Not Yet A Professional

 I don’t consider myself a professional writer, at least not yet.  It’s not how I make my living.  To my mind, if you want to call yourself a real pro, you have to be able to make a living at it.  I’m a published writer, and have made an amount that I think puts me a little over the national poverty threshold, only the payments were spread out over six years. 

But I’m getting there.  One of the other hallmarks I believe signals professionalism in a writer is the ability to write on demand.  This used to happen all the time in the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction.  John Campbell would call up Van Vogt or Brackett and say, “How about a story on chlorine based life forms?” or, “can you give me five thousand words on robots by next Wednesday?” and A. E. or Leigh would get right on it. 

And do it well. 

Today’s version of the write-on-the-editor’s-demand story is the themed anthology.  So, when my friends (and fellow SFNovelist members) Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray asked me if I wanted to contribute to their new Daw anthology, After Hours: Tales From the Ur-Bar, I jumped at the chance.  I might not be able to make a living as a writer, but at least I could show that I could write-on-the-editor’s demand. 

It was harder than I thought.  I hadn’t been thinking about stories set in bars (my hindbrain does most of my creative work), so I had to write myself into an Ur-bar state of mind.  And the editors turned down my first idea, so I had to go back to the beginning.  But here’s the interesting part.  They turned down my first idea because it had a contemporary setting, and they already had too many submissions set in the current world.  What they needed were more stories from at least a thousand years ago.  So I decided I needed to give them what they wanted, and turned my hindbrain loose again, and eventually came up with a story about Vikings and shapeshifting and exotic Saracen drinks.  And, though the story is entirely my own, most of the ideas that spurred me to write it came from the editors.  I can write on demand! 

Now if I can just figure out a way to do it by next Wednesday instead of four weeks from now, I might have a chance at making a living at it.

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  1. 1. Laura

    Hey you’re at least 35 steps ahead of me.

    Keep it up and I’m sure you’ll get there.

  2. 2. S.C. Butler

    Laura – My apologies if I sounded whiny. Trying to describe the process.

  3. 3. Wolf Lahti

    “If you want to call yourself a real pro, you have to be able to make a living at it.”

    Hmm. This will no doubt be upsetting to a great many literary lights. Nabokov, for just one example, earned his living as a lecturer.

  4. 4. Andrew A. A.

    I’m right/write there with you Sam, except I have yet to make the “big” sale. Yet all my friends when introducing me says, “This is my friend, the writer.” (I had my favorite waiter at local diner tell some tourists sharing counter space with me, “Becareful what you say. He’s a writer.”

    These labels are both inspirational and depressing, depending on my latest rejection or writing progress.

    But it has allowed me to write for local newspapers and fund raising groups. Not what I want to do or where I want to be at this point in my creativity-career but it does work on that write on comand process.

    Which I hope helps when I get to your “pro” level :)

  5. 5. Rabia

    I really appreciate this glimpse into your thinking. So often, we aspiring novelists think that if we can only make that first book sale, it’s smooth sailing to Golden Author Island where every word of prose falls from our fingers like liquid gold and is snapped up eagerly by our hordes of admirers. It’s good to be reminded that there are still many hard steps ahead and many other skills to master—writing second and third and fourth and more books on deadline, writing to editorial order, creating a backlist, and all that.

    And THEN we can go sail away to Golden Author Island, and sip iced drinks with little umbrellas in them and dictate deathless prose to several typist flunkeys while staring moodily across the white sands into the sunset.

    Right??

    ;)

  6. 6. Asakiyume

    So *that’s* what “ur-bar” refers to–stories set in bars :-)

    Your second-round idea sounds great–and one lesson here is that rejection can turn into inspiration for an even better story. Excellent.

  7. 7. S.C. Butler

    Wolf – Ah, Nabokov. The same guy who said that readers who identify with the characters in books are reading incorrectly. (Or something like that.)

    Rabia – Please, please, please can I go to Golden Author Island?

    Asakiyume – I couldn’t write anything good without perceptive critting from my beta readers and editors. Just floundering otherwise.

  8. 8. S.C. Butler

    Andrew – Hang in there. Your writing is great.

  9. 9. Rabia

    I don’t think I’m the one you need permission from *grin*. I’m even further back than you are!

Author Information

S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.

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