A Revised Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen Traits of a Professional Writer

Hi Folks,

I’m sending this out a little early because, darn it, it’s the Christmas season and I wanna give you a few presents. I’ll slip in an appropriate post on the 21st just to keep the routine of every ten days going. That’s when this one would have gone if I’d left it to its own devices.

First, Merry Christmas. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you have an enjoyable holiday season. Also, I hope you will accept the contents of this post as a small token of my appreciation, a minor gift for your attention over the years.

Here are thirteen traits of a professional writer.

The first five are a true gift to anyone who wants to be a professional writer. They are what Robert Heinlein called his “business habits.”

Note that these five rules have nothing to do with whether or not you like Heinlien’s work or want to write science fiction (or any other particular genre). If you want to write fiction, period, and if you follow these five rules, you will be a professional writer:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must not rewrite.
  4. You must put your work on the market (submit your work so publishers can buy it or publish it so readers can buy it).
  5. You must keep your work on the market (keep it in the mail until a publisher buys it or keep it published so more readers can buy it).

To get my annotated paper on Heinlein’s Rules (it’s free) Click Here. (Clicking on the link will open a new window and enable a PDF download. When the file opens, click File in the upper left corner of your browser and then click Save Page As and save it to your desktop.)

There are more free things in PDF format at the Free Stuff tab above, including The Rise of a Warrior, Book 1 of the Wes Crowley series. It’s available here for download in PDF, but you can also Get it free at Smashwords in Kindle (.mobi) or Nook/Apple (.epub) format. Enjoy!

The other traits of a professional writer are in no particular sequence:

  • You are an avid reader in the genre(s) in which you want to write.
  • Writing is high on your list of priorities, and it’s Great Fun! not d-r-u-d-g-e-r-y. Seriously, don’t torture yourself. If ANYthing you’re doing 1) is drudgery and 2) is not your money-making job, for goodness’ sake stop doing that and find something else to do. Duh.
  • You hunger to continue learning the art of storytelling, and you actively seek instruction from successful long-term professional writers (a few novels does not a career make). You take criticism from those with less experience with a MASSIVE grain of salt. Or not at all.
  • You are a professional. You check your manuscript for typos, punctuation gaffes and wrong-word usages (e.g., waste for waist or solder for soldier) before even thinking of sending it to a publisher (or indie publishing).
  • You look at writing as a vocation, not something you do for therapy or because it’s a “calling.”
  • You understand that style manuals, making sure your grammar and syntax are perfect, and political correctness have absolutely N-O-T-H-I-N-G to do with creative writing. (The subconscious creative mind creates; the conscious, critical mind destroys.)
  • Holidays and other interruptions are incidents during which you slap on a fake smile and “get through it” so you can get back to your writing.
  • You are vaguely aware of the occasional presence of other people in your life. You believe they might even live in your house as they seem to be there with some regularity.

As Algis Budrys wrote in his book Writing to the Point, “Your writing cannot be done by anybody else but you. Also, when you are not actually doing it, you are doing something other than writing. … Many people who call themselves writers spend very little time doing writing. … That very rare person, the real writer, in effect just writes. When they’re not actually writing, they’re resting from writing, and they get back to it as soon as they can.”

You can get Writing to the Point and several other great writing books in a bundle for next to nothing. But only through December 27. To see the bundle, Click Here. I strongly recommend this, and no, I don’t get anything out of it if you buy a bundle. But you will get a great deal out of it.

Researching is not writing. Rewriting is not writing. Reading or learning, though valuable pursuits, are not writing. Attending writers groups is not writing. Writing is putting new words on the page, period. By extension, a writer is a person who does just that.

Til next time, happy writing!


To sign up for my diary of a professional writer’s journey and learn by osmosis, click The Daily Journal.

To receive a free short story every week in your email, click Story of the Week.

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out or just click paypal.me/harveystanbrough. If you’ve already contributed, thanks so much. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider forwarding this post to a friend or several. (grin) Again, thank you.

3 thoughts on “A Revised Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen Traits of a Professional Writer”

  1. Wow. I gave away three very valuable items and a link where writers could pick up a hundred dollars’ (or more) worth of excellent writing books for next to nothing and had three people unsubscribe. More of those folks who think “free” must means “strings attached” or something. As the kids say now, Whatevs. (grin)

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