Professionals Like Us

Norman Mailer said the difference between a professional writer and an amateur is the professional writes even when he (I’m sure he used that pronoun) doesn’t feel like it. The first time I heard this I thought little of it because the concept seemed obvious enough. As soon as I sat down to write my first novel I understood that it was going to take a while and there was no way on earth I would feel equally motivated each day. But lately I have decided that Mailer’s maxim is probably more instructive than I had first thought. It is easy to develop an exaggerated allegiance to our feelings—or perhaps I should say our moods. Man or woman, these tides of impulse come and go like the thoughts that in all likelihood precipitated them. I have often made the mistake of confusing my moods for myself, that these flowers of want bloomed from the soil of my soul, as it were. Not so. My desires are much more who I am than my moods. My desires are steady and unwavering. I desire to write stories, to talk to other writers about writing and life, to grow my relationship with my wife and my children. These desires do not come and go like moods, they remain constant whether I am waking or sleeping, eating or watching a movie.

That is why it is important to get your moods or your feelings into perspective when you sit down to write. Whatever mood you bring to the desk is not a reflection of your desire to do the work but of the thoughts you had been thinking prior to working. That is all. And as we all know thoughts can change in a blink.

So do not be intimidated by a feeling of wanting to do something other than write when it is time to write. Observe that feeling from a distance. It is not you. You can choose it or not. Then look at your desire to write. Has it dimmed? No. The only difference is the feeling of wanting to play solitaire is at that moment closer than the feeling of wanting to write. But if you lay down the feeling of wanting to play solitaire and move closer to writing, your feelings will change, just as they are meant to.

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