Restrictions and definitions

First, I’m talking fiction writing here although this can apply to many other areas or activities. Second, it doesn’t matter much what genre, size, or audience you are addressing.

By “professional” I mean adhering to a high or standard level of competence as opposed to being paid or not for the work.

Just as accountants have their GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), we could say fiction writers have their GAWP (Generally Accepted Writing Principles) such as:

  • Structure (3 Acts, Hero’s Journey)
  • Character depth
  • Character arc
  • Concept and premise
  • Theme
  • Voice

and whatever else the particular methodology you have chosen covers. The point is that there do exist principles of fiction writing which work and upon which we (and our readers) agree whether or not they are articulated.

I’m distinguishing the creation of the work as distinct from the method of publication. Both traditional and self publishing require a competent work to have any chance of commercial success.

The Be, Do and Have cycle

The first place I’ve seen this is in the works of L. Ron Hubbard. You have to BE (wear a hat, assume an identity, viewpoint or title) in order to DO (action). You then DO in order to HAVE (a product or end result). Operationally, it is in the order Be, Do, Have, while it is developed in reverse, that is, Have, Do, Be.

An example would be a CPA (Certified Public Accountant—BE) DOing (gathering information and arranging it with GAAP) to produce (HAVE) a Balance Sheet or Income Statement.

Another example is a parent running into the street (putting herself at risk) to snatch her child from in front of a car. That’s a different hat than parent watching the child play in the lawn sprinkler; it’s an entirely different sequence and product.

A non-example could be a Sailor (BE) riding a bull (DO) to HAVE a chocolate cake. There’s no relationship or cause among the three parts.

There isn’t necessarily a clear division going from one part to the next. They are worked forwards and backwards until they are aligned.

Define the product

You need a clear definition of the product you desire. It could also be the clearly-defined purpose of the product.

Without it, you will have no idea if you’ve produced it, whether or not is sufficient in quality, or when to stop. Without the clear definition and standard, you might actually produce an overt or harmful product. Witness the growth of medical drugs you see on TV or in print with 80% of the time devoted to “disclosing” the harmful side effects. Or, the drugs having known or unknown harmful side effects later discovered.

So the first question you must ask as a fiction author is, “What product do I want?” If you want something for your son to read to your granddaughter to put her to sleep, that is greatly different from wanting a Paranormal Romance novel targeted at 20-year-old Catholic Hispanic females.

The first product actually has no standards because the audience is so limited. The second has clearly-defined standards in that it is a Romance, it involves paranormal, it is a novel (length) and your target is audience is clearly defined. The difference between the two has a great effect on what you must DO to produce them.

Define the action needed

If you just need a bedtime story, perhaps all you need to do is start talking into a recorder and make something up as you go along. There are very few standards. However, even here you probably have some idea of what your granddaughter likes. A Western might not go over too well while a tea party might be too “girly” for her. Yack away until you are done. Of course, you might not know what “done” means since there’s no genre or standards defined.

If you wish, you could have someone transcribe it or run it through a voice-to-text computer program. Heaven forbid you do any editing on it.

On the other hand, the Paranormal Romance novel requires a broad range of action on your part. It involves studying, learning, and applying the requirements for a novel such as Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering or Randy Ingermansons’s Writing Fiction for Dummies. It probably involves a good grasp of grammar, literary physics, typing/word processing, formatting, and the like.

If you have any part of the final product already, part of your DO is the organization and actions needed to move from its current state to the desired state. We technical writers know this as the "As-Is" state or process going to the "To-Be" state. Taking something from its current state to the ideal final state is achieved by small descrete steps of change. Rarely is there a silver bullet that fixes everything in one shot.

Assume the beingness

Decide and adopt the beingness or hat needed in order to do the actions. In our first product this could be grandpa rambling along telling a tall tale. For the second product, it is probably Serious Author.

What probably won’t work

BEing an “artiste” grandly spewing angst and stream-of-consciousness onto a page to “let your creative talent shine.” Sorry, you might sell one to your son for a couple of bucks to cover the printing cost at FedEx Office. He’ll read a little bit to your granddaughter, and then they’ll both be asleep. If you’re lucky, he will read the title to her a couple more times so he can tell you, “I often read it to her.”

What can work

Even as a below-amateur beginner, you can BE a professional. As soon as you realize there is GAWP and you decide to learn and follow them, you can wear the BEingness or hat of “Serious Author.”

There’s tons of stuff to DO. Learn it on a gradient, step-by-step. A neurosurgeon’s first slice with a scalpel isn’t on a live patient’s skull, it’s more likely on a cadaver in medical school. The Be, Do, Have cycle is a dynamic, reiterative process. The first pass at it gives you at least something to work with. As your knowledge and skills increase, the definition of your product probably changes, too. That’s fine; simply revise it and the DO part. Some of the DO is learning more about Craft; that often changes the product definition (“That can be done?”) which expands your DO. Occasionally, the BE hat changes slightly, but that’s no big deal. Changing from the current to the ideal, final product is a series of DO steps, rarely a single-shot silver bullet.

By BEing the Serious Author, everything you learn and apply (DO) as GAWP leads to a better final product that has a better chance of being commercially viable (HAVE). This also can save you literally years of trial-and-error typing away on draft after draft wondering why so few people like your work.

Be a professional from the start

In almost any field, just knowing there are standards or accepted principles enables you to BE something that has a chance of turning out a professional product. As a fiction writer, you can do your million words to develop some sort of style and/or put in your 10,000 hours of writing before you sell something. At least whatever work you DO is directed towards the final product, not just spinning your wheels and wasting your time on dead ends.

Deciding you wish to produce the product is the first step. The second step is getting a handle on what doingness is involved. You can then decide if it is worth the effort of being a professional.