Many think that anyone can write a book. Perhaps anyone can, but that’s not the true question that should be addressed before beginning one—and failing to ask the true question that should be asked has had many people start books and never finish them.
A myth-busting tip: Not every book that is started should be finished. Only those books the writer feels compelled to finish should be finished.
More time, stronger characters, different elements might be required and not yet on the writer’s radar. Sometimes ideas need time to percolate. Sometimes they’re just bad ideas, and you have to start writing the story to grasp that.
When it’s right, your writer’s gut knows it. When it’s not right, your gut knows that, too.
The working writer listens to his/her writer’s gut.
Get practical and creative.
Recently, a cluster of writers have contacted me for advice not on writing but on issues that pertain to the writer inside an author. In the past, when a cluster of questions centered on a single topic hit the in-box, it’s a sign that many more are struggling with the same issue. So let’s get practical in this creative pursuit—both are required for success.
First, let’s cut to the chase and ask the most important question that will tell you immediately whether or not you’re cut out to be a working writer:
Can you quit?
If you can quit writing and be content with your life, odds are you’re not a working writer. That one question is the fastest way to determine whether or not you’re going to have what you need to make it and enjoy success or find yourself in miserable pursuit of something you later discover you don’t really want.
When you love writing, it is so ingrained in you that the writer can’t be separated from the human being. There’s no aspect of the human being that isn’t impacted by writing. One day, I fully expect that scientists will find a writer’s gene in the DNA map. Okay, maybe that’s a little over the top, but would it shock me? It truly wouldn’t.
But—and this is the only reason worth writing (there are far easier ways to earn a living)—if you love it, you’ll gladly invest in the work. It’s often frustrating and you will suffer many disappointments, but when writing works, it’s beyond fulfilling. It’s euphoric.
I’m remembering a time when I stood at a cross-road, making the decision on whether to continue to pursue a writing career or to give it up. The battle was fierce. Every drop of intelligence in me said to quit. Every emotion in me rose in full riot, shouting to quit. Logic and the parts in us concerned with earnings and our future stability mocked me. You want to keep a job where you don’t know who you’re working for, how much you’ll be paid, if you’ll be paid at all, with no benefits, no retirement, and absolutely no idea if you’ll work for them even once, or once and maybe never again? A career where your own life is a mystery to you? What kind of nut does that?
Talk about scraping your bones! And that was just the tip of the iceberg on this exploration. When the discussion was done, logically and by anyone’s standards, I should have quit. But I didn’t. Why?
I couldn’t get past one thing, and that one thing is all I passed onto my husband: When I die, bury me with pencil in my hand, because the idea of going through eternity and not writing out my thoughts… I can’t bear it.
I’d been writing for a long time. Years, actually, and making shallow career progress. But that’s the day I became a working writer. I knew then I’d never be content without it. And I knew if I did the reasonable thing and quit, at the end of my life, I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror and not have regrets. I didn’t just want to write. I had to write. I needed it, and I wouldn’t be complete without writing.
When you know, you take the risks, do all you can to defy the odds, and go for your vision of gold. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t. But you don’t quit because you might not succeed.
A Myth-Busting Tip: Everything always comes down to the work.
It is what matters. The rest is just stuff. You do what you have to do to feed the work. If that means taking a different job to pay the bills, you do it. If it means sacrificing time out with friends, you do it. Whatever it takes, you do it. Because you’ve evaluated, and this is what you most want.
Practical interjection. We can’t have it all. We’re human, not machines. But we can make the sacrifices required to have what most matters to us. We get it the old-fashioned way: we work for it.
So you see why it’s critical to determine whether it’s the idea of writing or the actual life as a writer that you most want. Not the fluff or fantasy. The reality of it.
The Myth: Writing isn’t really work.
The Truth: Writing is really hard work.
From the minute your feet hit the floor in the morning until your head hits your pillow at night, there are demands on your time and on your creativity—often simultaneously.
Writing is not a fluff job, where you work when and where you want and do what you want to do. Not if the writer intends to earn a living writing. Recreational writing grants you those liberties. But successful working writers write. They write consistently, persistently, and they produce. They also see everything as fodder.
Writers get ideas in boardrooms, in bathrooms. In parks, at ball fields, in shopping malls. Even when driving down the street, mowing the lawn, or emptying the dishwasher. In other words, there’s no reprieve from writing for a working writer.
Even when you’re not writing, you observe as a writer. You think as a writer. You read and watch TV as a writer. Anywhere you go, anything you do, you do as a writer and through a writer’s perspective.
It’s evident in the details you notice, the body language of others, the inflections in their tones as they speak. You read everything—people, places, objects. You spin intentions and motives and opposing sides of issues, events, and project outcomes. And this holds true for those involving a group of adults or a group of toddlers. Or a group of animals. Behavior is a big deal, and you’re always trying to figure it out. To reason through it. Always trying to find order in chaos. To find truth behind lies, and the lies embedded in truths.
A snippet of overheard conversation can spur a book or a series of books. A simple image can, too. Or a single-line quote. And some things observed choose odd times to come rushing back with a question that intrigues. Maybe in the form of a person, an event, or a situation, but the writer is touched, moved, intrigued, and s/he feels compelled to explore it. Perhaps even feels compelled to marry this observed thing to another observed thing or a question that more intensely intrigues—similar or polar opposite—to see where it leads.
The point I’m making is that writers are not superficial, and their desire to write is not superficial. The need to write runs deep. Writers have a natural curiosity that crosses established boundaries. They’re interested in just about everything, and they accept very little as it presents itself on the surface to them as fact. Most have keen observation skills and a genuine desire to truly understand people. Not just what makes them tick or ticks them off, but also why. What triggers those exact responses in that specific person and why? These are questions that fascinate writers every bit as much as what if...
Those are a few of the common success-soup ingredients in a working writer.
The Myth. Writers are scattered-brained and many are flighty airheads.
The Truth. Writers are scattered due to slivered focus, they are flighty in that they’re juggling many balls at once all the time. I’ve yet to meet an airhead writer.
Writers tend to be intelligent, diverse, and disciplined. Many have thick-skin (definitely a job requirement) yet remain sensitive and, to varying degrees, empathetic. Most working writers have strong business skills in addition to deep creative wells and active imaginations. They experience, take risks, and somehow make even mundane tasks adventurous.
What those who perceive as scattered is actually a writer absorbing on multiple levels. The obvious, the subdued, the interior reasoning and rationale. They’re digging internally, associating, slotting details, making that order out of chaos, discovering the layer beneath the surface, where the gems of wisdom are often hidden.
Perceptions can be deceiving, and they often are. Scattered translates to internal and external, to physical, emotional and spiritual. It translates to the seen and heard and felt and that which is unseen, unheard and unfelt—and to that currently unrealized or unrecognized by others. No, not scattered. Slivered focus.
Juggling is constant.A working writer might be writing one project, researching another, promoting a third, and planning a fourth. S/he might in a single morning tackle business and personal interests and creative interests.
That’s typical and common, so working writers compartmentalize. They are astute at it, or become so: another success requirement. Seldom do writers do one thing and then another. Their lives don’t unfold with duties and responsibilities occurring successively. The reality is they must work on all manner of things at once—and interspersed with the demands of their private lives and those of their families.
The perception of writers being airheads is truly a fantasy. Maybe it’s part of the mystique and mystical allure, but it’s not fact. Writers are always learning, always investigating, and always doing all they can to deepen their creative wells and improve their business acumen.
Think about it. A working writer who exhausts his/her knowledge base is pretty limited on what else s/he can write. So for the sake of future works, the writer logically must continue to learn and grow and expand that creative well. Must continue to feed the curiosity, the interest, the desire to write. The business savvy to do so successfully.
It’s not a logical deduction that an airhead can do all that’s required of the working writer. Though s/he might give that illusion—perhaps as research, perhaps for entertainment—but don’t accept what you perceive on this surface as fact. You’ll be wrong. That assessment also applies to quirky and eccentric.
An example: A dear writer friend writes first drafts only by hand and only in peacock purple ink. Now one might perceive that quirk makes her an airhead. That would be an inaccurate assessment. She’s also a Harvard graduate and an extremely astute businesswoman. An internationally bestselling author.
She happens to like the feeling of the pen gliding across the page, and she thinks the purple ink is pretty. Perhaps she uses this as a disciplinary visual aid to keep her writing? Perhaps the color or feel inspires her? Regardless, she’s definitely not an airhead, and to assume otherwise, leaves one open for a huge wakeup call.
Maybe that’s where we see the value of spicy ingredients in our successful working writer soup:
Discipline. Self-discipline, actually. When you’re a working writer, you must write to have work to sell. Without it, you don’t eat. It’s that simple. This is not something someone else can provide for you. You must have the will, desire, and put in the effort to get the work done. The bottom-line? Writers write.
Many fall in love with the mythical fantasy of being an author but they’re not enamored with doing the work. A tip: don’t bother. Everything about being an author comes down to the work. So unless you’re all in, keep your writing recreational. You’ll be a happier individual—and so too will those around you.
When you first start a project, you’re infused with a burst of enthusiasm that, in my experience, lasts about three chapters. Then writing is work—no matter how much you love it. The only thing that carries you through to the end is discipline. Remember, no one really cares whether or not you finish this story—except you. You must care enough for yourself and everyone else.
Readers may, and hopefully will, come to appreciate what you’ve written. Others might benefit from the purpose for which you wrote the book. You might gain critical acclaim and earn well from the book. But all that comes after the work is done. Not before you do it. That’s what I mean about no one cares but you. You, the writer, nurture and care and love the work first. Then you release it to do what it will with and for others.
A truth tip: Not everyone will love the book. Some won’t like it at all. It won’t speak to them, benefit them, and you’re apt to get negative comments about it being a waste of good paper or of their time. That’s normal. Not every work speaks to every person. If it did, we’d collectively need one book and one author.
So you need discipline after the work is written also. The discipline to listen and to respect others’ opinions. Everyone is entitled to their own.
A tip: express gratitude for any comments. You might agree or disagree but that isn’t significant. What is significant to the working writer is that the commenting reader spent his/her time reading your book. Whether the reaction was positive or negative, that s/he chose your book out of millions of books warrants gratitude.
Successful writers work long, hard hours. Even when they’re not writing, they’re writing. They’re observing, absorbing, reading, researching, marketing, seeking feedback, taking the pulse of all around them. It truly is all fodder. Never forget that, thinking you can become complacent or just skate along. That time doesn’t come.
If you’ve read and see yourself in all this, then you well could be a working writer. If you’ve read and don’t see yourself in all this and yet you still have the desire to write, try it. You’ll either develop or hone your skills, or you won’t. Sometimes we learn as much in discovering what we don’t want as we learn in discovering what we do. It’s easier on the soul to not regret what we wanted to do and didn’t. Try. If you love it, great. If not, keep seeking something you do love.
Sometimes people make things over-complicated. Like I said at the beginning, the fast way to scrape your bones and check your marrow is to ask yourself, Can I quit?
Answer honestly. If you love writing and you’re a true storyteller, your answer will be no. You can’t quit and be content. That’s when you dispel all the myths and reveal the truth that most matters.
That’s when you don’t think but you know if you’re a working writer.
Vicki Hinze, © 2014
Mark your calendars!
USA Today Bestsellers and Veteran Authors come together from across genres–romantic suspense and comedy to mystery and thriller–and formats–4 novels and 4 novellas–and time–contemporary and historical–to release a collection–clean read, sweet to spicy–with one thing in common–Risky Brides.
All of the authors remember the challenges of being a new writer and believe in extending a hand to help readers and new Authors connect. We are pleased to include and introduce the debut thriller novella from the dynamic writing team, Bayard and Holmes.
Authors are: Vicki Hinze, Rita Herron, Donna Fletcher, Peggy Webb, Kathy Carmichael, Tara Randel, Kimberly Llewellyn, and Bayard & Homes.
FMI on Risky Brides, watch this blog and the Coming section on Vicki’s website!