Tough Choices: The Professional Writer’s Daily Grind

tough choices, writing, writing professionally, Kristen Lamb

tough choices, writing, writing professionally, Kristen Lamb

Tough choices are the beating heart of anything remarkable. From being an excellent parent, to getting (then remaining fit) to being a professional writer, every day is a forked path. One road is usually easier, and a lot more fun. The other? Hard work, sacrifice, tough choices, and more hard work.

You guys have NO IDEA how hard it has been for me not to be blogging and teaching regularly.


Anyway, blogging and teaching, for me, isn’t even like work. It’s been the joy of my day for many years. Yet, while I’ve enjoyed teaching, speaking and blogging immensely, my primary goal has always been to become the best author I could be.

So long as I could balance writing with blogging and teaching, it was fine. But, this past year, I hit a major crossroad. I was blessed enough to be hired as a ghostwriter. As an actual ghostwriter with the excellent pay and perks…but also the grueling hours, crippling self-doubt, and steep learning curve.

Did I mention crippling self-doubt?

Though I tried maintaining doing ALL THE THINGS for a time, eventually I had to tap out. I had to do the paid work first.


Going Pro Even When You’re New

tough choices, going pro, professional writing, becoming a professional writer, Kristen Lamb

tough choices, going pro, professional writing, becoming a professional writer, Kristen Lamb

I didn’t begin where I am today, and THANK GOD for that. In the beginning, I didn’t know how to make the tough choices. There are many author resources I recommend, but for anyone out there who doesn’t already own a copy, I strongly recommend picking up The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

When I began my writing journey, The Big Six was still in charge, no one had ever heard of Amazon, and the internet was for tech nerds living in their mothers’ basements. Publishing hadn’t changed in almost a century, and self-publishing (mostly vanity publishing) was regarded as the realm of the talentless hack.

How could I call myself a ‘professional author’ if I’d never finished a novel let alone published one? What was worse, how could anyone else take me seriously if I’d never published a book? There was no explaining to others (and often to myself) that every mega-author with a large display of shiny hardbacks had once been unpublished. Even they had to start somewhere, right?

Where was that shadowy land of…Somewhere?

In the mind.

I had to learn to deal with crossroads and choose what I wanted most LATER for what I wanted most in the moment. When my mom wanted me to go shopping, or my brother needed me to babysit at the last minute, or a friend wanted to go hang out at a coffee shop and simply talk about being a published writer, I had to say, “NO.”

When faced with tough choices, I had to train myself to choose the path of greatest resistance trusting that, over time, I’d become stronger, and that with strength I’d eventually gain confidence.

Tough Choices: Pro Versus Amateur

One concept that I do believe has been lost in the digital age of publishing is that it is perfectly okay to write for fun. Not everyone who enjoys blogging or penning a short story or novella is automatically required to make a living writing. There is a totally different standard for those who write simply for pleasure and those creating a commodity for sale to the public.

In fact, I have a fun post on this very subject, Choose Your Pain: Hobbyist vs. Professional Author.

Sadly, though, with the new age of publishing, it seems there’s this idea that anyone who simply loves dashing off a fun flash fiction is somehow…’less than.’

That’s bull sprinkles, btw.

If you want to write because it’s FUN, have some FUN! No, you don’t need to understand the craft at the same level unless you really want to. Feel free to have all the purple prose you like and 42 POVs (points of view). You can even use so many exclamation points we might think William Shatner was your ghostwriter.


This said, I’ve run into plenty of authors who claim they want to be the best, make the big lists, win the prestigious awards, earn a nice living, and yet they approach their writing the same way as the dabbler.

I’ve been that person, so no judgement.

But for anyone struggling, wondering what exactly makes a professional writer? Pressfield equates ‘the professional’ as an ideal, and I’m inclined to agree.

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro, it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield, Page 62

Which Way Do You WANT To GO?

tough choices, going pro, becoming a professional writer, Kristen Lamb

tough choices, going pro, becoming a professional writer, Kristen Lamb

“Up? Or Down?” Image via The Labyrinth

Sometimes the way forward is often the way baaack… All The Labyrinth fans get the reference there, but it’s true.

There are a number of reasons I started blogging fifteen years ago (on MySpace, and YES I am THAT old). First, it was to train myself to make tough choices. I had to be able to set boundaries, learn to guard my writing time, and to write NO MATTER WHAT.

Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. ‘I write only when inspiration strikes,’ he replied. ‘Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.’

The War of Art, Pressfield, page 64

I started out ‘writing’ screenplays and that was a disaster, mostly because I was still more in love with the idea of writing than actually doing any study or work. But then I landed a job as a technical writer. I wrote software instructions, specs for night vision, gun scopes, and every variety of optical gear. Then, I moved onto computer training manuals and HR forms.

SUPER fun stuff.

*stabs self repeatedly*

At the time I landed my first ‘real’ job as a tech writer, I’d already written my 183,000 word ‘novel.’ The one that’s in the garage because, even twenty years later, it still bites visitors and pees on the carpets.

Of course I’d believed my ‘novel’ was perfect, my only worry was how to choose between all the agents that surely would be fighting over me. I wish I were joking. THEN, I joined a local writing group and learned how much I did NOT know about how much I could bleed writing.

Which was a lot.

Not All Who Wander are Lost

tough choices, going pro, how to become a professional writer, Kristen Lamb

tough choices, going pro, how to become a professional writer, Kristen Lamb

Over the years, I’ve written a couple thousand blogs. I’ve published three best-selling non-fiction books, an acclaimed novel, a novella, and have now finished another full length book as a ghost writer. I’ve written educational material, instruction manuals, and published poems, short stories, flash fiction, and on and on.

Suffice to say that I’ve done a little bit of everything because I like a challenge. I like to stretch my muscles. Most importantly, though? I’ve yet to figure out where I want to call ‘home,’ (though my client might be taking me hostage for more books in the future).

Some of y’all out there might have a major advantage over me. You’ve made the tough decisions and know you want to be a romance author, write long urban fantasy series, or be the next Stephen King.

Me? I was the kid who wanted to be a ballerina-archeologist-attorney-surgeon-astronaut-makeup artist-pathologist. Doesn’t seem much has changed.

Make Tough Choices & Know Thyself

Sure, I probably would be further ahead professionally had I known precisely what sort of writer I wanted to be in the beginning (other than MEGA FAMOUS). But, I don’t regret the long and winding road either.

It took everything for me to set aside my 183,000 word monstrosity and admit that maybe…just maybe an over-caffeinated chimp at a typewriter could have written a better book I didn’t have the first clue about writing a novel.

I believed that if I stopped trying to make that monstrosity into a real novel, I was a failure. What I learned is one of the fundamentals of going pro, one of the first BIG writing choices—aside from actually writing no matter what—is to learn when to let go. Excelling in our craft is a process.

We learn by doing…and, more often than not? REdoing.

We’re all different. Some of you reading might be fortunate enough to know what kind of writer you want to be. Tough choices then boil down to learning to make writing a priority, set boundaries, and always keep searching for ways to improve.

Me? I’m glad I took time to experiment and explore. All the wildly different areas of writing strengthened my skills and broadened what I have to offer. Training myself to be a ruthless editor helped a lot as well. Tough choices sometimes involves killing our darlings and cutting complete sections we’ve spent days or weeks crafting to perfection.

***I literally have a google doc with over 50 pages I cut from the ghostwriting project. As a n00b, I’d gotten off topic. Great writing, but? It needed to GO.

So for those who aren’t yet sure? Have some fun! Even those who want to go pro can enjoy the journey. Stuck on the novel? Warm up with some flash fiction. Finished with a project? Maybe try a short story in a different genre you wouldn’t normally write.

Speaking of TOUGH CHOICES, Did I Mention?

This latest crossroad was one I never saw myself ever reaching. I’ve spent the better part of fifteen years being able to do all the things (housework not included). I prided myself on blogging no matter what. Felt it was my duty to show up no matter what.

Oh, and I tried…and nearly had a nervous breakdown.

It was one thing when I was solely responsible for generating all my own income, but totally different once someone else was paying the bill. I had to tap out. I’d even written a post about having to take a break, only to end up neck-deep in research material so long until the post seemed…dumb.

It’s been really lonely without you guys, I CAN say that. Also been a LONG time since I was utterly new at anything. Lots of crying, self-loathing and gnashing of teeth. I was terrified turning the book into the client (and attorney), certain they’d tell me it was complete crap and I’d have to start over. Or they’d tell me I was fired, blackballed and they were sending a hitman.

Not that I have an active imagination or anything.

Ah, but that’s the writer’s daily grind. Crossroads, tough choices, and a perpetual mixture of godlike ego and crippling self doubt.

But I made it! The client, thus far, is ecstatic and wants me for more books. Since I won’t be totally new, I’m hoping I can balance better if I take on anymore projects…because I MISSED YOU GUYS! Sorry for ghosting y’all for the ghostwriting.

It haunts me…

…aaaannnd I’ll stop.

What Are Your Thoughts? I Love Hearing From You!

Me for the past year…

What are some tough choices you struggle with? Mine was feeling I even deserved to call myself a writer let alone be selfish enough to sit down and write. That and realizing it was possible to work even if my house wouldn’t be featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Hard to make yourself a priority in this business, especially for the pre-published folks.

What are some tough choices you’ve made that you are proud of? Are you writing so many words a day? Reading so many books per month? Studying craft books?

Are you a wanderer like me? Dabbling in a lot of areas trying to find what you love? Or are there tons of areas which you love, but you simply get bored and long for new challenges?

Do you like switching things up simply to see if you could write something you never planned on writing? I did that with the novella (which was a romance and I am NOT a romance writer). Thinking on trying my hand at screenplays again now that I actually know WTH three-act structure IS.

Or do you just want to ask some questions? I’m here. Just have to work on citations and a bibliography now. Hard part is OVER *throws confetti*

Kristen Lamb

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Kristen Lamb