Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On being a pro

Vicki’s excellent blog entry yesterday got me thinking about what it takes to be good at anything. It’s often said that genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, and I firmly believe that’s true. (Although a generous dollop of luck is often needed somewhere along the line.)

Having been a professional of one sort or another since I was 14 — and I won’t tell you how long ago that was — I’ve had plenty of opportunity to see talented people fall by the wayside, mainly because they didn’t or couldn’t handle themselves professionally. It’s equally true whether they were musicians or writers.

Acting professionally has nothing to do with one’s talent quotient; it has everything to do with attitude. You will never get beyond a certain level with anything if you just play at it. On the other hand, you don’t have to be of professional caliber to act like a professional. It’s all about attitude. One can’t successfully be “sort of professional”. You either are or aren’t.

In Vicki’s piece yesterday, she outlined how too many entrants could not be bothered to follow simple and clear directions. Obviously, if you’ve written something that you’re submitting to a contest, you have hopes of possibly winning. You’re hoping to be taken seriously, hoping to be taken as a professional. A writer who wants to be taken as a serious professional would make certain that directions were followed — in order to give themselves the best chance possible.

I’ve seen my share of wannabees both in music and writing. They’re the people who play at being something. They have no real commitment. A professional musician wouldn’t show up to a gig late, without everything they need and well-prepared to play. Why? Because not doing any of these things would seriously jeopardize their chances of getting hired again. Believe me, word gets around fast about who’s reliable and who isn’t.

Agents and publishers are pretty good at judging who is going to make the cut, and part of that goes beyond what’s on the written page. As Vicki correctly pointed out, not following directions is a pretty clear signal that a writer isn’t ready for the big leagues yet.

We can’t control how talented we are. We can’t control whether luck falls our way. But we can control how we handle the details that demonstrate we are committed to what we are doing, that we are, in fact, professionals.

I used to tell my students at the Royal Conservatory of Music here in Toronto, kids that were really serious about their playing and wanted to make music their lives, “You may not play like a professional yet, but you can certainly act like one.”

Professional attitude is in our own hands.


Vicki Delany said...

You're right Rick (of course you are, you are agreeing with me). The point is am trying to make is that if you don't read the submission requirements properly for an agent or editor, they won't give you any leeway what so ever. You might have written the greatest novel in the history of the world, but no one will know. Because they won't read the first word.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree.
Committment can more than make up for a small gap in talent in almost any field.

Thomas Sinclair said...

I'm reminded of Phillip Marlowe (Chandler is my hero), who said it straight out in The Big Sleep "I work at [being a detective], lady. I don't play at it."

peter_may said...

Great post, Rick! Having worked as both a journalist and a TV scriptwriter, I learned very fast that you won't survive as a professional unless you act like one. All the talent in the world doesn't excuse lack of professionalism.

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, Peter.

In thinking about it a bit more, I also realized that when you take that professional attitude, it can also help kick what you're doing up a notch or two. That's a side benefit that's certainly worth having to deal with!

Rule #1: NEVER miss a deadline.

Anyone else want to add to the rule list?

Anonymous said...

Grammar and spelling and punctuation matter. Doesn't have to be perfect, but editors and agents handle words for a living. They notice mistakes. You don't want to distract them from the story.

Christine Mattice said...

For some people, unfortunately, being a professional is almost as hard as being a writer. But I agree that professionalism is absolutely essential to success in any undertaking.

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