So You Want To Be A Professional Writer?

“Find something worth dying for… then live for it.”

Writing at a professional level is much like any other pursuit in which professionals are on public display. They make it look easy. Ballers glide effortlessly through the air to slam dunk, yet the average gym rat hasn’t touched the rim since the Clinton years, if they could ever get up there at all. Celebrity dancers float across the floor in the embrace of double-jointed, hollow-cheeked mentors who seem to barely touch it at all – hey, you’d write better, too, if Elmore Leonard hung out at your PC for ten hours a day. And perhaps less analogous, John Grisham has inspired millions to write a novel because of nothing other than the fact he makes it look so damn easy, a quality often mistaken for the belief that he’s just not all that good at it.

You think this is easy? You think it’s unfair that guys who don’t write as well as you are rich and famous? Think again. And then go back and reread Grisham after you’ve moved to the other side of complexity, which is where simplicity resides.

Athletes and artists, including many of our bestselling novelists, are some of the primary reasons so many unpublished – and unpublishable — novels aren’t good enough. Because professionals make it look easy. And it sure as hell isn’t. But we dive in anyhow, unaware that we are indeed swimming with literary sharks who will eat our manuscripts for lunch.

Perhaps the best metaphoric offender here is the game of golf. Which is why it becomes the best analogy to demonstrate just how difficult the craft of writing at a professional level really is. If you can draw a parallel between a writing clinic and a golf clinic you’ll see what I mean.

When I begin my writing workshops I always ask for a show of hands from those who aspire to publish their work. Everyone, always, is in. Then I ask how many would like to make a career out of writing, to actually turn pro. Again, almost everyone fesses up to the dream.

Then I ask how many golfers are in the room. Usually only one or two – seems the writing dream and the game of golf are highly incompatible. Nonetheless, the approaching punch line is invariably a hole in one.

I then challenge the group to notice what just happened. Everyone here wants to be a professional writer. Everyone. Now, I say, imagine a golf clinic with dozens of aspiring players wearing their country club best, gathered around the practice green as the guest touring pro appears, and that the same question is asked: how many of you here today aspire to be a professional golfer?

I submit to you that nary a single hand would appear. Why? Because these folks appreciate just how good their professional heroes – the ones who make it look easy – really are, and because this isn’t their first fairway rodeo, they know how hard the damn game is. They’ve come to learn something and to get their game in shape, but that’s it. Would they like to turn pro? Of course. But do they expect to turn pro? Never in a million tee times.

And yet, every butt in every chair at a writing workshop expects to turn pro.

(to be continued, next blog entry…)

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