What does it mean to be “serious” about writing fiction? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because of a piece of encouragement from a good friend of mine said the other day. A hundred career masters will advise the green apprentice within their field that if there’s anything other than [INSERT CAREER OPTION HERE] you’d like to do, then you probably shouldn’t be [INSERT CAREER OPTION HERE]. As per writing? Writing is tough. Sometimes it’s incredibly lonely, and the mind-games that can go on within one’s own head can be daunting. It’s not for the faint of heart, but then, neither is any artistic career (or any career one’s passionate about, for that matter). There are no “easy” paths for any long-lasting and fulfilling career.
So what does it mean to be “serious” about writing fiction? What kind of effort or accomplishments or goals or behavior signal “seriousness” verses “dabbling” or whatever else one does when one’s not serious about something? The thing is, I don’t feel as if I’ve been as serious as I could be, because right away a number of things popped into my head that defined–in my mind–what a serious author looks like and does. In fact, I made a list (Of course, I did!) of certain behaviors and efforts that–if I adhered to them–would convince me that I was “serious” about writing fiction.
This is similar to the non-official Rule of 5 that I sometimes cite–Read, Write, Edit, Submit, Repeat–but is more focused, and more personal to what I feel would make me feel that I was giving a full 100%. Think of the following as a list of traits I’ve sketched for some nebulous future writer version of myself: when I daydream about who I’d be as a “successful writer” at some undisclosed future time, this is what I see.
The List of Being Serious
1. I would adhere to a regular work schedule.
2. I would not only write rough drafts, I would edit them to completion and submit them.
3. I would produce at least a small, measurable body of work each year.
4. I would trust my process.
5. I would continue, with defined effort, to pursue an excellence of craft, always striving to be better than I am right now.
6. I would be aware of the market trends and news, but without self-judgement.
7. I would have fun and be relaxed.
There are, of course, a half-dozen details that go with those seven items, but those are the seven that if I could ever achieve, would make me feel–without doubt–that I was striving with my whole heart towards my dreams of writing success. Those things do not guarantee success, nor will they make any part of my individual writing journey easier: they’re just a template for who I hope to become in the coming years.
#6 and #7 are perhaps the most important, because I’m starting to realize that just as with pregnancy no two women experience this life-changing event in the same way, so too does each writer forge their own path–without much guidance or quantifiable structure–and that their path may not end up looking like any other writer’s ever has. What works for one of us very likely won’t work for others; habits, techniques, approaches, guidelines, “rules”, and lists, all the things we struggle with and all the things that come easily, are all different, and combined in a hundred thousand different ways to create our own career labyrinths.
I’ve only just started learning this, but the more I consider it, the more I feel like for the first time since I started eyeing a writing career, that I may have finally started on the right path–or at least found a new, unexplored path within my labyrinth–that will take me someplace unexpected.