I want to be able to fly a helicopter but I don’t go around telling people I’m a helicopter pilot. There’s a good reason for that: I can’t fly a helicopter.
I know what you’re thinking: I’m just being hard on myself; I probably can fly a helicopter, but just not as well as I’d like. But no, you’re wrong; I really haven’t a clue – a fact that would become (literally) blazingly apparent to any customers signing up to Pepper’s Mar Menor Chopper Rides.
By vaguely the same token, I can’t really call myself a writer. I can write just fine, but, apart from these blogs, I’m not actually writing and haven’t done for years. Oddly, having publicly said I didn’t want to write another novel last year, I now do, only I don’t have the time. However, wanting to write something also doesn’t qualify me as a writer. We’re back to the helicopter scenario with that.
To qualify as a freelance writer, you need to tick two boxes. You must be able to write well, and you must be actively writing. One won’t do. One box ticked fails the test, I’m afraid. I fail the test. Not flying helicopters, or flying into a mountain when airborne, would also fail the test for our hypothetical helicopter pilot.
You can’t be something you don’t actually do. Freelance writers write. Helicopter pilots fly helicopters. People with helicopter licences who don’t fly helicopters are retired or have moved on. Or maybe they’re dead. Maybe they crashed. Whatever, it is the active doing that ticks the box. You can’t be a helicopter pilot if you’re in a box.
Similarly, freelance writers who don’t write are pretty much dead to the profession. For one thing, you’re simply not producing the goods. Possibly the bigger issue, though, is that when you do eventually churn out a few sentences, they may be noticeably rusty. Worse still, it probably won’t be much better than the last effort, because you can’t improve if you’re not practising.
What you write is practically irrelevant. If you want to eventually write a novel, then it would help to indulge in a little creative writing along the way, but, at a pinch, any writing will do just to keep the juices flowing.
The other mammoth problem is that the less you do the required deed, the more you can become de-motivated and disinterested. It’s a horrible thing to have to tell people you used to be a writer. Merely thinking it is no better. It confirms a stumbling block exists to your moving forward, and the last thing any freelance writer needs is a block of any sort. A writing block when you start writing is bad enough.
Did you know I used to paint? Actually, I still do, but only once every year or two. I knock out the odd picture, but it’s such an effort because I am not practised enough. Plus, I know I’ve not been on a roll, so given that past performance, I know I’m not likely to get on one. So I stop for another year or two, pretty much in disgust at my inability to apply myself. It’s a self-defeating vicious circle.
If you think of yourself as a freelance writer, make sure you do what writers do.
Me? I’m a helicopter pilot.