Monday, March 28, 2011


While sitting at my laptop on Twitter (as you do) a link to this video popped up. If you can't view it right now, I'll just explain (sorry if you've watched it). One character in the video wants to write a novel. The other character asks him why. The set-up is that the aspiring novelist believes that he will become rich and famous very quickly with his book that he's only written one page of. He doesn't read, he's never attempted writing before, and to make matters worse he just quit his job. The other character tells him that the process is quite complicated. It really is, mind you. She warns him about contacting literary agents in bulk and tries to stop him being so disillusioned about the craft of writing.

To make things a little more interesting for me, I went through the comments a bit and found this:

"I asked a classmate what she was doing after graduation...she said to me "Oh, I am gonna write a novel." ??? WHAT ELSE?? I mean, I am an English major but I am not so disillusioned that I don't realize that there is a certain small, saturated market for traditional English major work. Some of us get into teaching, freelancing and or business, the rest of us return to the coffee shop we were working at during college, and VERY FEW of us become famous. Reality check! Only hard work reaps benefit!" (username: tulip2111)

There are actual people in the world who believe writing is a path to guaranteed success. I will tell you now, from having looked at all sorts of lives of authors and reading all about the business of writing, making money from it - a lot of money - isn't a guarantee, it isn't commonplace and it isn't something we should believe we can do from the offset. This isn't a suggestion not to try write, but sacrificing the rest of your life to write a book that you think will become a best-seller is disillusioned and frankly quite stupid. (Note: the person is not stupid, unless they ignore my advice to come).

Every writer I know, unless something is stopping them, works. Now, that something can be children or illness or simply a lack of jobs available to them that suit other things they might have going on (children, college, extra-curricular activities that make them a better, well-rounded person). No writer worth his or her weight gives up their job before they've even started writing. At least, not one I've heard of doing it.

My advice, if you want to write and think giving up your full time job is the way to do it: get a part-time job instead and use the extra time. But that's long-term. If you have bills to pay, go to bed later. Or wake up earlier. Or stop watching so much television. And use the extra time to write. You might find that you can get a good bit done a day - and that's all that matters - and when it comes to the stage where you're in a rhythm of writing or, for example, you're able to earn a slight income from selling articles and short stories, then the part-time job will suit you better.

In my case, I work part-time (mostly weekends, but more hours at Christmas) and I attend a full-time college course with enough assignments to keep me busy through the days. I get three and a half months off during the summer.

So, for people like me and like the student mentioned in the quoted comment, ideally I have time to write. People in my situation, attending college through the year, have the blessing of time off to write a novel. Really, a first draft, if done without wanting to be too meticulous (that's what rewriting and editing is for!), only takes a few months to write, and that's a stretch for some people. I wrote Meet Sam in a month - 50,000 words - while working weekends and going to secondary school, and going to the cinema with my friends at the weekend, attending three birthday parties and having a couple of sick days off. Last summer I wrote a 20,000 word novella in 72 hours, during which time I also slept and ate and watched some television, and I possibly went to the cinema. And I had a six hour shift in work.

What I'm saying is that people have time to write and they shouldn't wait until they're done in full-time education to give it a shot, nor should they quit their jobs in the hopes of making a living from writing very early on. It does happen to people that they make money from writing and don't have to work an office job anymore, but it doesn't happen straight away and it doesn't happen to everybody.

Meanwhile, bbphnix writes:

"wait wait wait wait wait.....
can't you just sell your book yourself? why go through the horrible experience of using a publisher? ..... publisher=corporation; corporation=evil ergo: publisher=evil;
either do it manually... or by the INTERNET! give it about the same price as an app or something; over the internet enough people might buy it to get you a relatively large amount of money"

Slight problems with this... first of all, I wouldn't say corporations are evil. Corporations, unfortunately, make the world go round. Apple and Microsoft have revolutionised the computer industry, and it's likely the comment wouldn't have been made with them. Publishers are corporations that specialise in releasing books to the market, and with these books some people make a living, some get an income and many readers are affected in very powerful ways to encourage them to change their lives (and I don't just mean self-help books!) I wouldn't say that publishers are necessarily evil. Disagreeable, in some cases, but not evil.

And as for the doing it alone remark (i.e. "by the INTERNET!")... well, it's not that easy. Well, it is that easy. It's very easy to put something in the market online. So easy, in fact, that people are releasing both trash and masterpieces into the market, and sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which. A word of advice, though: if you can find an author that hired editors (or at least didn't edit alone) and that had somebody else design the cover and that is serious about their trade, then the odds are the piece of work they release themselves isn't going to be entirely dreadful. That's not a guarantee, in any of the cases (because there are exceptions), but it is a good thing to go by when trying to determine whether or not a book will be any good when you buy it.

And for people looking to do it, even if they go for self-designed covers, aren't that well known, and receive help from friends editing, the important thing to remember is: don't price yourself out of the market. Also, don't do as one Indie author did and tell a reviewer and his commenters to, and I quote, "Fuck off". Remember that it's not just an author's book that people see, it's the author too. Etiquette and professionalism should be observed, especially when attempting to portray yourself seriously.

By the way, I'm aware that keeping a personal blog and using it to talk about problems I have with other people doesn't seem professional. But that's why I call it personal, and it's why I don't name and shame people. Or even just name them, even if they're awesome and I don't have a problem with them. But I avoid being overly bitchy about people, and only using particular language when trying to convey a particular point (such as this one).

So, to sum up: don't be disillusioned by writing success; write in your spare time (and make your spare time, don't just complain you have none); don't give up your job before you've started; hone your craft; take into account all the work that goes into writing and getting published (even Indie authors - and actually, especially Indie authors - have a lot of work to do). And remember: write for fun, sell for money. Unless it's non-fiction, in which point you may just be writing to get a point across or inform people, but in that case just choose what you write about carefully.

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