A Hobbyist Turns Pro
As Joni and I were chattering over coffee the other day, my memory banks coughed up a nugget of advice given to me long ago by a pro writer friend, one that ended up as a turning point on my path to publication. For years, I'd been writing as a sideline/hobby (the dream job) while also professionally pursuing first a teaching career and then a masters degree in educational administration (the reality). I was starting to apply for positions as an assistant principal, yet still whining about wanting to write for a living someday. My friend (who'd heard this all before) stopped me cold and told me (with some exasperation) that I could be a published author. I had the talent, but what I lacked was the commitment.
I was pretty aggravated by that statement. What did she mean, I didn't have the commitment? In spite of the demands of marriage, child-rearing, a full-time teaching career, and grad school in my "spare" time, I was still cramming in hours of writing every day (except when I had a paper/project/test/grading/lesson plans due). I was submitting short stories to magazines (though I didn't have the time to actually read and research them) and duly filing an ever-increasing pile of rejection slips. I was really trying. Wasn't I?
Actually, I was, but not in the right way. Because a commitment to building a career in writing won't let you put it in second place. You have to want it so badly that you're investing more mental energy on it than the safety-net career. You have to stop thinking of it as a fantasy and put it in the realm of not some distant daydream but a very real career that you are working toward.
You can do all that and keep your day job. (A body's gotta eat...) But you have to treat the writing career as your next one and work at preparing for it as hard as -- no, even harder than -- you would at any trade school, college degree, or apprenticeship. You have to be willing to tell your loved ones this is what you intend to do and fence off a territory all your own (not necessarily an office but a territory consisting of time and space and family resources) in which to do it.
If you're apologetic or shy about your "little hobby," it's sure to remain one. If you allow "helpful" friends or relatives to diminish you over your career goals, you're contributing to your own failure. If you treat writing as an achievable goal, have at least some talent, and do it instead of yapping about it, you have a very, very real shot of making it reality.
Is that the same as a guarantee? Heck, no, but I couldn't guarantee that any given person would get through med school or succeed as a cabinetmaker or an electrician or a car salesperson, either. That doesn't mean that people don't make it or can't make it. It's an everyday occurrence.
Why shouldn't you make it in this business, too?