Earlier this month I blogged that “I need to focus on what I CAN do, who I CAN be, and … that means I must STOP comparing myself to other writers.” Today I’m going to expand on that. For a while now, I’ve wondered why I’ve been so frustrated and discouraged since I published my first novel. I finally realized the reason: I’d lost the enjoyment of writing because I didn’t have a clear picture of myself as a writer.
When I first started blogging, I found the blogs of several other writers who hoped to be published one day. I followed their links to literary agents’ blogs and learned about querying. I set my sights on getting an agent because I believed that was the only way to get published. Later, I started following bloggers who were self-publishing. And when circumstances in my life changed, I decided to stop querying agents and publish my own book. But I was still reading the blogs of these successful self-publishers who were apparently selling hundreds of books a month, so I became dissatisfied with my trickle of sales and searched for tips on how to rocket my books to the top of the Amazon charts.
I wasn’t long before I realized it took more than writing well to have a book in the top 10—or even the top 100. I tried many things before I accepted I didn’t have the resources (money and influence) necessary to compete as a self-publisher. As for the advice to write, edit, revise, and publish three or more books a year? Why sure. You want me to bring peace to the Middle East too? Two and a half years of trying to do the impossible left me frustrated, angry, jealous, self-pitying—a whole bucketful of stinking mess.
So last fall I returned to my first plan. I’d have to get an agent, who could sell my books to a big NY publisher who did have all the resources. I set off to write another book with the goal of dazzling an agent and editor. At times, I heard that still, small voice of reason, but I pushed it away.
That voice kept trying to tell me to look at the other side. To pay attention when I stood in Barnes & Noble watching a friend give a presentation at her first book signing and knew I’d faint dead away if I had to do that. To pay attention when I saw writer friends embark on blog tours, doing interviews and guest posts every day for weeks and felt my heart pound at the very idea. To pay attention when I got stressed out just thinking about having to meet, Skype, or even have a phone conversation with an agent or editor. To pay attention when my writer friends worried about meeting deadlines for their 3-book deals and I knew that my “Muse” would shut down under that pressure.
Finally I listened. I gave up the idea of being traditionally published. And then I hit rock bottom. I felt like a failure. I quit writing. For a month.
That’s all I could stand before my fingers itched to get back to the keyboard. I kept hearing lines of dialogue. I kept envisioning scenes. I had characters waiting to finish telling their stories. I started writing again, but I didn’t know why I bothered. Then I came across this post by Anne R. Allen. She defined me as a hobbyist writer. But then I read this response by Jami Gold and I liked her term better—an artist-author. Both women pointed out that being a hobbyist/artist-author rather than a professional author doesn’t mean my writing is necessarily of lesser quality. Jami said:
In fact, what Anne is talking about are the two paths for authors who do care about quality. The major difference instead is whether we have a business mindset …
I work as hard and edit and revise as earnestly as the professional author. I just don’t have a business bone in my body. I’ve stressed myself into illness trying to become something I’m not suited for. Enough of that. Sure I’d like to make more money doing what I love. But if I quit focusing on that goal and spend more time writing, maybe I will. No one knows the future.
But I know who I am now. I’m a woman who loves to write stories and who loves to study the craft of writing so she can write even better stories to share. That’s what I’ll be doing the rest of this year. And then I’ll publish those books and, judging from past experience, some people will buy and read them and some of those will say good things about my writing and I’ll be a happy artist-author. Being an artist-author sounds like a great gig, doesn’t it?
Tell me: Do you see yourself as an artist-author or a professional-author?
Read Anne R. Allen’s definitions.
18 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Want to Be a Professional Writer”
Linda, kudos, respect and appreciation to you for not only finding your identity as an artist-writer but accepting it in public. I so appreciate you claiming and prioritizing your true desire to take the time to write more deeply, with great attention to quality. It takes guts to admit you’re not aiming to get on a fast track to the NYT Bestseller List, and to stop beating yourself up for that. Thank you for sharing these articles, and your own writing career path.
In answer to the question at the end of your post, I see myself as a slow-track professional author, with lots of attributes of an artist-author (like having given over most of my social media efforts to focus on my fiction). On the plus side, I’m writing a series and saving up the books to publish close together so I have a large backlist, as Jami recommended. And I’m in it for the long haul. I’m glad you are, too.
Keep writing your beautiful, character-centered stories.
Thank you for your kind words, Shelly. 🙂 It feels great to stop pretending.
If you’re happy, I’m happy that you’ve chosen the professional path. Kudos to you for preparing so well for your career. I wish you all the best. 🙂
Hi Linda, Glad you’ve found freedom to write 🙂
At the moment, I’m an artist writer, but I aim to be both one day 🙂
Thanks, Jen. 🙂 I have no doubt you’ll be a professional writer. 🙂
I just quizzed a neighbor on his english classes. He’s twelve. Said he learned everything he needed to know about sentence structure and punctuation last year. Seems I need to repeat the 4th grade. Hard work is easy. Figuring out which problem to work on first is a challenge. Great post Linda.
Hi, Kelly, and thank you. It’s been way too many years since I was twelve, so I needed a refresher course. 🙂 I’m always open to learning more.
What do you think about the Stream of Consciousness? Do ever use it in your writing?
Well, Bruno, I’ve written five “stream of consciousness” blog posts, but I’ve never done that when I write fiction. I like to work that out in my head, before I put it into words. For a novel, that’s takes months of mental writing.
Why do you ask?