Ask my wife and children how landing a contract for my debut novel has changed me, and they’ll tell you something like this: it’s made me insanely busy, obsessive, and megalomaniacal.
More than usual, anyway.
But however true that may be (and okay, it’s all true), the biggest change I see in myself is that I’ve begun to think of myself as a professional. I’ve thought of myself as a writer for a long time (in fact I made a conscious decision a few years ago to stop calling myself “a teacher who writes” and start calling myself “a writer who teaches”). But obtaining a contract has made me think of myself as a professional writer.
This requires a little further clarification. I’m not saying that writing is now my career, solo or otherwise. I did get an advance for Survival Colony 9, but it’s nowhere near enough to quit my teaching job, even if I were inclined to do that.
Nor am I saying that the contract validates my seemingly bizarre decision to spend hours at the keyboard, dreaming up imaginary scenarios and committing them to paper. I didn’t need the external validation of a contract to think of writing as an important and legitimate aspect of my life.
But thinking of myself as a professional writer has changed me, in ways both tangible and intangible. Visibly, it’s made me do things professional writers do: develop a website and other social media sites, build relationships with others online and in person, join professional associations such as SCBWI, devise a marketing plan and seek paid assistance in enacting it, declare writing-related deductions on my taxes, and so on. I recently hired someone to redo my website (with, I hope you’ll agree, smashing success). I’m also working with my publicist to plan my launch, schedule appearances, create a press kit, and more. Since acquiring the contract, I’ve been approached to critique queries, judge contests, join writers' groups (including this one). A couple months ago, I was asked to introduce YA novelist James Dashner at an event in my hometown of Pittsburgh (see photo at right). That was awesome, and it wouldn’t have happened without the contract. So yes, professionalizing my life as a writer has introduced big, time-consuming, and amazing changes.
At the same time, the contract has changed my private sense of myself and my writing. The idea that others will actually read (and purchase) the words I’ve written is at once incredibly cool and incredibly humbling. I recognize that I owe something to other people in ways I didn’t when my writing was pretty much for my eyes only. Especially given the fact that many of my readers will be young people, I have an enlarged sense of responsibility: to treat my readers with respect, to be honest with them, to write about things that matter not just to me but to them, to deliver on my promises. Those are big responsibilities, and I’m determined to hold myself to them.
These responsibilities extend beyond my immediate circle of readers to others in the writing world. I’m committed to being a good resource and friend to other writers, whether that be by giving them my time and (when asked for) advice, retweeting their links, or applauding their successes. I’m committed to never speaking about other writers or their works from a position of jealousy or spite; though I’ll be honest, I won’t be petty, belittling, or mean. I’m committed to being a mentor, a sounding-board, a supporter financially as well as emotionally--whatever I’m asked to do that I reasonably can do.
All of this is a lot to take on, but I have to say: I believe it comes with the territory. Being a professional writer is a rare thing, when you consider it in relation to all the people in the world. It’s a privilege, not a right. The fact that I worked hard to get here doesn’t make it any less of a privilege or more of a right. I want to act in ways that show I recognize what a privilege it is, and in ways that show I won’t abuse the privilege I’ve received.