Last week I blogged about the fun of doing amateur art, music, theatre, etc… without the pressure of making a career of it. Risky friend Susan Wilbanks commented that she enjoys singing, but though she has not yet sold a novel, her writing is not a hobby. I know what she means and I definitely don’t think it’s publication that separates the amateur writer from the professional.

It’s harder to put my finger on the difference, though.

There are people in Romance Writers of America who believe that membership in the organization confers professionalism. But some have been members for a decade or more, write sporadically or not at all and have not completed or submitted a manuscript. So I don’t think declaring oneself a professional is enough.

Part of it is that the pro seeks payment for her art (and that’s where finishing and submitting come in). She will take her craft seriously and strive to create work worthy of publication.

But it’s not just money either. Here’s what Steven Pressfield (THE WAR OF ART) says about the difference between the amateur and the professional: “The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning ‘to love’. The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his ‘real’ vocation. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.”
To me this quote feels a bit derogatory to the amateur (though perhaps it wasn’t intended that way). Nor do I think one has to write full time to be a professional. But I do believe it is about commitment. Being an amateur is like dating while being a pro is like marriage. One can walk away from a hobby but a true professional hangs in there.

Some writers say one should write every day. I agree with that in principle but I also suspect the ones who say that have wives to deal with sick kids and household disasters. I agree with a married, working friend of mine who once said there were times she wished she had a “wife”. 🙂

Whether or not one writes every day–or even takes occasional breaks from the writing–I do think it’s important to come up with goals (which can be modest) and a schedule (which doesn’t have to be anything like 9-5) and stick to it. At one point I was working a “regular job” 3 days a week and had a young baby. I wrote during her naps (when they happened) on my two days off and on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons when my husband was able to babysit. The hours were erratic, but I showed up and did my best. LORD LANGDON’S KISS was the result.

So anyway, this is what I’ve come up with so far. A professional writer is one who strives to improve her mastery of the craft, one who sets goals and shows up for work even if she’s not in the mood.

What do you think makes a professional writer?