On Being Professional

This past week I started my last semester of school at NTI. I’m taking two classes. One is math, which I’m having to re-take because I suck at math. The other is called Professional Development, and it’s one of the last classes you take at NTI. It’s all about how to conduct your job search, how to conduct yourself once you land a job, and how to make yourself just generally desirable as an employee.

One of the things we’re seeing a lot of in this class are PowerPoint presentations. As I listened to the instructor gopowerpoint through the points on the slides, it sank in to me that many of the things presented in Chapter 1 (and possibly in other chapters as well. We’ll see) could apply to us as writers, because most of it boils down to positive self-talk and self-image.

Broken down, there are points such as having proactive habits, a healthy sense of self-esteem, using positive visualization, and managing your time well. These things are achieved by doing such things as defining your goals in writing, defining the purpose and benefits of your goals, developing an action plan with deadlines (we writers know all about deadlines, don’t we?), and asking your support system to motivate you.

I know, I know. A lot of this sounds like some kind New Age stuff or high-browed psychobabble. But the fact remains: we get what we expect. No, it’s not an iron-clad rule, and it doesn’t apply all the time.

expectationsBut put all the glowing terms aside and look at it like this: what we expect colors how we see the things that happen to us. If we’re expecting that everyone is only out for themselves, that no one does anything for other than selfish reasons, we question when someone does something for us. We wonder what’s in it for them. What’s the advantage they’re trying to gain?

Conversely, if we take things a bit more at face value, we might see folks out there who truly care for our success and are rooting for us all the way.

Yeah, we’re all human, and my lady love and daughter will be the first to tell you I’m a cynic. I prefer to think of myself as being pragmatic. And I have a true cynic—a man who questions everyone’s motives, no matter what, and only sees the negative side of pretty much everything—to use for comparison, so I should know. He expects the worst out of everyone and, even when that’s not what he gets, it’s what he sees.

The bottom line is this: when we sit down at our writing desk, we’re alone. There may be lots of lonely writerfolks out there rooting for us, and they’ll be happy for us when they see the finished product. These are all things to take into consideration. But in the end, no one else writes that book but us.

And we can’t rest on our laurels. We can have wonderful release parties, as I did. We can have people say we’re wonderful writers, as I have. All of this is well and good and it’s helped my self-esteem—something I’ve had quite a lack of most of my life—immensely. But I think that, because I’ve spent a lot of my life doubting myself, none of it is going to my head. I still think maybe I’ve only managed to fool a lot of people, and I still need to improve my writing, still need to get better. All this praise is well and good, and if I want it again, I’ve got to get better. And better. And better.

I’ve got to be a professional.

And when you’re a writer that might mean compartmentalizing your life so you have time to write. You have to tell yourself that writing—creating—is the most important thing you can do. It’s not just what you do, it’s what you are. You’re a creator. You bring worlds and characters to life, and you do it to entertain, perhaps to educate. Or at least to get someone to look at their world in a slightly different way.

So when you sit down to write, you’re by yourself. Your support system is outside the room (or it should be). It’s just you and the computer or pad of paper. And that monitor or blank sheet is a mirror. You’re looking at yourself.

What’s the image you want to see? Do you want to see somebody who’s a failed writer? I’m not talking about failed because you didn’t land a publishing contract. I’m talking about failed because you’re not being all you can be as a writer. You’re not telling yourself you’re good enough to do this, good enough that someday, somebody will want to read what you’ve written, somebody besides yourself.

Because, in this business, the person whose expectations you have to live up the most is you. You have to face yourself, and live with that terrible feeling you get when you’re not creating.

So be a professional. Don’t worry about visualizing world peace. Visualize a completed novel. Bend all your will toward that. Mark out blocks of time that are for writing and writing alone. Unless a meteor is about to hit the planet, don’t let anyone disturb you.

release partyThey can bother you at the release party.



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