15 Tricks to Help You Become a Professional Writer

When I decided to write as a professional, I committed to a daily output of at least five hundred words. Notice my commitment is not qualified with conditions like “most days” or “provided I’m not busy with other projects.” It’s an everyday requirement. It has to be. To take a day off, or worse, to have the ability to skip a day’s work on a whim, invites procrastination and laziness into my life. Once they have a foothold they become insidious and cripple productivity.

Below I have listed the top fifteen tricks I use to stay true to my commitment as a professional.  Before I show them, I want to make certain you understand why they are important and why you should adopt them. Without a thorough understanding of their purpose, they’re just simple ideas. Once you have changed the way you think about your commitment to writing as a professional, they can change your life.

When I started, I thought I knew how to make myself write every day. I didn’t. I am insanely busy and had trouble making time to write every day. I thought I needed outside help.  I thought I could write when my schedule allowed.  I was wrong on both counts.

In hopes of boosting my resolve to write every day, I joined a Facebook group called my500words. Jeff Goins started the group to encourage budding writers to write every day. It’s was fun to have a little bit of external accountability via the group, but it’s not the source of personal motivation I hoped it would be.  I had to change the way I approached my work because the group was not helping.

Through my participation, I realized my goal to write is truly mine alone.  It’s a simple concept but was a revelation to me.  I think a lot of writers, including me, start by looking for external validation to help overcome the fear of putting their work out into the world, to provide the motivation to keep writing in the face of the fear and to get some positive feedback to encourage them to continue.   That doesn’t work.  I learned no one is going to care if I fail to do the work because no one noticed when I didn’t post my daily word count, and I didn’t care when they didn’t post their own. They are just hundreds of anonymous writers trying to make their way in the world. They have no stake in my success. Why should they?

I struggled to make my daily output goal until I internalized the realization that no one cared about my work. Once I fully accepted responsibility for my own productivity I changed my daily habits and scheduled the time to write.   I began writing for me.  The more rigidly I controlled my time, the easier I could do the work.  I also began to understand why so many people fail.

It always appeared to me that most members pounded out their daily words and posted their accomplishment to the group.  Then I did the math.  Given the number of people who belong to the group and then noticing that it was the same fifty or sixty people posting their word goal every day, I understood it was a very small percentage who were actually doing the work.  Kudos to them. The truth is that most people, if they posted at all,  posted the reasons why they failed to reach their five-hundred-word goal. It’s common to read comments such as “I’m behind because <reasons>, but I’ll catch up.” Or my personal favorite, “This has been a day. I had to put my writing on the back burner because <reasons>.”  They think we care why they missed their goal.  They don’t understand it’s their goal, not ours’.  We don’t even know them.  This misconception is exactly what kept me from doing the work every single day.  I wanted people to notice my work or lack thereof.  They didn’t and that rejection kept me from doing the work.  Then I changed.

Reading the “I’m not able to make my five hundred words because…” comments depresses me now.  People either do not realize how easy it is to make the time to get the work done or they are not serious about writing in the first place. Either way, they are missing the opportunity to achieve their writing goal because of their personal failure to make it happen.

Now I believe that unless you are in the hospital and are physically incapable of writing, or a loved one has died or is on death’s doorstep, whatever reason you claim for not doing the work is just a personal crutch.  This is now one of my professional guidelines and its validity was proven to me by the repetition of the excuses on the my500words group.  Ultimately, this was the change in thinking I needed to alter the way I approach my work.  If the work is not getting done, it’s your own fault.  Don’t make any excuses.

Too harsh? I don’t think so. I’m a busy person and I get my writing done. How busy am I, you ask? I am a husband to my beautiful wife and father to four awesome kids, each of whom requires my attention every day. I am the operations manager of a thirty-million dollar per year business, where I work a minimum of fifty hours each week. I’m a paramedic student, where studying and class attendance require fifteen to twenty hours per week. I’m a part-time 911 emergency medical technician in Las Vegas, a job which requires about twelve hours per week. I’m a professional competitive shooter, a job that requires a few hours of practice each week. I’m a hobbyist traditional woodworker, an activity I enjoy as I have free time. I’m now a professional writer, a job at which I spend at least one hour each day, often more. I believe “busy” is a cop-out, a label that means nothing but sounds important. It’s not objective reality. How you use your time determines what you can accomplish.

If you want to be a professional writer, don’t make excuses why you cannot do the work.  Take the responsibility to produce every single day and get it done.

Below is a list of methods I use to schedule my writing time and come up with new ideas every day. The first three are absolutely critical. Skip them at your peril. Somewhere in this list are the keys to unlocking your own ability to write every day.

  • Commit to writing at least five hundred words every day, without excuse;
  • Adopt the absolute belief that any excuse to not do the work is, by definition, bullshit. No exceptions;
  • Understand no one cares about your success except you;
  • Get up an hour early and write before work;
  • Stay up an hour later and write before bed;
  • Write on my lunch break instead of socializing;
  • Write or come up with ideas on breaks from work (quit smoking if you have that vice, you will live longer and you will have more time to write);
  • Write while sitting in the ambulance waiting for a call (or anywhere you have unproductive downtime);
  • Write while waiting for appointments to start (they’re always late anyway);
  • Think of new ideas and ways I want to write about a subject while exercising;
  • Write instead of watching television;
  • Write instead of going to the bar with friends;
  • Record writing ideas between meetings or other work tasks when I need a couple minutes for a break;
  • Think of new ideas while cooking meals for my family;
  • Think of new ideas while driving;

I did not write this article intending to bust anyone’s chops. I hope that is not how it is perceived. That said, you must accept responsibility for your writing success. Don’t make excuses for why you fail to write. Adopt some of these techniques, adapt them to your own life circumstances and quit making excuses. Quit looking for external validation to keep you motivated.  Just do the work.

How to Hate Your Writing But Ship It Anyway

Every writer hates their work to some degree. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who has never questioned the quality of what they write. It seems to be a universal phenomenon. Yet magazine articles and books get published, websites get their copy, and there are certainly enough commercials on television to conclusively prove someone’s writing is worthy of the public’s attention. So why do you hate our own words? More importantly, how do you overcome this feeling so you can ship your product? It requires a simple commitment to yourself.

Making the commitment starts with defining the emotion you feel when faced with the decision to publish. Is it really hatred? It’s not likely that you truly hate your own thoughts. Perhaps it is mere dislike? Rather than dislike, maybe it’s better described as distrust. I can understand a lack of trust in what I write versus what I think. The root of distrust is fear, so maybe we should just call it that. Fear makes the most sense, too. You are scared of sending your work into the world and having it found wanting. I know I think about that pending judgment every single time I publish an article or submit a manuscript to a publisher. That’s why fear is the best description of my feelings toward my work. Your description may be slightly different, but you can figure out exactly what it is if you try. Doing so allows you to structure your commitment to minimize the effect of your emotions on your actions.

Once you have your dislike appropriately labeled, devising a strategy to overcome it is fairly simple, but not always easy to follow. In my case,  the strategy is to be bold. I just damn my fear and send my work out. I have tried to manage the fear by having friends review my work before I publish but that sort of thing never works. Your friends have a hard time telling you the truth when your work is terrible. I’ve also learned that if I allow myself any possible way out of shipping, I’ll delay sending my work out (sometimes permanently). Instead, I acknowledge I have committed myself to publishing my work, either personally or via a third party, without exception. Everything I write gets shipped. There is no hiding my work on my hard drive or in the depths of a drawer. With my commitment I have removed any personal choice about publishing it. It goes out. Like it or not. I give myself adequate time to perform revisions and editing, and then off it goes, good, bad, or indifferent.

Such a commitment sounds too easy, too contrite a solution to be feasible. Perhaps it is, but it works for me. If you doubt the power of such a simple act, you may not fully understand the depth of my commitment. It may help you to conceptualize it by comparing it to taking a trip on an airplane. Once you’re on the plane and it starts shooting down the runway, you’re going along for the ride whether you like it or not. There’s no changing your mind and ringing the bell to tell the pilot you want off the hurtling death machine. That’s the sort of all-in mentality you need to have with regard to your own commitment to publish your work. It does not remove the fear, but it does remove your ability to tell yourself “no.” That’s the secret sauce.

After you ship the fear and loathing do not fully go away. To continue the airplane analogy, once the plane leaves the ground and you’re headed into the skies you have to relax.  It’s the same when you publish your work.  What else can you do? Worry about what every visitor to your website thinks about every piece you’ve written? Not hardly. Once you have posted it on your blog or sent the manuscript off to your agent or editor, it’s done. You may still hate what you wrote, or, as in my case, fear the judgment of what you wrote, but it’s out of your hands now. Move on to the next piece.

Over the past decade, I have written hundreds of pieces for my work and personal pleasure. On the occasions where my work was made public I had the fear of judgment. I still do. Not all of my creations were treated kindly by those who read them! It sucked. I wanted to quit writing. I wanted to delete the offending pieces. I didn’t die, but I did quit publishing for a long time. It was one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made, all over what some mutton-head thought of a tiny article on the internet. I vowed never to make that mistake again, and I promised myself I would travel the path of publishing every single thing I write from now on. I hope you slap your fear into the corner and follow me on the journey.

Finding Ideas for Writing: My Daily Ritual

Finding the perfect idea is the holy grail for every writer. It’s the hope for a magical gift of fame and prosperity bestowed upon a lucky few by a fickle muse. Millions of aspiring authors have thought “if only I could find the perfect idea, I, too, could be wealthy and famous.”

It’s complete bull, of course, but the belief persists. Tomes have been written (and will forever be written) and sold on the best ways to find million-dollar ideas. Writers line up to pay for the snake oil, willing participants in the farce. I admit guilty participation over the years, too.

Continue reading “Finding Ideas for Writing: My Daily Ritual”

The Fear of Wasting Your Time Writing

It’s easy to commit to being a writer.  It’s a simple thing to make any commitment, for that matter.  People make commitments every day, but they rarely honor them.  Think of the countless commitments made on New Year’s Eve each year.  I’ll go to the gym five times each week.  I’ll eat nothing but healthy food.  I’ll ride my bike to and from work every day.  I’ll save ten percent of my salary every year.  You know all about the hollow commitments that are made but never met.  You’ve made a few yourself.  So have I. Continue reading “The Fear of Wasting Your Time Writing”

Why Start Now?

A friend asked me why I decided to start my site on the 20th of December.  He thought it odd.  He said, “wouldn’t it make more sense to wait until the 1st of the year?”  No.  Not at all.  I’m done waiting.  The question, however, piqued my interest.

While I agree the impulse for most people is to wait for some sort of universally recognized “start date,” waiting makes little sense to me.  I refuse to believe that beginning anything on some arbitrary date will make any difference in my (or anyone’s)  overall success or failure ten years from now.  Without a doubt, however, the belief that it matters persists among most people.   If it didn’t, no one would make New Year’s Resolutions.

The above aside, I’m curious as to why people, myself included,  put off chasing their goals at all.  After all, I waited half a lifetime to seriously pursue my own endeavors, and I certainly continue to procrastinate on some things in my life, so there must be some good reasons for it.  The least I can do is try to figure out why.  Google-fu to the rescue… Continue reading “Why Start Now?”