Writing Is A Full-Time Job (Even If You Don’t Make Money From It)

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This might sound like a broken record, but it bears repeating. I still run into or hear about people who don’t seem to get why writing takes so long or how it could be so hard to just fling words onto a page in some coherent order.

Despite my eye-rolling and exasperation, I do understand that, for a non-writer, it’s easy to just assume that books magically appear out of thin air because very few people see the actual process of writing them. Artists of all stripes tend to be self-conscious about unfinished work, so we keep it secreted away until we feel it’s “done” enough to see the light of day. And thus if I tell someone that I’m working two full-time jobs, they tend to look at me funny because writing doesn’t seem to contribute in a concrete, monetary fashion. (At least, not yet.)

It’s difficult trying to balance two jobs, and this lack of understanding about how writing truly is my second job can make the whole enterprise that much harder. For people who don’t have much support from their family or loved ones in regards to their craft, that difficulty increases almost exponentially. So, I wanted to lay out the kinds of things that I’m trying to consider, plan for, and tackle as I try to build a career as a writer in between all the other day-to-day tasks that require my attention:

1) Continue writing or editing my main project (whatever it happens to be at the time).

2) Read short story publications online to get an idea what the market is and the kinds of stories they want.

3) Write and submit short stories that cater to that market.

4) Research agents and publishers who would be a good fit for my books.

5) Query said agents and publishers, and develop a professional relationship with them.

6) Keep writing.

That’s a lot to do when you have a regular day job trying to keep your head above water. (And I didn’t even touch on the topic of having a social media presence.) No wonder writers have a reputation of being crazy and reclusive!

My strength lies in writing novels. I love the world building, the character arcs, the sense of satisfaction at an in-depth, well-executed plot. It’s easier for me to construct well-rounded realistic characters for a novel because I can spend more time learning about who they are, their strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and motivations. The more time I spend with them, the better they are. I started All’s Fair in October 2015, and the characters in Draft 1 look, sound, and feel much flatter than their upgraded versions in Drafts 2 and 3. And even they seem to be lacking in comparison to the characters from Ravens and Roses, who I’ve been with for over seven years.

As you can see, there’s a trade-off. In order to create better characters, I have to spend more time working on the novel. But the longer I spend working on one novel, the less time I have to work on other novels or projects.  Depth versus time: which do you choose?  I’ve got too many stories I want to tell, so I can’t afford to spend 7+ years on every book I write. That simply isn’t feasible. Which leads me to the next aspect of my would-be writing career: short stories.

Short stories used to be the bread and butter for writers. Submitting to magazines was how new writers got exposure, practice, and built enough street-cred to launch their careers as novelists. It’s not as cut and dry these days. There are tons of online magazines, but they are inundated with submissions. With many you have to wait a month or longer for a response, and most don’t accept simultaneous submissions. Which means that I need to be crafting new stories while I wait for a response on the old ones.

The most frustrating thing about this process is that when the inevitable rejection letters arrived, you never know if you just barely failed to make the cut or if you were dismissed immediately. You also never know what it was about the story that got it rejected, so you don’t know what needs to be improved. Maybe with a little tweaking, the story would have been accepted. Or maybe it’s fundamentally flawed and should just be scrapped. You just don’t know, and it’s maddening.

Still, learning to create and bring characters to life in a short amount of time is a good skill to learn. I personally feel that writing good, thoughtful, engaging short stories is an important skill, especially since I’m not very good at it.  Plus, it would mean getting more stories done and out there for people to read, a goal that has become almost obsessively important to me.  More stories equals more potential revenue.  I want to make a living as a writer, or at least a decent supplemental income, and to do that, I’ll need to publish a combination of short stories and novels.

As you can see, there are a lot of bases I have to cover, all of which consumes that most precious of non-renewable resources: Time. If you want to get good at something, you must give it your full attention. That is difficult in today’s Age of Constant Distraction (which is why I’ll probably never become a world-famous ocarina player.) Being notoriously bad at time management, this is a real struggle for me, but I’m hoping that with a new schedule and renewed dedication, I will prevail.

So, be kind, and hug a writer today. Or, if they aren’t really the hugging sort, bring them coffee and donuts instead. (Mmmmm… donuts. Yum!)

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2 responses to “Writing Is A Full-Time Job (Even If You Don’t Make Money From It)

  1. I so identify with your feeling that my strength lies in novels, not short stories (which is ironic when a short story is the only thing I’m likely to ever finish at this point).

    When it comes to rejections, I’m not sure it’s correct to look for reasons FOR the story being rejected. When people make a choice not to consume a certain piece of media, I think the explanation usually lies in the absence of something “good,” not the presence of something “bad.” For that reason, I don’t think it’s productive to
    think of publication as something that happens when your “quality level” reaches 87% (or whatever). I think you just need to keep putting as much “good” stuff in your stories as possible until, eventually, the right “good” things hook the right publisher.

    P.S. – Is the coffee-and-donuts thing a reference to Carrie Fisher’s robot commercial?

    • That is true. But it would still be nice to know what that “good” thing was that might have been missing. In writing “All’s Fair,” I’ve been constantly amazing at how I thought a draft was pretty good, but then my readers showed me tons of ways to make it even better than before. That kind of feedback is what I’m lacking with short stories because magazine editors (understandably) have no time to give feedback on your work. So I don’t know if I’m making the same mistakes or if the story is, as you say, “good,” but just didn’t catch their attention enough or just wasn’t for them. I also don’t know if I should keep refining a story or just drop it and start on something new. Not knowing where to focus my energy is a large part of the frustration when it comes to submitting short stories.

      Nope, the coffee-and-donuts thing was just a reference to how writers fuel themselves. But it is a nice little potential connection, isn’t it? ^_^

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