If you aspire to write, you know the dream—quit the day job, write full time, make bucketloads of money doing it.
Yeah. I’m familiar with that one, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, at least not for most of us. Even published writers have said to break-out sessions at conferences, “Don’t quit your day job. Not yet.” (Read N.K. Jemisin’s blog post from 5/24/16, “Turn and Face the Strange,” at http://nkjemisin.com/; she talks about this, too.) This is a tough business. Every single agent and/or publisher is looking for that next Big Title, so they want to find you as much as you want to find them. But—and this is huge; pay attention—all of them are slammed with manuscripts from other writers who, like you and me, dream the dream. Every one of their desktops overflow (figuratively speaking) with what’s called a “slush pile,” unsolicited queries and/or manuscripts sent by hopeful writers looking to break out of the daily grind. It isn’t easy to get and hold an agent’s attention, unless you’re at a writers’ conference or pitch fest and have paid for their time.
But that’s another post.
What I want to point out here is that writing is apparently a full-time job; that’s what I’ve been told by agents, editors and other writers, and their warnings are consistent with what I’m seeing for myself. An author can’t just write and publish. Not anymore. In this digital age of social media and online networking, you need a social media presence and an Internet platform, especially if your work is non-fiction. That means You. Are. Always. Writing. (At least, I am.)
“What did you do over the weekend (or vacation, or holiday, or other fill-in-the-blank time), Drema?”
“I wrote.” Makes for a simpler discussion, doesn’t it?
Or how about this one?
“Hey, I’m having a party next Friday, and—“
But you can’t, because you’re on a deadline. Or you’re working on revisions. Or you’re working through a particularly sticky plot point. Or you’ve signed up for a writing conference/class/seminar that’s happening that same night. Or Fridays are one of the few times you have uninterrupted writing time.
I know some of my friends assume I’m avoiding them, or hermitizing. (It’s a word now.) But every one of those are actualities, not excuses. And if you’re a writer, you know this Truth, up close and personal.
Because practice makes perfect, or at least better writing, and if you have even a prayer of getting your manuscript read, it had better be the absolute best effort you can produce. That takes time, undivided focus, uninterrupted sessions at the computer, sometimes talking to yourself as you work out dialogue (what, I’m the only one who does that?). For me, everything else becomes secondary when I’m in that Zone. Sometimes I think that when I’m writing, the house could burn down around me and as long as it didn’t cut power or wi-fi, I’d never notice.
But you have to put it first, after the essentials of self-care, family and paying the bills. It takes some small amount of discipline and sacrifice, and very understanding family and friends. Mystery writer Brad Parks (if you haven’t checked him out, do yourself a favor – http://bradparksbooks.com/) said one time at a conference that his mantra is this: BIC HOK TAM, which stands for “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, typing away madly.” I’ve adopted this mindset, myself, and it makes a difference. He also recommended setting a daily word count goal for yourself. BIC HOK TAM your way to your daily goal, then go to the party or chat with a friend, or attend an outing with your fellow bird-watchers.
The point is that if you want to be a writer, you have to commit. For me, that means my trilogy and short stories, my non-fiction book on spirituality that’s been simmering for years, regular blog posts and book reviews, writing classes, critique groups (I only just found one of these), even some poetry now and then. It also means editing, research and editing. (No, that was not a mistake.) It means waking up at 3:00 a.m. with an unbelievable story idea, and making myself get up and write it down. It means listening to that little voice in my head (and gut) that whispers new ideas and twists, warns me when something isn’t working, or points me in the right (write?) direction on research or contacts. That little voice is always there, too, even when I’m trying to sleep. No, especially when I’m trying to sleep.
So yeah, it’s a challenge. But if you want to write—or if you need to—you’ll do it and gladly. And those in your life who love you and want you to be happy and succeed at this dream will support you. And the ones who frown and say, “Why are you always writing? You never spend time with us anymore,” or “Why is it taking you so long to write this story? I’d have thought you’d be done by now,” yeah. Do your best not to laugh in their faces and carry on with your dream.
You can do it. And so can I.