Jun 21, 2011
Being A Writer: What's In Your Job Description?
But here's the thing: BIC-HOK is all about attendance. It's a minimal requirement for the job. You must show up. You cannot hold any job if you never show up for work.
The problem comes when we think this minimal requirement is the only requirement.
Even more worrisome, the minimal requirement becomes more difficult to meet if we continue to make the same mistakes day after day. It's far too easy to ask, "what's the point?" and give up. Knowing our broader goals as writers will help us to meet this basic one.
We need specific criteria to understand our roles as writers and whether we're meeting our goals. Keep in mind that we're more likely to continue writing over time if our goals are within our control. (So instead of saying, "I'm going to get an agent," we might say, "I'm going to have X number of queries out at a time. If I get a rejection, I'll consider any advice, revise my approach as needed, and send another query.")
So how do you define your job as a writer?
You have to decide this yourself, depending on where you are now and where you want to be.
I find it helpful to stand back a little and pretend I'm hiring someone for this job. What qualities would I expect?
Completion. Finish some stories, yeah? Build a portfolio of polished work.
Consistency. Show up on schedule. You don't have to write every day, but show up as agreed. Be where you say you're going to be, doing the work that needs to be done.
Dedication to the Craft. Follow through the work from start to finish: planning, drafting, re-envisioning, rewriting, refining, editing.
Creative Openness. Listen to criticism with a specific filter: will this make the story better? Know the creative vision for the story so it's clear whether any given advice moves the story in the desired direction. Do not be toughened to criticism. Be sensitive and smart. Pay close attention to those who have more experience in the profession.
Training. Study the craft. Read widely, both inside your chosen genre and beyond. Read books about the craft and try out new techniques. Set a budget and save money so you can attend workshops and conferences.
Networking. Hang out with other writers, both inside a local community (when possible--seek opportunities!) and within a broader community (social networking, conferences, blogging w/in a community of bloggers, participating with writing associations, NaNoWriMo, etc.)
Be prepared to pitch and sell. Know what you've written and who will want to read it.
Listen to readers. Take time to listen to the readers of your thoughts, not just the readers of your syntax. Pay attention. Respond.
Focus on both broad and specific goals. You should be able to take apart a sentence, understand its purpose, rearrange the necessary components, and put it back together with an eye for artistry and functionality. You should also understand the trajectory you want your writing career to take in the next ten or twenty years. Focus on the specific, but understand how it fits into the big picture.
Balance. Take care of yourself. Do not sacrifice everything for writing. Enjoy family and friends. Remember that colleagues are not just other writers, but people with non-writerly concerns and worries and joys. Go to concerts, eat cake, and dance.
I'm sure I've forgotten something important, but that's my basic job description. What's in yours?