Many people think that being a professional [whatever] means you get paid for what you do. But did you know that’s only part of it? There’s another, less rarely discussed and more commonly forgotten, aspect to the term.
c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace
Lately I’m finding it increasingly pointless to give advice. I mean why take my advice over his, or hers? Do this. Don’t do that. Everyone’s got an opinion these days. Why bother adding my own to the mix? I’m certainly no bestselling author. I don’t purport to be the voice of authority. In fact, sometimes I think we seem to have too many voices, all clamouring for attention but no one is actually hearing each other.
But here’s a radical piece of advice I do want to share: If you want to be a professional writer, then act like a professional writer.
Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person”. What are those qualities you ask? Here are a few attributes that define a professional:
- Specialized knowledge.
- Honesty and integrity.
Notice that only the first one is related to the actual skill level of whatever you are doing. The others are all related to you as a person.
“Genuine professionals show respect for the people around them, no matter what their role or situation.” This is my favourite quote and it’s one I try to live by in my day job, as well as my sideline writing career.
Whether you’ve sold one book or one million, or even if you’re just starting out, being a professional writer means respecting your readers and understanding that everyone out there is a potential reader. It means respecting your subject matter and your peers. It means accepting criticism without taking it personally or getting defensive. It means listening to what people have to say and respecting opinions different from yours. It means being accountable for your behaviour as well as what you produce. Above all, it means taking the high road, even if it’s a more difficult path.