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The Professional Newbie

Did you see the movie Wonder Boys? I mean, what writer hasn’t, right?

There is a scene in that movie where the multi-published,book-out-every-uptheenth-months/multi-million-dollar-paid character “Q” addresses a group of students with the opening line: “I-Am-A-Writer.”

No. Duh.

When I use the same sentence, I am not referring to those who have “made it”, those who get an advance, a royalty check, someone who doesn't have to explain what they do in their off hours.

I’m talking to the housewives, the librarians, the police officers, receptionists, bakers, auto-mechanics. I’m talking to anyone who has ever uttered those infamous words and met with blank stares.

I’m not sure when the change from “new” writer to “old” writer actually takes place. I think it’s when you start to get critiques, start getting rejections and can say ‘humph,’ and then toss them without taking them personally. When you become distant from your ‘baby’ and know you are writing a book.

But the tag “newbie”? I think it stays with you until you get that first advance. And even then, you will always be newer then the writer next to you who just got their fifth book published ... who is newer then the writer who just signed a four-book deal after their tenth book came out ... who is newer than the writer who ... You see the pattern.

About ten years ago I was still new enough. I was at some function talking to some lady who asked what I do. “I'm a writer,” I said. She asked what books I had published. “Oh, none,” I naively said. “I'm just finishing my first.”

She turned and walked away. Without a word. Without a glance. I was no body, not even worth a polite ‘Excuse me.’

Or how about the contest judge who writes on your first manuscript entered into the first contest you ever got brave enough to submit to: “Try another profession ...” I’m not kidding. I got this comment just last month on entry-number-who-knows. Fine. I can take it and file it where it belongs in a landfill and go onto the next project without a second thought.

But what about that really new writer? The one who is nervous, insecure? The one who isn’t so sure about herself?

One way is that when her supporting husband or friend comes in twenty minutes later to cheer her up and suggests dinner and a movie, she just might go.

Forget the three pages she is supposed to do tonight. Forget the characters, the plot and the premise. One single line from a judge, a caring family member, a well-meaning friend, and voila, the book will never be finished.

“What makes you think you can write a book?” someone said to me my first time out. “Ah ... well ... it will really tick you off if I do?” was my silent reply.

Or the interview I did with the rock band for the first real book I ever wrote. I actually managed to track down their manager, call him and arrange for a meeting with them between shows while they were in LA. I was a wreck for the whole five days I knew I would be meeting with them. I lost five pounds.’

“They're big important rock stars. You’re nobody. They won’t waste ten minutes of their time with you.” Believe it or not, this person was really trying to help, trying to soften the blow when these music people shined me on and made me feel so very insignificant.
Want to know what the big important rock stars said to me?

“Hey, man, we’ve all been there, trying to start out. We know what it’s like to get the rejections. What do you need?”

I spent three hours with them that day. They were the nicest people I ever worked with in interviews. When one of them found out I hadn’t eaten in two days, he made me a sandwich and brought it to me with a can of Coke® from the ice bucket backstage. I kept their photo on my computer monitor every day I worked on that book, with those words written underneath. “Hey, man, we’ve all been there.”

That first book is dedicated to them.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says “Writing is not about making money, getting famous, getting laid or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and it’s about enriching your own life, as well ...”

Whew. That’s good. I must be doing something right. I’ve made $36.00 in thirteen years. I’ve had an agent who died, a producer who disappeared and one book with more then 57 rejections at last count. And I consider myself a professional writer.

I asked Suzanne Brockmann what advice she would give a new writer. “Don't quit,” she said. “The only difference between someone who’s published and someone who never got published is that the published writer never quit!”

I want all you other ‘newbies’ out there to ignore everyone else. I want you to listen to Stephen King and Suzanne Brockmann. You put your fingers to the keyboard or pen to the paper, or whatever means you choose to create your books and you do it faithfully.

So when your husband or friend or relative comes in and offer to take you to dinner and a movie to cheer you up, you smile and ask him for a rain-check. You have to finish your pages before you go. Because You Are a Writer.




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