Amateur isn’t a bad word and being an amateur writer isn’t a bad thing. We all started there — technically it just means that you’re pursuing your work on an unpaid basis. Eventually, most of us, though, want to make the jump from amateur to pro.
I think that can look like different things for different people. And aside from the fact that as a pro you should get paid for your work, I think it also is a lot about how your pursue your work, too. Maybe you’re still an amateur — maybe you’re not getting paid yet — but that doesn’t mean you can’t adopt some of the pro mindset now.
Here are 5 things that might be keeping you an amateur writer
These are things I see most often. The may not all apply to you, but… give ’em each a chance. If you’re not happy with where your writing career is now, I bet at least one of these will speak to you.
- You wait for inspiration to strike. Pros sit down and do the work. Period. They don’t wait for their muse to inspire them, or for a great idea or any idea, actually. They face the blank page and trust that inspiration will show up. They don’t do it the other way around.
- You want to “have written,” not write. Writing is hard work. Endless rewriting. Fingers to keys. Long hours all alone. A lot of people are in love with the idea of “having written” — having a completed project or a published book but they’re not quite willing or ready to do the work it will take to get there. Don’t be that person. Ever heard the phrase a year from now you’ll wish you started today? That’ goes for your novel or your screenplay, too.
- You’re too busy comparing yourself to others. I once posted a quote on Twitter: “The rose doesn’t worry about the other roses in the garden, it just blooms.” Someone replied “well f&%cking duh, it’s just a rose it can’t think you moron” — this enlightened individual missed the point, but I don’t think you will. No two paths to success are the same. The woman in your writer’s group who just scored that six-figure advance? Her success doesn’t threaten yours. Don’t worry about anyone else. Just be you.
- You don’t engage with the work. As an actor, one of the things I get to do is watch a lot of TV and a lot of movies without guilt.* This is research for me. Yeah, it’s also entertaining because I love TV and I love movies but I’m at a point where I can’t simply watch a TV show like a civilian. I’m watching the lighting and the performance and editing and the entirety of the scene with very cold, analytical sometimes. Occupational hazard. It’s a surprise to me, then, when I meet writers who don’t do the same. They don’t read books, or if they do, they only read in their preferred genres. They don’t go to workshops. They don’t take courses. They don’t have a library of go-to writing books. If this is to be your profession, treat it like one.
- You never actually work (aka, you’re too afraid). Or, I should say, you never actually do the real work. You’ve got tons of character design worksheets done, a lot of outlines, mountains of (useless) backstory but not a single page of actual story written. You’re researching. You’re preparing. You’re sooooooo busy with all this stuff that’s really just protecting you from sitting down and actually creating work. This is the easy path, the least scary path. But pros are scared, too — they just don’t let that get in the way.
So what’s standing in your way? Any of these? If so, you can break these patterns now. It might not make fame and fortune rain down on you immediately, but it will definitely put you a few steps closer to the pro side of things and a good bit farther away from the amateur.
*I’ve never understood the predilection of certain people — like self-help book writers — who go out of their way to demonize watching television, a leisure activity for most of us. If you appreciate story, and so does your significant other or kids or whomever and you watch a really great show together, how is that not quality time? Just because there’s a TV involved? Bullshit.