All of my life I have enjoyed telling stories. When I was quite young I thought I would be a writer and write my stories. As the years flew by my dream of becoming a writer disappeared into the quagmire of my deep subconscious and sat there sulking. As my teens evaporated I toyed with being an artist and even earned money to live on as an artist after I left school. This did not last either. My family and peers at the time put a lot of pressure on me to get a real job that did not involve carting a toddler and baby and twenty five pots of paint, turps, brushes and drop clothes around the country in my little VW. It did not matter that painting made me happy and the kids were fine. So I got a real job in hospitality.
I never stopped telling stories.
Eighteen months ago, give or take a month, I decided it was time to actually tell stories for a living. To that end I left what was yet another in a long string of real jobs and set about becoming a professional writer as a means to being a full time story teller.
One of the most important aspects of being professional is ongoing learning. I have put a lot of time into ongoing learning. I have enrolled in a great many courses, short, long, day, night, trade, degree, diploma, online, offline, recorded and email, oh the ways a person can have courses delivered is only limited by the imagination but I digress, I have studied. I haven't finished all the courses I ever enrolled in but I did learn the content. Making it to the finish line was not always an easy task and that is a story for another day but suffice it to say I studied - a lot. I have various qualifications in hospitality, disability, child care, welfare, science, the arts and of course professional writing. I hold certificates in an incredible number of things from basic canoeing to suicide intervention, in fact the certificated fill two enormous folders bulging at the seams. I didn't make it to the end of any of my five degrees but that is no matter, what I did learn from that is what kind of learner I am. I like to learn in short intense bursts. I like clear outlines and unambiguous outcomes. I like the learning to be relevant to the purpose for which I am learning and I like a certificate at the end. Degrees take too long. If I had attended university as soon as I left high school I would probably have taken a different path in life. Instead life has taken me down many paths and I have learned something new every single day of it. All of that learning adds up to one incredibly full and interesting tool box of experiences to inform my writing.
So twelve-ish months ago I left the day job and began to write in earnest however I also began to make art in earnest and my art caught the interest of others more than the writing was. I became very productive. I made art daily, I wrote daily, I was showing up and doing, every day. I still am writing and making art every day. I did not realise until very recently that I still wasn't being professional.
I joined organisations. I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and the Fellowship of Australian Writers(FAW) and the Romance Writers of Australia(RWA) and I signed up for magazine subscriptions and paid very good money for more courses. I joined groups on social media sites and began to network. I engaged in competitions and challenges.
BUT I was still not being professional.
Because I was underutilising the opportunities at my fingertips.
One of the groups I joined was Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 forum. This cost me money. Good money which I can't afford to throw down the toilet. I filled in my profile and looked around the forum and occasionally commented on something someone posted and uploaded a couple of story openings. Each month I completed a draft and earned my draft and revision badges but I DID NOT USE THE FORUM EFFICIENTLY. There was so much more I could have learned and done but failed to.
I was launching head first into my 6 figure writing career and everyone was supposed to fall instantly in love with my stories and... well I set myself up for a big splat nose to the floor kind of fall.
I have studied writing and art, I read widely, I have lots of life experience but I was not being professional enough. I needed to learn to network with people, take them from names on a list to people I know well enough to be more than acquaintances into possible friends and colleagues. I needed to open the magazines that came each month and actually read them. Gosh they are full of industry tips and information, craft polishing stuff. Wow who would have thought that those pieces of information from industry experts would actually benefit my own works? See - unprofessional amateur thinking in my corner.
Yesterday I spent cleaning up and organising my desk and papers and took dozens of magazines out of their still sealed envelopes and put them in folders clearly marked and began to read them. I woke at 5am today and sat for the last two and a bit hours reading back issues of a children's writers magazine I have been paying for. This week I began to read and review the 133 books on my Kindle that have been gathering pixel dust. I have knocked over 10 from the list 123 to go.
There are hundreds if not thousands of articles and blog posts on how to be professional in any field. Most of these lists have commonalities such as turning up on time, learning the craft, ongoing learning and professional development, respect, good communication skills, subscribing to magazines and organisations pertinent to the profession, and so on but the bottom line is attitude. If I don't think like a professional I never will be one. I will always remain an amateur playing at a hobby.
So as any professional worth his or her pay cheque I am going to learn from my mistakes.
There are good things to tell about the last eighteen months and that too is Professional. Self evaluation is a vital part of the professional process. Eighteen months ago if I were asked what I do for a living I would make some vague response and link it to whatever real job I happened to be employed in. Now I quite clearly state that I am a writer and illustrator. It rolls off my tongue because I have embraced it, I own it, I believe it. That has been my biggest shift in professionalism.
My art still has a long way to go to be truly at a professional level but I practice every day. EVERY day. I am beginning to recognise what sorts the wheat from the chaff, what it is that makes a piece of art work professional and I can see that my art isn't there yet but it is becoming.
My writing makes people laugh and cry and I write every day. Some days I write a lot, as much as 11,000 words in a single day and sometimes I write a single sentence but I write every day. EVERY day.
I am becoming a Professional Writer and Illustrator. It is on my business card so it must be true. :)