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7 Things You Must Stop Doing If You Want To Be A Professional Writer

It's all about differentiation

Want to be a professional writer?

One of the most-hit searches leading to this blog is ‘how to become a professional writer’. So good news – you’re here! I can definitely help advise you on this.

But this is the thing. You’re doing all the classes … You’re reading all the sites and trades … You can even pitch and network like a pro … but there’s one problem.

You’re not thinking like a professional writer.

That’s the bad news. The good news: you can start, TODAY!!

Here’s what you’ve got to stop doing, NOW …

1) Stop sweating the small stuff

So I’m speaking to a Bang2writer about books or films or TV shows, probably online, and ask: “Have you read/ watched X?” And here’s what I get too often in reply:

“Yes, but it annoyed me because of [REASON THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WRITING]”.

I’m not talking about valid writing-based reasons like, “the copy editing was very poor, which persistently took me out of the story”; or “I felt the character’s motivation was underwritten”; or “the structure seemed very lumpy, so the pace and tone was impacted”. I’m talking about stuff like:

  • “The main character reminded me of someone I don’t like in real life.”
  • “I don’t enjoy novels in the present tense.”
  • “The actor cast in the main role annoys me, even though I like the story/genre.”
  • “I didn’t like the costuming”
  • “All the characters are too good/bland-looking”

As writers ourselves, we have to look BEYOND the surface decisions other writers, filmmakers and producers make in getting those stories to an audience. Instead, we have to ASSESS those stories and figure out how SUCCESSFUL those stories are in reaching that particular audience.

This means going BEYOND our personal dis/likes and thinking about what that audience might want and whether they get it from that story. Sound hard? Yep. Sound even a bit of a paradox? Absolutely. But it’s 100% necessary if you want to start thinking like a professional writer!

2) Stop thinking there are rules to break

There are no rules to break, only risks to take. Just don’t be boring and don’t be precious about your work or an asshole and you WILL advance in your career. I can’t stress this enough.

3) Stop standing in your own way

Whatever you want, it’s up to you to and go get it. We all know this, yet I see waaaay too many writers self sabotage. It’s like they’re AFRAID to take massive action and get those massive results. So they don’t. Instead, they’ll rewrite and never finish; or they’ll isolate their peers with bad behaviour; or they’ll complain on message boards, be weird or generally just shoot themselves in the foot somehow.

So don’t do this. Be methodical. I know it’s difficult when you’re creative, but if you don’t say, “I want THIS to happen by X time” and measure your progress and evaluate that progress, you might as well not bother. Go and be a hobby writer. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a hobby writer, either; it gives pleasure to lots of people worldwide. But if you want to be a professional? You simply MUST have a strategy.

4) Stop thinking there’s  “The Industry” and you’re on the outside

The Industry is not this mythical place where professional writers are awarded cake and balloons and yet the door is slammed resolutely in your face. **The Industry** is just a handy catch-all word for all those people who band together with their friends and colleagues because they so happen to share the same ideals, remits, desires for *whatever reason*.

These include agents and clients; publishers and authors; filmmakers and screenwriters, script editors and whatevers. So go out there and make some friends. Help people. Do stuff. And then one day you will wake up in someone’s CIRCLE and be part of **The Industry**.

5) Stop thinking it’s all about luck or money

No industry pro is simply lucky. Anything you see on book shelves (virtual or not), in the cinema, at the theatre, on television, on the internet is not only the product of hundreds of hours of work, but multiple sacrifices … personal, financial, you name it.

Yes, even the shit ones you don’t like.

Most of us are not in it for the money, either: for every JK Rowling or Steven Spielberg, there are countless other writers and filmmakers simply scraping by. This is because even when you DO make money, you make so little the rest of the time it has to sustain you until the next time (if there is one). People bring others entertainment for the LOVE of it and yes there are charlatans and wankers, but most of the time, writers and makers want to create good work for their chosen audience and make people HAPPY. So before you slag off a work, writer or maker, just think about that.

6) Stop thinking it’s about “Making It”

I think it amuses every professional writer when others tell them they’ve “made it” because no professional I know believes they have. Why? Because every professional writer has the same issues they’ve always had, no matter how exciting their workload or what they’ve done/doing: they’ve still got rent, mortgages and childcare payments; they’ve still got worries about commissions (is this the last one??); they’ve still not got enough time to do everything they WANT to do; and they’re still that NEW WRITER they’ve always been, even if only in their heads.

To illustrate, I got a message the other day from a Hollywood screenwriter congratulating me on my new book. My first reaction was not, “Thanks!” but “YOU WROTE [AMAZING FILM], WTF!!” So don’t worry about making it: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey and all that guff. Besides, even when someone TELLS YOU you’ve “made it”, you won’t believe them anyway!

But MOST of all:

It's still about differentiating ...
It’s still about differentiating …

7) Stop getting angry

You’ve been writing a while, so you don’t jealous of your peers anymore. You see others doing well and whilst it might make you wistful that it’s not you, you figure you’ve gotta keep on keeping on – by the law of averages, it’s gotta be your time SOON, right? You’re right.

But bad industry stuff still makes you angry. You see or read a book with a shitty theme you reckon’s irresponsible / a  film that’s really just a video game of 2D characters/ endless fighting (Transformers 3, anyone?) / an industry pro saying something stupid and it gives you RAGE. WTF?

But, relaaaaaaax. These are the facts:

  • i) Bad stuff is always a matter of opinion – even if it falls down on some craft level, that’s not always the reason people read or watch it … And you can’t see the world through those other people’s eyes, so chill the f*** out!
  • ii) Even if that work IS terrible, it still has an audience – it won’t have sold otherwise. (And no, audiences are NOT stupid: see above).
  • iii) Professional writers and makers are human. Sure, they might have written and/or made some of your favourite work, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be assholes like the rest of us.


Ignoring the siren call of anger, resentment and slagging off can be difficult, granted … But when it comes to being a professional writer, that’s what it takes to separate the wo/men from the boys & girls.

It’s also how the rest of the professionals will pick you out from the deluge of others! When differentiation is the key to getting noticed, can you afford to just think about “liking” stuff (or not) any longer?

Good Luck!

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7 thoughts on “7 Things You Must Stop Doing If You Want To Be A Professional Writer”

  1. I’m gonna print this out. Some very good, honest (even when it hurts, you tough-loving mutha!) advice.
    I knew there was a reason why I’ve pinned a link to this blog on my own.

    1. haha, think I’ll get a tee shirt with TOUGH LOVIN’ MUTHA printed on, thanks Teeritz! Glad the post was useful to you and best of luck with your writing 😀

  2. I very much enjoy your take on things, Lucy. I think this story is apt.
    I’m an older writer returning and retuning after raising three kids and caring for my parents… Last night at my weekly writers group in L.A. I got spanked pretty good after the group’s actors read the first 28 pages of a new first draft. I got, “It’s really two movies and you have to decide which one,” and, “You have some 2D characters,” and, “Yes, parents will want to have a lot of sex when their children finally move out, but you told us three times” (I held my tongue on “Comedy comes in threes.). And finally, “You have to do your first 11 pages in two pages”. There was more but some of it began to sound vindictive, maybe because of my age, maybe they just don’t like me, who knows? When they commented, I tried to look at it like when I used to be in the room with half a dozen producers getting notes. They could be cruel but in the end, they could be right. Now I’m a little raw today, emotionally, but I also started a rewrite because although they didn’t like a lot of the first draft, they pretty much all told me that they’d love a story focused on one of the main characters. In fact, one writer said, “I’d pay big money to see a movie about…” I think that knowledge is gold. Even though I felt a little bloodied by the notes. May you have good writing Today!

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  4. At last I read some constructive, encouraging advice. Too often aspiring screenwriters are handed a cold cup of doom via a more established and more patronising screenwriter’s blog post, which seemingly deliberately does nothing to warm their hopes or expectations. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. Know you are good enough. And show you are good enough.

  5. Hi and thanks Lucy. Can’t agree more…in fact, I found this site very recently and so glad. Not to slag off about the ‘yanks’, but it’s so nice to here the (forgive me in advance) ‘pommy humour’ and ‘viewpoint’! Some of the best drama series is I think, is from the U.K. hands down 🙂 Back to the website, you have some great resources, all very simplistic yet they work and easy to get your head around. Again Thank you 🙂 Roberto

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