by Janis Patterson
If there is anything that delineates the professional writer from the hobbyist scribbler, it is the respect of a deadline.
I will say here that there is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, unless you misrepresent yourself as being a professional writer. While both professionals and hobbyists work at building things with words, there is a vast difference. The hobbyist either waits until his Muse (Calliope for epic stories/poetry or Erato for things pertaining to love, or even Sheshat, if you prefer the Ancient Egyptian pantheon) deigns to grace him with driblets of what the writer will doubtless regard as deathless prose. (It is odd that the hobbyist almost always regards his output as deathless and perfect, in contrast to the professional who more often than not never believes that his results are as good as they should be.)
By contrast, the professional knows that by a certain time he has to produce a certain number of words of a certain quality on a certain subject no matter if his Muse is standing over his shoulder or is on vacation in Barbados.
And that involves staring at a blank page, which sometimes resembles nothing so much as a hungry maw demanding to be filled. You stare at the page (or screen) and it stares back at you. It can be terrifying. Behind that blank page stands an editor waiting for the agreed-upon copy, or fans, or even enemies, all ready to pounce on your work and express their opinions. Even worse, they are all - metaphorically, one must hope - breathing down the neck of the poor writer.
Deadlines have variable beginnings - imposed by an editor, or in the case of the self-published or those writing on spec, by oneself, by long-standing contract or to be honest by just about anything. Their one constant is that by a particular time, market, circumstance and/or contract, or Heaven-only-knows what else, they are demanding taskmasters which must be fulfilled.
Oh, there can be certain exceptions where a deadline is either extended or vacated, but the time gained is hardly worth the bother. My own personal periods of grace have been granted because of severe illness in the family, a near-fatal car wreck, the death of a dear one, and other but similar disasters... Like I said, not worth it. I would rather fulfill a deadline no matter what the cost than face those horrors again.
So what is the poor professional to do? If you are worth your salt, you sit in the chair, put your hands on the keyboard and start churning out the words without regard to what siren call is trying to distract you. It doesn’t matter if the first few hundred words are total dreck. There truly is a reason the ‘delete’ key was invented! I regard this as sort of like priming the pump. (Do today’s people even know what that means? Putting water down an old-fashioned lever pump in order to create a sort of suction so pumping the lever will raise the water. TMI? But we gotta fill that word count however we can!) Remember the prolific Nora Roberts said, (paraphrasing) write, even if it’s garbage - you can fix garbage but you can’t fix a blank page. (Told you those blank pages could be terrifying!)
Once primed, the writer’s training and practice and determined professionalism should kick in and the words start to coalesce into a sensible form that fulfills the parameters of your project. And eventually - hopefully! - you will finish it to your satisfaction. A goal you must reach whatever it takes.
The resultant feeling of satisfied euphoria usually lasts until the next time, the next deadline, so always remember that terrifyingly empty blank screen will be waiting for you - but you can master it, with or without the assistance of your Muse. You are a professional.
I so agree with you. The difference between a professional and a hobbyist is that a hobbyist writes occasionally. The professional is disciplined and selects a time to write each day. How does one become a professional writer? We write consistently. We also do a lot of rewriting and reading.
I once did much better than I do now. Really need to finish my work in progress!
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