Write it now: professionalism pays hidden dividends

It has long been a source of frustration to me that writers sometimes act as if writing is a pastime, not a profession.

sleeping-man-with-newspapers-mdYou know the stereotype. The author casually rises about ten, saunters off for a leisurely breakfast over the morning paper, then spends half an hour or so at the typewriter before the muse departs. Afternoons involve a relaxed hour or four sipping pina coladas by the pool, ignoring the impetuous jangling of the phone as their publisher tries to find out where the manuscript has gone. Life is so full of angst! Don’t bother me with details of….business…

It was highlighted by the contract I had to sign when I appeared in the 2007 Auckland Writers and Readers festival – in which I had to guarantee I’d be in the Green Room ahead of my speaking time and not asleep in my hotel room.

I raised that with the organisers. Bit of an indictment about my assumed conduct – why was it in the contract? Turned out that they’d been caught before with authors who had to be roused from their hotel. I explained that I don’t work that way – commitment means commitment.

The fact that ‘art’ is an emotional exercise doesn’t reduce or remove the need for absolute professionalism. Authors who work professionally get a repute with publishers for it – and publishing is a business. Professionalism helps them meet their bottom line, and they know it.

For me, professionalism involves four key principles:

1. Abstraction – removal from the emotional involvement.

2. Reliability – fulfilling commitments, on time and to specification, without fail. This also means evaluating a commitment before agreeing to it, and being confident enough to decline to accept if it’s going to be un-realisable.

3. Integrity – sticking to agreements, doing what you have agreed, without fail. Acknowledging your own mistakes – and figuring out how not to repeat them.

4. Confidence – not letting others’ success threaten you. And having the guts to approach others in the first instance if you have a problem with them.

These apply to any activity, as far as I am concerned – writing is no different. Professionalism pays up-front dividends. And hidden dividends, in the feel-good factor, in the way that your repute precedes you.

The nature of that repute? ‘My word is my bond’. The end.

It’s a good principle. Your thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing tips, science geekery, history and more. Check it out.


13 thoughts on “Write it now: professionalism pays hidden dividends

  1. I wrote about something similar a day or two ago but quoted Faulkner who said, or at least is attributed to have said, “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”

  2. For me, it must be a pastime. My money is earned in a classroom teaching literature at the college and high school levels. As a writer, however, I believe that I, when able to write, must adhere to a strict professionalism. It’s a matter of pride.

    1. To me writing with professionalism lifts writing out of pastime mode in any case. Whether it is the main income earner or not. And I think it pays dividends in many ways. I am convinced a professional mind set when writing also makes itself evident in the feel of the final work. The writing of yours that I’ve read has it. It’s tremendous.

  3. Matthew, I couldn’t agree more. Writing is an art form that is nonetheless about delivering a commercially-viable product. If you’re going to do that, it must be done in a business-like fashion, which means, as you point out, reliability, integrity and confidence. I omit “abstraction” because I think I like “objectivity” better as a principle, and to me that means having a trusted adviser to whom I can turn for a reality check. I do believe that you must have that reality check, to be sure you aren’t letting a certain element of personal irrationality enter your decisions. Or are we talking about the same thing?

    I particularly like your point about “confidence.” I’m not Hemingway or Plutarch or Tolkien. For however little or, more hopefully, however much that may come to mean, I’m me. Knowing the kind of blood, sweat and tears one puts into one’s own efforts to me means you can only applaud the finished work of others — because you know a little bit about the price they paid to get where they were!

    1. Thank you! I agree on all counts. I also think we are on the same wavelength apropos objectivity/abstraction. What I mean is the stepping back from tbe emotional aspect that forms so much a part of the creative process. Objectivity sums that up entirely.

  4. Great post. I’m not even published yet, and I still make sure I have a daily schedule. Not only does it make me know I am working, but also it is just easier! 😀

    1. Sounds good. Planning and working to a schedule is definitely No.1 important for writing. And when the moment comes and you are published, those are the tools you’ll need to move forward.

    1. We only ever had one politician here that did that in recent years. Norman Kirk. Prime Minister. Won the 1972 election. First cabinet meeting he announced they would honour their election promises in detail. Unheard of. Sadly he died in office and I have always wondered what would have become of New Zealand had he lived.

Comments are closed.