Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

It’s First Monday again, time to share your thoughts and have me answer any questions you have to do with writing. Today’s first question comes from a panel I was on at the last GenreCon event in Brisbane: Think Like a Pro. It was about crossing over from hobby writer to professional, so I added “writer” to “pro” to head off the smart comments I was getting on Facebook and Twitter

They reminded me of being interviewed by Ray Martin,when I said in all seriousness, romance is the root of everything. The studio audience erupted with laughter. Ray waited, then added quietly, “You said it, Valerie.” So pro writer it is.

Writing is often about aptitude, being born with the storytelling gene, as I believe nearly all successful writers to be. Professional writing is about attitude. It involves learning to see yourself differently, and training others in your life to see you the same way.


I started out writing everything from press releases to non-fiction before progressing to novels. My first mentor taught me to value my time, setting myself a nominal hourly rate. If I could get non-writing work done for less than this hourly rate, I was better off hiring someone while I wrote new words or developed a submission for a publisher. I still hire computer help, lawn care, book-keeping or whatever else I need so I can focus on my core business of writing.

Working with an agent – or freelance editor if you plan to indie publish – should be seen as an investment. At a minimum, a good agent covers their fee and then some by gaining better deals for you. Mine certainly does.

Writing may be a labour of love but to succeed long term, you need to treat it as your job. Hearing friends say, “I’ve finished writing for the day, now I’m off to work” makes me want to throw things.

Writing IS work. It may not be your day job for now, but as a pro writer, that’s your goal. It helps to tell friends and family, “I’m working” rather than “I’m writing.” Which makes you sound more like a professional?

Here are my four tips for thinking like a pro writer –

1. Put a value on your time. As soon as you can afford it, hire help to leave yourself free to write. Sometimes committing yourself to an expense such as child care or computer advice can spur you to work harder to cover these expenses.

2. Schedule your writing as work. Even if you can only set aside half an hour a day, or commit to writing 250 words, regard it as inviolate and hold yourself accountable to produce results.

3. Make writing a habit. Keep a diary of the words you produce toward your target. If you miss a day, make it up as soon as you can. Don’t worry if writing full time seems a long way off. The discipline of writing around other commitments can mean producing more work than if you have whole days available. The saying that work expands to fill the time available is especially true of creative writing.

4. Allow yourself thinking time. Find a writing place where you don’t feel compelled to “look busy.” Thinking and pushing your ideas to the limit IS important if you’re to create something new and exciting. We writers are working when we’re staring out of windows.

Now it’s your turn. What beliefs and practices turn you from a wannabe to a pro writer? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.


About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd


Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring for April – how to think like a pro writer" (15)

  1. Excellent as usual, Valerie! Your advice is always spot on!
    It can be hard learning to schedule time for writing, perhaps especially if you work at home. Finally making that commitment, however, eventually will make the writing come more easily.
    One thing I’d suggest is playing instrumental music in the background. I personally can’t work with songs that are just instrumental versions of songs with lyrics, because the lyrics play in my head and derail my work in progress. Classical music usually doesn’t have lyrics to get in the way. If you’re a classic-phobe, film scores also work. I wrote a science fiction novel to the score of “Star Wars.” (Haven’t sold it yet, but who knows? I may find a home for it yet, after a few revisions.)
    Thanks again! 🙂

    • Thank you, Marion. Classical music, film scores and “new age” music work for me, too, as anything that has or had lyrics also messes with the words in my head. In a previous blog, I recommended creating a working environment with candles, music, whatever gets you into writing mode.

  2. Oh dear – I found myself guilty of a big one in here. I often use the term that I’m “off to real work” with emphasis on the real, to differentiate between my writing and my day job. It’s a good point to say that I’m working, rather than ‘I’m writing’. I find it hard to have family especially validate my time on the computer.
    Lots of good points here, thanks Valerie.

    • LOL it’s an easy mistake to make, when what we really mean is we’re off to “paid” work. It helps to regard paid work as helping to support your real work of writing until you’re more self-sufficient there, too. Glad you’re enjoying the articles.

  3. serenadorman said:

    I agree with Marion, music helps me. Thank you again for writing these articles aimed to help aspiring writers. It’s hard to take yourself seriously when you haven’t had anything published so this is encouraging and great words of advice. Acting like a professional and having confidence in yourself are the gems I’ve taken from this. Thanks again!

    • Hi Serena, I believe in the saying, “fake it until you make it.” Seeing yourself as a professional not only builds confidence but encourages others to see you that way, too.

  4. megallison said:

    Thank you so much, Valerie! I really needed a reminder of this — especially to ‘make it a habit’. It’s how I’ve gotten books done in the past and how I need to do it again.

  5. elizabethellencarter said:

    Words of wisdom Valerie. Many great artists had ‘day jobs’ to pay the bills, but it didn’t stopping them from producing great paintings, music and literary works.

    Although we love our writing, it is a profession albeit a part time one until the financial rewards catch up.

    If one person pays for your novel, then you *are* a pro writer and are worth the time you put into creating your novel.

    • So true. Sometimes I wish we lived in the days when artists had patrons rather than day jobs, but that had its downsides, too. “Mr Shakespeare, would you just dash off this greeting card for my friend?”

  6. I aim for 100 words a day. It doesn’t scare the Muse or my creativity away, and after I get that nominal amount down, the rest is, as my bestie likes to say, “Gravy.” It gets me going, and more often than not, I keep going once I’m in the rhythm.

    Great post, Valerie! Thanks!

  7. Like the idea of “gravy” Laura. It’s far better to aim for a word count you know you can achieve than to write 5,000 words in one day then be too spent to write again for a week. Again though, every writer’s process is different. What matters, as you have discovered, is the result.

  8. I like NaNoWriMo because it gives a goal and a deadline. Even on those months when I don’t reach 50,000 words (as I didn’t last year because doing edits at my editor’s request 🙂 ), I still end up with enough words to help me get a novel finished without too much further ado. Apparently I’m not the only one who wishes there were more NaNo months in the year, because Camp NaNo has been added to April this year as well as June. I’m not officially participating this month (too many other obligations), but I’m using it as my spur to complete my half-finished third Dainger County book. 🙂

    • Congratulations on your writing progress, Marion. I’m glad you find projects like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) useful. Having a deadline, even a self-imposed one, helps to keep motivation and productivity high. Traditionally, NaNo is held during November, but some publishers and writing groups now have their own versions, making your wish for more choices throughout the year attainable. I Googled NaNoWriMo Equivalents and got “Write or Die” and “Script Frenzy” as two of many options.

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