to find a balance between what happened and what you think happened, if you do your job right, your work will be believable like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code or the movie Braveheart.

If you love history, there are many, unexposed areas of human history that are great places to look into and start doing some research. The bonus to writing something based on an area of history you’re mildly interested in? You might just learn something.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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