Got in a burst of writing today before taking off for work. I seem to be doing less well with the morning writing than I’d have liked. On the one hand, I feel very accomplished through the day – because I’ve already done my writing before I have to jet out to work. I’m not having that nagging in the back of my head all day long. On the flip side, I find myself REALLY wishing I could be back writing, while I am at work. So it’s not 100% effective. And I’m not finishing as much in the morning as I’d like.
But I’ll ramp that up in the days and weeks ahead. 🙂
I got into a discussion on LinkedIn recently, and it rolled back to talking a little about productivity in fiction writing. Someone there wrote “And I believe it’s impossible for a self-published novelist to achieve enough recognition to earn a decent living, without becoming a slave to production (or “hack”).”
I went on to a couple of long comments, but what I said can basically be summed up with this:
If your objective is to make a “decent living” from writing fiction – let’s define that for a moment as the median US household income, or about $51,900 – then you are almost certainly going to have to work full time in order to accomplish that.
I’m not really sure why this is a shocker for people. I mean, if you want to make a living as a nurse, you need to work full time or pretty close to it. If you want to make a living as a teacher? Yeah, pretty much need to be full time there. How about as a doctor? You might be able to get away with part time there, because the hourly wage is higher. But most doctors work full time, too.
What if you want to make a living doing a different art? How about making music? Or dance? You need to practice, right? Thousands upon thousands of hours of hard work, right? And then performing time, and recording time, and… These are gigs that will eat up as much of your life as you’ll allow, and everyone knows that your odds of success improve if you spend more time and effort and energy on them.
But for some reason, people have this idea that writers ought to be able to spin out a book every year or two, and magically life the high life. The reason is obvious: every once in a while you get a J.K Rowling or E.L. James who writes a couple of books and is an instant millionaire or even billionaire.
For every writer who manages that, *thousands* make a good living from their fiction, simply by working hard at it and publishing lots of books and stories.
You might get lucky. Your book might be the one in a million that makes a big splash and sets you up for life. But then, that’s not a career, either, is it? A career is many books, over many years – even decades. A career is a body of work. And lets face it: the odds of getting that lottery win are small. The odds of doing well by producing lots of books are actually quite good.
I know a LOT of writers, at all levels of production. I don’t know any fiction writers who are producing 500k+ words right now who don’t make a living wage from their work within a couple of years. I don’t know any fiction writers who produce a million+ words a year who don’t make a living wage after their first year. That’s not saying you have to write a million words a year to succeed. Lots of people manage a good income without that.
But it would help. 😉
And the more words you write, the faster you will improve and the better your books will sell.
I wrote some quick and dirty rules, for the LinkedIn thread. Here they are. You can see a LOT of echoes of Heinlein’s Rules for Writers in them.
1) Write every day. Write lots. Write as much as you can, as often as you can. The more you write, the better you will get at writing. We’re the ONLY art form where people are encouraged to not practice and somehow still expect to get good. The guy who practices his guitar 40 hours a week is going to get good at playing guitar about forty times as fast as the guy practicing one hour a week. Writing works the same way. Write. The more you write, the better you will become, and the better you will do.
2) Finish what you write. It is not enough to simply start stories and trash them. You learn something from every part of writing stories. Finish each one, even if they are crap. Learn from the experience. And besides, writers are TERRIBLE at judging what is crap and what is not. What you think is crap might be awesome. Or vice versa.
3) Don’t rewrite, except to editorial order. Your English teacher was wrong: rewriting on your own VERY rarely produces a better version. College professors came up with rewriting as a tool to not have to grade quite so many papers. Rewriting as a tool to improve writing is a fairly recent innovation, and…it doesn’t really work. You can’t see your work very well for what it is. You can correct spelling and punctuation errors as well as anyone else can – that’s not what this rule talks about. You need an outside point of view to improve your work in other ways. Stop revising the same work endlessly. You’re more likely to make it worse than you are to make it better. Send it to an editor and write the next book.
4) Put it on the market. I don’t care HOW you put it on the market, but get it out there where readers can find it and buy it. Novels sitting in your desk drawer or ignored in a computer folder never made any sales.
5) Connect with readers. Right now, the very best tool for this is an email list. Second place tools are blogs, twitter, facebook, and other bits on the internet. Tomorrow it will likely be something different. The point here is to remember that each of these things is just a tool – the goal is not to “get a big twitter following”. It’s “connect with readers and fans”. These tools are good, if they let you connect with readers and build a fan base. Otherwise you’re wasting your time.
6) Luck is good. The harder you work, the luckier you will get. Your opportunities to connect with readers and be seen by readers increase exponentially as your body of work grows. The harder you work, the more likely you are to see success.
Fiction words for the day: 1000 Fiction words for November: 16,500
Blog Words today:: 1147 Blog Words for November: 6793