Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between being a dilettante and a professional in a given field. I’m not convinced that what separates the two is primarily whether a person’s making money or not, but that it has to do with a state of mind.
I started writing regularly when I lived overseas. During those years it was a sanity saver, a way to let some emotional air out of a too-tight balloon. When I came back to the U.S. it was a way to make sense of a painful re-entry into a life that no longer seemed to fit. Writing was a means to achieving emotional health.
But something happened along the way. I starting feeling better. I began mapping out my days, automatically protecting blocks of time for writing not because I was battling another stout cycle of depression, but because I wanted to. And then, eventually, I wrote because I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
That led to the blind creation of a confused, bleeding novel I couldn’t bear to re-read or throw away.
So I locked it up and wrote another one.
In the meantime, I consumed all I could about the craft of writing. I checked out books from the library on plot and structure. I read agent blogs and followed publishing houses on Twitter. I explained character arcs to my desperately bored children at the dinner table, and polled my husband on whether certain plot points seemed believable.
I got published and got my first paycheck. But the majority of my time is still spent in my bedroom with the laptop, writing words I don’t know if anyone will ever read. And yet I’ve left behind the idea that I’m writing as a dilettante or for the sake of therapy.
I now consider myself a professional, though I haven’t quit my day job. I think of myself that way because I’ve put myself on a trajectory–albeit a difficult one–and I’m living now the way I hope to be living when. Which is to say, I’m educating and disciplining myself as if I’ve already arrived at my writing destination, though I haven’t yet.
This is the heart of professionalism, I think, this idea that we work with diligence and excellence when no one is looking because we’re deeply dedicated to the thing we’re doing. And we continue to move toward attainable goals, one at a time, even if the money isn’t rolling in and no one is patting us on the back.
I write these words to remind myself because it’s easy to forget.