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:
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Okay, now that that is off my chest, we can get into the meat of this post.  Although I’ll admit that my entries have been a little lean lately.  Nearing the end of a project seems to slow my momentum rather than increase it.  But I did want to create a companion entry to “Page Counts, Words, Rosemary, and Time.”  “Page Counts” dealt with my own schedule and how I use daily word counts or time spent to move forward.  While writing that entry, I wondered if any other fantasy authors, or authors in general, did something similar.  Did any of them measure their progress by counting pages?  Or did they set aside specific blocks of time to work?  Or did they just write all day long?  I know each author has their own way of doing things, but I also like finding trends.

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Page Counts, Words, Rosemary, and Time

First post of 2013!  Here’s hoping it’s better than 2012.

On my last entry, I asked my readers (or any other random passers-by) to ask me questions.  What kinds of topics would you like to see me write about?  The first is paraphrased as follows:

A)  How do you write consistently every day?

B)  How do you decide to measure your progress: with word/page counts or time spent?  Which is best? 

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2012: The Year In Review

I can’t believe I started this blog back at the end of June 2011.  I thought I’d only started this year!  Time sure does fly, doesn’t it?  Maybe it only seems like I started this year because I had to step back and write every other week rather than every week.  I’m glad that I made that decision, although it seems like I’m still writing my entries the day they are “due.”  (No doubt a holdover from my school days when I procrastinated absolutely everything.  Even my senior paper I wrote the night before it was due.  But I got a “B” so I call that a win.)

I’ve covered a lot of territory this year.  In some ways, I wonder if I have anything else to say about writing.  Sometimes I look back and wonder, “Well…what else can I talk about?”  Sometimes I feel like I don’t really have the authority to talk about some subjects because I’m not good at them, have little experience with them, or simply because “I’m not published.”  But I’ve realized that being published doesn’t mean you have all the answers or know what you’re talking about.  I might not be published yet, not even by a vanity press, but at least I’m writing.  I really took to heart Chuck Wendig’s admonishment of “aspiring” writers:  “If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not.”  (Whether you write well is a whole different story.)

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A Writer’s Mantras

The first week of National Novel Writing Month was glorious.  I was consistently ahead of my daily word count, I had a routine that not only allowed me to write, but encouraged me to write.  It got me off to a good start so that when I flagged in the middle of the month, I could still grind through and reach a total 50,065 words.  I’m not entirely satisfied because a significant portion of my NaNo entry was fan fiction and various rants about life, but it achieved its purpose:  it established habit.

I have never felt quite as focused on writing as I have in that first week.  Writing became all-encompassing.  My world.  My life.  And while everything else crumbles around me or changes at lightning speed, I have created some rather intense writing mantras.  They may not be for everyone.  But these mantras are what give my life structure, my existence meaning, that keep me moving forward when all I want to do is break:



This is my life now.  There is nothing beyond this computer in this room.


The rest of my life is nonsense; writing is the only thing that matters.


THERE IS NO LIFE!  THERE IS ONLY WRITING!


This is the point.  This is it.  This is the reason I exist.


Write every day.


Everything else is my life is fluff.  It’s extra.  This, writing, every day, is what matters.  Not my day job, not socializing, not even my family. 

 

Write This Down!

I recently read an article about how the average American goes for weeks without writing anything by hand. At first my brain rebelled at the idea, but, after giving it more thought, I realized that this was a reasonable assessment.  Aside from the occasional Post-It note or shopping list, most folks prefer to type rather than write.

So I’m curious to know:  do you prefer to write out scenes and notes by hand or with a keyboard?

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Prolific Penmasters

It’s ironic that the three writers I look up to the most are also some of the most prolific.  Mercedes Lackey has dozens upon dozens of novels.  Many are collaborations, but many are not, and even collaborating takes a great deal of time and effort.  Oddly enough, she started off as a writer of fanfiction and was a protegée of Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of the mistresses of sci-fi and fantasy.  J. Michael Straczynski writes for 10 hours a day, every day, except on his birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s.  He says, “If I don’t have an assignment, I’ll write a short story, I’ll write a spec script, I’ll write a novel. I just enjoy the hell out of it.”  Out of the 110 episodes comprising Babylon 5, he wrote the scripts for 92 of them, plus all of the movies.  Joss Whedon has created several cult classic television shows with some of the most unique and memorable mythologies and characters.  He worked on BuffyAngel, and Firefly as writer and director during the 2002-2003 television season, and said that he only feels his best when he’s writing:

“You know, I always get cranky when I’m not writing,” Joss admits.  “I’ll be mad and I don’t know why.  I just feel like I’m angry with everybody and I hate everything and life is a sham.  Then I’ll realize I haven’t written anything. And rewriting doesn’t count.  It has to be an original script” (Havens, 158).

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Handling Dry Spells

Every writer goes through dry spells.  Some people call this phenomenon “writer’s block,” but I think writer’s block and dry spells are two different things.  Writer’s block is when you are working on a story and keep hitting a brick wall.  You have a scene you need to write, or an assignment to finish and you just sit and stare blankly at the screen.  You want to write, but the words just don’t come.

In contrast, I think of a dry spell as a time when your very creativity dries up.  It’s not that you don’t know what to write or how to write it, but rather you don’t even feel like writing.

Personally, I find dry spells far more terrifying than writer’s block.

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How the Office of Letters and Light helped me start (and stay) writing:

I think humans have a tendency to name things and make up random holidays.  Throughout the year you can find instances of this.  Did you know that January 10th is “Peculiar People Day?”  Or that October 28th is “Plush Animal Lovers’ Day?”  How about August being “National Catfish Month?”  A lot of these days and months have multiple names to them.  Personally, I think there’s a government committee somewhere whose sole purpose is to make these things up.

At any rate, this obsession with naming led to November being called “National Novel Writing Month.”  It’s rather nice having a month dedicated to the art and craft of writing, specifically novel writing, but for most people, this month passes by unnoticed.  However, the Office of Letters and Light decided to create something special.  They made a contest also called “National Novel Writing Month,” affectionately dubbed “NaNoWriMo” (pronounced “NAH-no-RHYME-oh”.)  It challenges would-be novelists to write 50,000 words, the minimum requirement for a novel, in 30 days.  There is no cash prize and there are no judges to evaluate your work.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to get writers to stop agonizing over perfecting each passage before moving on, to break the rut of perfectionism and procrastination that dogs the heels of authors.  In order to help writers complete that first draft, the emphasis is on quantity, not quality.  Now, granted, a writer could just sit down and type the same sentence over and over until they reached 50,000 words, but NaNoWriMo offers little incentive for such a path.  With no cash value and no one reading your work beyond the snippets you choose to post, there is no reason not to sit down and write.  All you have to enter is the number of words you wrote, and, at the end of the contest, an on-site word validator proves that yes, you actually did write that number of words.  If you reach 50,000 words, you get bragging rights and the satisfaction of reaching your goal.  And if you only wrote, say 30,000 words, or 20,000, or even 10,000, you still have more done now than you did at the start of November, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

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