Fiction Writing: Not Your Normal Day Job

If you work at a typical desk job and want to write fiction at night, be prepared. The two occupations are not at all alike. But what if your day job suddenly got altered to be more like fiction writing? Let’s find out what that would be like.

You wake up at whatever time you like; you’re now setting your own hours. There’s no commute. You telework every day. No one sees you working, or checks on your progress. There are no meetings, no boring chats by the coffee machine, and no lunches with clients. Knock off early every day if you want; nobody cares how long you work.

Sounds like a dream job, right? There’s a down side.

Sitting at your computer, you produce your first work product of the day. (What’s the product? I don’t know; we’re talking about your current day job.) You e-mail it to your boss and wait. A few hours later, your boss e-mails you back to say the product didn’t suit her needs. She says she can’t accept it.

You’re stunned. She’s rejected your work. How can she do that? You know this job well and have worked at it for years. You e-mail her back asking what sort of product she needs, and asking what’s specifically wrong with the one you sent. She answers that she’s looking for really compelling products the customer will like. Moreover, she receives too many product submissions to list the deficiencies with each one; she only has time to accept or reject.

Her e-mail concludes on a positive and unexpected note, wishing you well with the product, adding that you can submit to any other department head in the company. That’s weird, you think. It’s as if, all of a sudden, you have more than one boss.

With some trepidation, you submit the work product to another department head. An hour later, he responds, thanking you but also saying it doesn’t suit his needs. You’re disappointed, but not shocked. By now, you’re catching on to the new company procedure and you simply submit your product to a different department head.

During the next two weeks, you submit it to every department head and all of them reject your product. Some take less than an hour to respond, but others take days. While waiting on them, you’ve been able to do other stuff around the house, watch some movies, and hit the bar scene on a few nights. The rejections distress you, though; things never used to be that way.

Ah, well, at least it’s payday, finally. Checking your bank account, you’re stunned to discover there’s been no money deposited to your account. You call the Pay Department, and the representative explains you had no products accepted during the pay period, so there’s no pay. The company is no longer on a salary system; they pay you only for accepted products, and calculate the amount based on customer purchases.

Hanging up the phone, you have a “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment. In this new system, you realize you’ll have to churn out products fast, keep circulating them, and hope a few get accepted and that customers like them.

E-mailing a few friendly co-workers, you discover most are in the same boat, with zero pay. Word has it that one employee tripled her monthly income, but was told that was no guarantee of future earnings.

Welcome, fellow worker, to the fiction writing biz, where success is rare, and determined in part by how well you learn your craft and whether a fickle public likes your stories. You can complain the system’s unfair or rigged, but whining probably won’t make you feel better, and sure won’t change anything.

Fortunately, day jobs aren’t set up like the writing business. Still, writing makes a highly enjoyable hobby for most authors. Among them is—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Writing with Spectators

In his book The Way the Future Was, the late science fiction author Frederik Pohl stated, “Writing is not a spectator sport.” Oh, yeah? I set out to prove him wrong.

I rented a football stadium, hired two commentators, and advertised for several thousand of my fans to watch me write. Here’s the transcript, as broadcast:

Pat: “It’s a beautiful afternoon here at the stadium and we’ve got quite a crowd for this amazing event. Wouldn’t you say so, John?”

John: “No doubt about that, Pat, weather-wise and crowd-size-wise. But this is the first time I’ve covered one of these writer athletes, and I’m not sure what to expect.”

Pat: “It’s a first for both of us. Look, the writer himself has entered the field and is making his way to the center, and the crowd’s cheering.”

John: “I like his confidence. You can see it in his walk. He’s not swaggering or strutting, just striding with confidence. I like that.”

Pat: “Tonight’s writer is Steven R. Southard. He’s been writing for several seasons already, and his career is on an upswing. He’s reached midfield now and is sitting at the desk there. The crowd is settling down. I’m guessing things will start soon.”

John: “I’m a bit confused, Pat. There’s no team with him. No opposing team out there, either. Not a single referee, and no coaches pacing the sidelines.”

Pat: “I guess that’s the way writing is, John. Must be a solitary thing. Look, Steve has turned on his computer. The stadium scoreboard is off so I don’t know if time has started or not.”

John: “I think we must have a second-rate writer, here, Pat. This guy is just staring into space. He hasn’t typed a thing. Now he’s sipping some coffee. I sorta expected more action, typing-wise.”

Pat: “Maybe fiction writing isn’t all typing. Apparently there is some amount of thinking involved, too.”

John: “If he keeps this up, he’s going to be traded in the off-season. This is just the kind of lazy work ethic that…hold on. He’s typing on the keyboard now. He’s actually typing.”

Pat: “True, John, he is. We can’t see the words from here. We’ll see if we can get a close-up view. He’s definitely pounding out some prose.”

John: “And the crowd’s getting into it, too. They can sense the energy. Still, he might want to work on his posture, because—uh, oh. He stopped. Did he call for a timeout? We’re back to that staring-into-space play that didn’t work before. How many timeouts do they allow in this sport?”

Pat: “I’m not sure, but we’re going to cut to a commercial break. Don’t change the channel, folks. There’s more exciting action coming up.”

——————————————————–

Pat: “We’re back, live at the stadium. There was some activity during the break.”

John: (odd sound, possibly yawning) “Yeah, but it was the wrong kinda action, Pat. No typing at all. Southard got up from his chair and paced around the desk a few times, gesturing and talking to himself. He’s not going to get any stories written that way.”

Pat: “He sure isn’t. A lot of fans seem to agree too, and are leaving for the parking lot. It’s hard to know if our writer is making any progress down there on the field.”

John: “Progress? He hardly moves. I can’t stand this anymore. This isn’t a sport! The boredom is killing me. I’d rather watch goalposts rust, or wait for Astroturf to grow. I’m leaving.”

Pat: “We’ve only been here fifteen minutes, John.”

John: “Then why do I feel fifteen years older, age-wise?”

The broadcast ended soon after that when both commentators and all the camera operators left. Perhaps Frederik Pohl was right after all, um, correctness-wise. From now on, writing will return to being a non-spectator event for—

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An Analysis of Effortless Story Writing

“That story wrote itself,” I’ve sometimes said. But I exaggerated; it didn’t really happen that way. Still, it got me thinking. What if a story could write itself?

I decided to find out. Being rather sciency, I reckoned I’d conduct a careful and thorough experiment. I would give a story every conceivable chance, every possible opportunity, to write itself. Not because I’m lazy, you understand. This was for Science.

It’s time to shift the tone of this blog post to scientificalic language, lest you start to suspect I’m some kind of…not scientist.

Laboratory Setup – laptop still not writing

Ahem…the laptop was positioned in a roo—I mean—laboratory accustomed to having stories written in it, at a temperature of 24° C at normal atmospheric pressure. The laptop was turned on, plugged into a 120-volt alternating current power source, and word processing software was accessed.

The experimenter then left the laboratory and engaged in other, non-writing activities. These included cleaning other rooms, mowing the lawn, reading books, making and consuming lunch, and driving around town on various errands.

After a period of 8 hours and 24 minutes, the experimenter quietly re-entered the laboratory and discovered that a story had not been written. Even a part of a story had not been written, not a paragraph, sentence, word, letter, or punctuation mark. Neither had any new computer files been stored.

To gather more data, further opportunities were presented to the laptop on subsequent days. Longer time periods were tried, durations up to 73 hours and 53 minutes, with the same result. The experimenter engaged in a wider variety of non-writing activities, at greater distances from the laptop. Some trials were conducted with the laboratory door open, and some with it shut. Actual writing occurred in 0% of these cases.

Similar experiments were conducted with ink-filled pens and reams of blank paper. This served to eliminate the laptop and its software as the causal factor. Despite every opportunity and considerable time provided, the pens created no marks on the paper.

The experimenter tried to “spur” or “seed” the process by writing a first sentence, and allowing both laptop and pen to merely complete the story. These attempts likewise resulted in failure.

Numerous graphs were developed to document the results of these trials. They are not included here because the independent variable refused to depart from the axis; that is, the results were 0 in every case. 0 writing produced no matter what other quantity was being tested.

One common factor in all these trials was the experimenter himself. He therefore consulted several other writers and 100% of them reported the same outcomes in their “experiments,” though their trials were far less scientifical, with no white laboratory coats anywhere in evidence, and they had utterly failed to note the temperature. Mention of them here is included as anecdotal evidence only.

The experimenter is therefore forced to a surprising, though tentative, conclusion—it may be possible that stories do not, in fact, write themselves. The creation of stories appears to require the active participation of a writer. Significant participation actually, in every written story so far. At least this seems true for stories involving this single experimenter.

Further research is clearly indicated to validate or (hopefully) disprove this conclusion. Perhaps some necessary initial condition was overlooked, some nuance of temperature, pressure, time duration, or distance. Maybe positive results might occur under certain lunar phases or planetary alignments. A breakthrough may well await some future experimenter in this exciting research field.

For the advancement of Scientificness, this experimenter encourages others to conduct similar trials, particularly those authors writing in the same competitive genres as this experimenter. Feel free to send your own scientilic trial results as comments to this blog post by—

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Steps Toward Becoming a Writer

Are there discrete steps or stages between non-writer and writer? Do all writers tread the same path?

I got thinking about that after reading Ani Chibukhchyan’s guest post on thewritepractice.com. She claimed to have passed through seven stages in becoming a writer, and guessed all writers climbed the same set of stairs.

Her stages were: Keeping your writing to yourself, Wanting to share your writing, Hiding behind a pen name, Waiting for permission, Coming out, Insecure introductions, and I am a writer.

With due respect to Ms. Chibukhchyan, the steps I went through don’t entirely match hers, though there is some overlap. Moreover, I suspect there are considerable differences in the stages among all writers. Here are the steps I took:

Step 1. My novel will be a best-seller.

I had the world’s best idea for a novel. Sure, I’d never written anything for publication before, but how hard could it be? After all, getting a killer idea was the most important and difficult part, right?

Step 2. Writing is harder than I thought.

It turned out, having a “killer” idea was not the most difficult part. Not even close. My prose was so bad, even I couldn’t stand the stench. I needed help. I went to writer’s conferences, read how-to books about writing, joined critique groups, and took writing classes. Good! Now I was on my way.

Step 3. When will this %&@!^# novel ever be done?

Novels, it seemed increasingly clear, are long. Reading a novel took some time, but nowhere close to the time it took to write one. Who knew? I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote some more. Before I knew it, twenty years had passed. That’s no typo; I meant twenty (20) years.

Step 4. Should I try short stories instead?

At some point in those two decades, I wondered if I should try something else. Short stories might not be any easier, but they were…well, shorter. Perhaps I could get a few shorts published, establish a vast readership that way, and they’d be clamoring for me to write a novel.

Step 5. Do I dare submit this?

I was done with my first short story, and my finger hovered over the Enter key, the button that would submit the story to a market. Was it ready? Was it my best work? Should I spend a little more time editing? Had I caught all the errors?

Step 6. Drowning in rejections.

After overcoming the fear of submitting, and after embracing Robert Heinlein’s Rules, I submitted story after story to market after market. At one point, I had fourteen stories out there. Problem is, I was getting nothing but rejections. All nicely worded, but still. Dejection set in, along with the feeling that I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Until…

Step 7. Wow! I got accepted!

There’s nothing like that first acceptance. If only someone could bottle and sell that feeling. First comes the acceptance e-mail, then the contract, then some edits to fix, and then seeing the book come out, with your name in it! I’ve had over thirty more acceptances since then, but still get excited with each one.

Step 8. I’m a writer.

Well, I’m a short story writer, anyway. No novel yet. No movie deals. No legions of adoring fans (that I know of). Still, I’m several steps above where I started. It feels good up here.

More steps remain for me, I’m sure. I’ll update my stair-stepping journey in a future blog post. What have your steps been like? I can almost guarantee the steps for you will be different than they were for—

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Writer, Know Thyself

How well do you know yourself? I came across a wonderful post on this topic by Joanna Penn, guest-posting on WritetoDone. I’d like to take her basic idea in a different direction.

As Joanna said, the phrase “Know Thyself” has an ancient lineage, going back at least to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece, but possibly further back to ancient Egypt. It has various interpretations, but for today, I’ll take it to mean that wisdom begins by looking inside.

If you aim to be a writer, able to write convincing tales about characters who are unlike yourself, you must first understand the person from whom these characters will spring.

Why? It’s the filters.

Let me explain. So far in life, you’ve observed the real world and many people for several years. In your mind, you have a model of that world and those people, but it’s not a perfect model. It doesn’t match the real world exactly.

Every sensation of the world has to pass through a filter in your mind, a filter you built over time based on your experiences. It consists of your stereotypes, biases, personality, political views, gender, education, occupation, etc. The filter through which you see the world is your unique perspective based on who you really are, and it is distorting the view you see.

If you write a book, you’re writing through that filter about a world you see and characters you see. Once published, the book is out there, part of the real world for readers to enjoy. When a reader reads your book, she understands and interprets it through her own mental filter.

It’s possible that, despite all this filtering, many readers will enjoy your book and you’ll earn lots of money. If so, it will be in part because your words reached through the filters and entertained readers.

It’s wise, therefore, to take an introspective look at your own filter, to study it with as much objectivity as you can. Who is this person who wants to be a writer, who would write words describing people and who would comment on the human condition? In short, who are you?

Joanna Penn’s blog post makes some great observations about attributes that most writers have in common. But I think it’s just as important for you to understand the specific attributes unique to you.

How do you do that? You could take a few days off, get away from the world as best you can, and write down what you know about yourself. You could take a personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Five Factor Model, or some other measure.

If you do this, I’m certain you’ll find many of the attributes Joanna Penn listed will be true for you (a loner seeking recognition; one who’s scared, doubtful, and creative; one who believes in finishing projects and striving to improve; one who knows the dark side of life).

You’ll find out much more than that, things that make you feel proud to be you and things you wish weren’t true. You will see facets of yourself that are average and facets that are far from the norm.

This project of learning about yourself can benefit you and your writing in several ways:

  • You may find things about yourself you’d like to improve;
  • You’ll know about those parts of you that are unusual, and realize that connecting with readers may take an extra effort;
  • You’ll understand that your characters have personality filters too, and by writing about the world of your story as well as the thoughts of a character, you are revealing something about that character’s filters.

Good luck! And now, excuse me, it’s time for me to get to know—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Analysis of Writer and Non-Writer Morphs

A significant proportion of the Homo sapiens species does not write fiction, leaving that task to a tiny sector of the population that writes all of it. Today we examine this phenomenon and these particular creatures, and draw what conclusions we can from the available data.

Observations indicate the vast majority (greater than 99 percent) of adults within this species do not write fiction. The fiction-writing and non-fiction-writing fractions have not split off as separate species, and seem unlikely to do so. The distinction between the two is behavioral only, so we may define the fiction-writers as the FW Morph, and the others as the NFW Morph. Other sub-species terms such as breed, race, cultivar, ecotype, and strain are not as applicable as morph.

Note: We are only comparing those Homo sapiens who write fiction and those who do not. The term NFW should not be confused with those who write nonfiction books.

FWs and NFWs coexist and both share a similar global distribution pattern. Evidence shows the two morphs consume similar food, display no distinctive appearance differences, and often cohabit and interbreed without apparent preference for their own, or the other, morph. Resulting offspring mature into FW or NFW in the same 1% and 99% proportions, respectively. No statistical correlation is observed regarding passing on the FW trait to offspring. For example, two NFW parents may produce a child who matures into a FW.

In general, the species puts significant value on the education of its young. Nearly all juvenile Homo sapiens are trained in fiction writing, and are encouraged to create their own stories between the ages of 8 and 18 years. Thus, nearly all have the capability to become FW as mature adults, yet few do.

Behavioral differences between the two morphs are significant, and some of these differences are documented below.

  1. Obviously, FWs spend considerable time writing fiction, and NFWs spend no time doing so.
  2. FWs are more likely to read books (both fiction and nonfiction), and to read more often, than NFW.
  3. FWs react in varied and bizarre ways to the acceptance of a submitted story by an editor, and to the arrival of a box of the FW’s own books. These apparent rituals (dancing, fist-pumping, inordinate consumption of alcohol or chocolate have been observed) are thought to be celebratory in nature, but further studies are indicated.
  4. FWs make frequent attempts to discuss their stories with NFWs, rarely with a favorable outcome. NFWs often appear bored, or make some attempt not to look bored. The FW either fails to notice or expresses bewilderment. In extreme cases, an argument ensues and the two separate, usually for a temporary period.
  5. FWs occasionally seek out the company of other FWs. Perhaps this is because they are so rare, or perhaps they understand each other better than they understand NFWs.
  6. NFWs apparently are capable of creative thought and retain vestigial memories of early fiction-writing education. Sometimes an NFW will suggest to an FW that the FW write a story around the idea the NFW just had. FWs almost never do this, and instead suggest the NFW write the story. The NFW will almost never do that.

Since FWs produce a unique product that NFWs consume, and since NFWs produce all other products needed by FWs, an economic exchange relationship has developed. The amount of wealth earned by a given FW apparently depends on the popularity and demand for that FW’s stories among the NFWs.

In an economic sense, it is fortunate that FWs are in the minority; otherwise they would have to pay NFWs to read their books, rather than the other way around.

To the author’s knowledge, this is the first significant study of these fascinating morphs and their interactions in the wild. Clearly, the need for more comparative studies is indicated. Confirmation or refutation of the observations made in this analysis is sought by—

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5 Signs of Leximania, the Love of Words

Most writers love words. They adore the sound of them. They revel in learning new words. They marvel over a well-turned phrase. Do you?

I’ll define Leximania as an intense love of—bordering on obsession with—words. It’s not necessary to have leximania to be a writer…but it helps. After all, to a writer, words are like a sculptor’s clay, a composer’s musical notes, a painter’s palette and brush. Words are the tiny bits of noting which, when joined, make literature. They’re the atoms of a writer’s universe, so it’s understandable if writers take an unusual level of interest in them.

When one of my daughters entered high school, we gave her a dictionary for her birthday. That evening, she came to me. “Dad, I think I found a mistake.” She showed it to me, and, sure enough, there was an error in her dictionary.

I was very proud of her. That’s what I’m talking about—not just finding the mistake, but paging through the dictionary, maintaining an interest in the words and definitions, and getting lost in them long enough to notice the mistake. That’s Leximania.

In Chapter 31 of Theodore A. Rees Cheney’s book on editing, Getting the Words Right, he says, “Unless you become a work geek, you’ll have trouble making it as a writer.” He defines a word geek as one who listens to other people’s use of words, both spoken and written; one to whom a dictionary is a friend; and one who delights in discovering and using new words.

There’s a time in our lives when we’re all leximaniacs. Between the ages of 18 and 36 months, you were learning 10-20 new words a week. At that age, you loved learning new words. When you heard a word, and learned what it meant, you rolled it around; you sounded it out; you used it.

Back then, you had particular fascination for words that were fun to say, including abracadabra, blob, banana, baboon, balloon, cuckoo, hocus-pocus, itty-bitty, kitty-cat, knickknack, mumbo-jumbo, teeny-weeny, teepee, topsy-turvy, yo-yo, and zig-zag. Note the interest in rhythm, alliteration, and repetition.

At some point, your vocabulary growth spurt tapered off. Most of us decide we know enough to get by, and don’t bother learning many new words after that.

For writers, leximania either never subsides, or is renewed at some point. However, it’s expanded beyond a love of fun-to-say words. It now includes obscure words with precise definitions or connotations that are perfect fits for a story in progress. It includes unusual parings of words that convey just the right idea. It includes words that give a sentence almost poetic rhythm and flow. It includes short, abrupt words to end a sentence with punch.

To sum up, here are some common symptoms of leximania. Do you:

  • Turn to a dictionary or thesaurus for one word, and end up lost in the book for ten or more minutes?
  • Read or hear an unfamiliar word, look it up, and use it several times that week?
  • Listen to people speaking and try to detect their repeated words and phrases, the rhythm patterns of their sentences?
  • Make a conscious and systematic effort to build your vocabulary?
  • Pause while reading a book to repeat a word or phrase and just admire the author’s genius in word usage?

If you answered yes to two questions, you may have the early onset. Three affirmative answers confirms the diagnosis. Four or more ‘yes’ responses suggest a severe, and probably incurable, case…one from which you don’t seek a cure.

Leximania, though rare, isn’t harmful and may actually extend your life. If you ‘suffer’ from it, my advice is to consider becoming a writer. Ending disclaimer: I’m no doctor, I’m just—

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February 26, 2017Permalink

Top 10 Best Things about Being a Writer

Every week this blog reveals deep, mystic secrets about how you can become a best-selling author. See what you’ve been missing by posting cat photos instead of checking out my site?

But why should you want to be a writer in the first place? That is a question never answered in any of my posts…until now.

I interviewed every author on this planet (had to limit it, I only had a week), and compiled each of their reasons for being a writer into a vast database. Then I used artificial intelligence software to analyze those data and order the list by response frequency.

Either that, or I made up some reasons myself. One of those two methods, for sure.

Without further agonizing delays or obvious stalling tactics, I present, in the style of David Letterman, my Top 10 List of the best things about being a writer:

#10. Friends aren’t just friends—they’re character ideas.

#9. Free hobby; it only costs your time…and your sanity.

#8. Don’t like this world? Create your own.

#7. Get back at your Language Arts teacher by breaking rules she taught you.

#6. Commit crimes, but don’t do the time. (So long as they’re fictional crimes.)

#5. Free exotic vacations! Well, you go there in your mind, but you can visit outlandish places, like Antarctica, the Moon, the year 1850, Imaginationia, or even New York City.

We’re down to the top 4 best things about being a writer:

#4. Built-in excuse for insane behavior. “You’re a writer? That explains it. You’re free to go.”

#3. What other people call loafing, you call working.

#2. Sweet revenge on everyone who’s ever wronged you. Kill ‘em in your books.

And the number one top best thing about being a writer:

#1. Writer’s conferences—in the wee hours, hijinks ensue. A few shenanigans also.

If that list doesn’t make you want to be a writer, then you’ll have to make up, I mean compile, your own. Or you can go back to posting cat photos, it makes no difference to—

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February 19, 2017Permalink

Quit Your Job to Write Full Time?

Raise your hand if you hate your day job. Haven’t you had enough of meetings, projects, deadlines, office politics, commuting, performance reviews, and dealing with jerks? Sure, there’s a steady paycheck, health care, and someday a retirement package, but those are small compensation for all the stress and aggravation, right?

You’ve been writing fiction as a hobby at home for some time now, and have sold a few stories, received payment as a published author. What if…

Yeah. What if you quit that 9-to-5 grind and became a writer full-time? Freed of the hassle and pressure, able to write all day every day, you would craft higher-quality stories, right? You could crank out best-selling novels.

Yeah. You’ll be your own boss. There will be book signings, major interviews, and book launch parties. You’ll get an agent to do all the negotiating. When those advance checks and royalties roll in, you’ll hire an accountant to keep track of it all. You’ll get a faster car, and a new house. On an island.

Um, yeah. You’re hesitating. After all, that day job is the devil you know, and writing full-time is a leap into the unfamiliar. Those best-sellers aren’t guaranteed, are they?

You know you want to write full-time, so it’s a question of when, not whether. How will you know when the time is right? What are the signposts you must see before taking this off-ramp in your life? Here is my list of ways to know you’re ready:

  • You’re ready for the productivity increase. You’ve been used to writing on the fly, using time you stole from other aspects of your life. When you write full-time, that will be your new job. Now, time won’t be your problem, unless you waste it with nonessential activities. Do you have a long list of story ideas, ready to go?
  • You’re ready for the lifestyle change. Now, when your alarm clock rings, it’s time to wake up. As a full-time writer, you’ll set your own hours, but it will be tempting to stay in bed. Chances are your day job involves plenty of contact with other people. Your writing job won’t; there will be long hours of all-alone time. Maybe you’re used to several restaurant choices for lunch; for a full-time writer, lunch awaits in the fridge.
  •  Your housemates and dependents are ready. Your decision may affect others. What do they think of this? Do they understand you’ll be working at home for long hours and you require quiet conditions? Do they have unreasonable expectations of the chances of achieving fame and fortune? If your income takes a downward trend, will they suffer?
  • You’re ready for the financial changes. You may have been used to a steady salary; prepare for an erratic income with good years and bad ones. You’ll be self-employed, so there will be tax changes, too. That employer-obtained health care goes away, so be prepared to pick up those costs. Don’t forget your 401K, either.

While researching for this blog post, I came across some must-read sources. Mark (M.K.) Gilroy has a short but informative video about the financial aspects. This NPR interview of author Sonny Brewer discusses how your day job may still end up influencing your stories when you shift to full-time writing. Jeff Yeager’s guest-post on Brian Klems’ blog provides ten great questions you should ask yourself before quitting your day job. A post by Holly Lisle relates her experience, both good and bad, when she made the switch. Aurora M. Suarez interviewed romance novelist Ines Bautista-Yao about her fears, her preparations, and the lessons she learned. Check out each of these posts.

Are you ready to quit your day job to write full-time? It’s a difficult decision, I know. I can’t make it for you, and you have to decide based on the facts and feelings in your particular situation. Perhaps this post has given you some things to think about before you decide. That’s the hope of—

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February 5, 2017Permalink

13 Ways You’re Writing Wrongly

Inspired by K. M. Weiland’s wonderful post, “How Not to Be a Writer: 15 Signs You’re Doing It Wrong,” I decided to make my own list.

My list differs from hers, since it’s borne of my own experiences. Moreover, I’m sure there are plenty of unlisted items I’m still getting wrong, that hinder me from greater success.

Arranged in rough order of the writing process, here are a baker’s dozen ways you’re writing wrongly:

  1. You’re not actually fitting one word up against another. In other words, you’re not writing any fiction. Maybe you’re easily distracted, doing too much research, talking about being a writer while not writing, or just intimidated by the prospect. Doesn’t matter. If you’re not writing, you’re never going to be a writer.
  1. You bought your limousine and mansion before the advance arrived. Let’s set some realistic expectations here. Most likely, you’re going to labor in obscurity for a while, probably years. First time best-sellers are very rare. Heck, best-selling authors themselves are rare. Only a tiny percentage of writers support themselves with their writing.
  1. You’re copying someone else’s style. After all, (you’re thinking), if it’s working for James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, etc., then it should work for you. Inconvenient fact—readers already have a Patterson, Rowling, Roberts, Grisham, etc. Create your own style.
  1. You’re sure the rules don’t apply to you. I’m talking about those pesky rules of English and the rules of literature, stuff like spelling, grammar, and story structure. All those rules are for mere plebeians, not you, right? Actually, you’re really supposed to know them. As for always following each rule to the letter, see item 5 on my list.
  1. You obsess about following the rules. You’re now a walking dictionary and could qualify to teach English at Harvard. You chiseled the rules onto granite tablets and now pray before the tablets twice daily. Why are your stories not selling? There’s an overarching rule you forgot—you’re supposed to write stories people want to read. If some rule of writing is keeping you from telling a great story, break the rule. Just don’t go too far (see item 4).
  1. You quit before “The End.” Around the world, desk drawers and computer file directories bulge with half-finished stories. If you would be a writer, you must finish your stories.
  1. Your epidermis is on the thin side. In other words, you don’t take criticism well. The most mundane comment from someone in your critique group or from an editor will either set you off in a bout of inconsolable sobbing or high-minded ranting at the imbeciles that surround you. Get a grip. They’re not attacking your personal character; they’re trying to help you improve your story.
  1. You inhabit a world that’s just too slow to recognize the wonder that is you. How frustrating that must be, to cast your gaze at the mortals about you and see them not bowing before the genius in their midst. Well, genius, here’s a word you might look up: patience. Recognition, if it’s to come at all, will come in time.
  1. You revise edit reword amend change adjust vary redraft alter rephrase modify wordsmith rewrite your story endlessly. Sure, that story will be perfect once you work on it a bit more, just add this and delete that, change the POV character, throw in some better verbs and adjectives. It seems like it’s never quite right. True, it never will be perfect, but it could be good enough.
  1. You defy Submission Guidelines. What’s with all these editors, anyway? Each one has a particular format for story submissions, and each format is different. That’s too much trouble for a great writer like you. Your story is so superb the editor will overlook how you flouted a few guidelines, right? Nope, wrong again. Obey those guidelines.
  1. You never click ‘Submit’ or ‘Send.’ That’s because if you do, some editor might actually see your precious story, might read it, and might not like it. Better to keep your story safe with you, in your home, where nobody can ever criticize it. Uh…no. Show your baby to the world. It will be okay.
  1. Rejections are reasons to revise edit reword…rewrite your story. An editor has rejected your story, perhaps even explained why. To you, that’s a sign you must rewrite it before it can be good enough to submit elsewhere. No. Go ahead and submit it elsewhere immediately. (However, if an editor rejects your story but says she’ll accept it if you revise it in a particular way—ah, that’s the sign that you should rewrite and submit it to her again.)
  1. You’re relaxing after submitting a story. There, you just sent your story on its way. Now you can kick back and wait for the acceptance, the contract with the six-figure advance, the launch party, the book tour, and the TV interviews. Sorry, no. You’re supposed to be a writer. Start writing your next story already.

Avoid those pitfalls and you’ll be on your way to becoming a published writer. Best wishes in all your writing efforts, from—

            Poseidon’s Scribe

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December 25, 2016Permalink