This week I received a request from Bob Clary at Webucator in reference to the beginning of the annual national Write a Novel in a Month competition. He asked questions about writing and motivation. How does a writer continue writing in the face of failure? How does a writer continue writing after rejection after rejection? How does a writer continue writing after success? Or the fantasized mammoth paycheck? Is it possible to make a living as a writer? If not, how do writers earn a living and write? These are all my questions, not Clary’s, but they are very similar to what he asked. Let’s take a look at the answers, at least how I answer them.
Writing is not for the faint of heart or anyone with a weak stomach. It is a scary occupation because there is absolutely NO security. If you want to write for fun, that’s fine — by that I mean a hobby writer. Please do not call yourself a professional writer or even imply that you are. Professional writers write daily, and they approach their writing as a vocation as much as a job. For a job description, read here. You have been warned! (smile)
First of all, a writer needs to define what “failure” means to him and what “success” means to him. These are the two sides of the same coin of endeavor. But they can mean much different things to different people. For me, failure is not writing. Rejection is not failure. It is simply one step toward success. And for me, there are Steps of Success. Writing every day is success. Finishing my word count for the day is success. Finishing a first draft, first revision, etc. are all success steps. The big success is publication. Recently, I’ve added a new set of steps beyond publication: sales of the book, reviews of the book, promotion, etc. How I keep writing is kind of a no-brainer. I must write. If I don’t write something creative every day, that’s failure for me. For someone who defines success and failure in monetary terms, I suggest you get a day job and keep it. You may make a little money here, a little money there, but writing for money and fame are the wrong reasons to write.
But then there’s the camera-flashing, mega-blockbuster success we all dream about but know, realistically, has the same odds as winning the lottery jackpot. It won’t keep us from trying, though, right? (I also buy lottery tickets.) This kind of success can be paralyzing. I think it’s important to decide before that happens how you’re going to conduct yourself through it all. I keep a journal that I write in every day, and I have written through the ups and downs in my life. I will probably document the whole experience in my journal, and that will keep my writing muscle in good shape. To keep my feet on the ground, I have a bunch of really good friends who’ll keep me real.
Only a very few writers make a good living writing. This does not count the writers in journalism, advertising, public relations, and communications. The writers in those occupations earn a living writing. But if you’re a fiction writer, bite the dice: it’s a real crap shoot to make a living writing fiction. A few writers do — the mega-blockbuster bestselling authors — but it’s not what you need to expect.
What every fiction writer needs to expect is that you will need to make a living doing something other than fiction writing in order to continue writing fiction. What that job is, I’d hope that you’d choose something that interested you. Then you need to cultivate a time management discipline, and if you have a family, they need to be in on it too. Show your kids how serious you are about this creative endeavor that you love. Negotiate with your spouse for space in your house to be your writing space, and also for the time to write. If you’re single, like me, my challenge is time management. I’ve just begun a new part-time job this week with a varying work schedule. I know that I need to figure out when will be the best time for me to write fiction, and it could be that now I won’t be able to write fiction every day. So, I’ve already decided to write in my journal in the evenings.
I am not participating in the novel writing month. For those of you who are, you are probably already making time to write on a daily basis in order to achieve your weekly writing goals. Remember, the true art of creative writing is in revision. First drafts are for the imagination to come out and play with the characters, ideas, action and dialogue. Have fun!