Some Things I Know About Writing

I’m a novelist. And Friday Oct 14th is the three year anniversary of the publication of my first novel, Autumn Leaves: A Novel of Old Japan. To celebrate this I’ll be making the book free from the 14th to the 18th on Amazon and several other places. (I’ll probably do a post on where to find it). So here are some of the things I’ve learned about writing.

  1. Treat it like a career. That means be serious about your writing. Treat it like a hobby and that is all it will ever be.
  2. Do it every day. Okay you can take a break now and then, but the ones who make it have hustle. Do you have any hustle in you? I write every day, 2,000 words per day (at least) and then do my other writerly duties such as updating a website, managing my social media etc…
  3. Do it at the same time…
  4. Do it in the same place… Three and four fit together nicely because when you work 9-6pm in an office you will notice that you work in the same place and at the same time. Even self-employed people do the same place/time routine. It helps you build in someFlow. (Side note, Flow is a great book every creative person should read).
  5. Develop a method, a process. Personally I get up eat some cereal, surf the interwebs until about 10am then sit down and write out some of draft one, of one project, in longhand. Then I pick up whatever project I’m working on for draft two and type out my 2,000 words. It’s routine but it helps build Flow and it helps me stay on track as a writer.
  6. Finish the job. I’ve written probably eight scripts, fifteen short stories, four novels and a couple of academic works in my life. Most of them are not publication worthy. But some are. And only by finishing what you write will you realize what works and what doesn’t. Finish what you start unless you have a damn good reason to quit.
  7. Work at a good pace; make progress. You can start early and procrastinate until 4pm all you want, but it won’t get you any closer to finishing your work. Work at a good pace, and be honest about it when you procrastinate. So what if the muse doesn’t descend immediately. Just force the words out and I promise, in six months when you look back over your work, you won’t remember when you were inspired and when you had to force the words to come.
  8. Take pride in your work. This was hard for me. It involved re-reading my work and that made me nervous. See, I felt the flow when I wrote the initial draft of all my books, and I could not stand to see how imperfect they were. But learn from my experience, look over your work. Take pride in your work. You never know who is reading.
  9. The only way to be a writer is to keep writing. So you want to quit that soul sucking day job? Me too. Actually, I did. But the only way to be a writer is to keep writing. It may take several books for your work to take off. It may take several years. But keep writing and set for yourself a reasonable goal, “I’ll quit my job when I’m making $3,000/month”. That kind of thing. Then aim for the goal and keep at it.
  10. Conversely, to number 9, the only way to fail at this is to quit. Give up if you must. Not everyone is cut out for the life of an artist or writer. It is hard this road we travel, but the journey certainly makes it worth it. For me that is. Maybe it is not for you. Maybe you will be content with a 9-6pm job where you have a steady paycheck and a fixed income and the ability to plan your year accordingly. That’s not for me.
  11. Don’t look at the finish line, look at the next hurdle. This is self-explanatory, but it was something I discovered while working on my novel Autumn Leaves. That novel is actually two novels melded together. They are nearly 200,000 words long together. The first chapter is 45,000 words long. That’s a novella in itself. But I never would have finished had I thought about more than just the scene I was writing and what came immediately next and how it played out in the bigger picture (okay I looked at the finish line from time to time).
  12. Excellence is a habit. So is failure. Everyday you make a choice between the two. Do you want to make your word count today? Do you want to procrastinate watching cat videos on YouTube? The choice is yours. Do it every day. Do it like a career. Do your best work on every line. Do what is in your heart. Excellence is a habit.

 

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6 thoughts on “Some Things I Know About Writing

  1. I’m not sure if eating cereal and surfing the web until 10am is a “process.” Also, it is a bit dishonest to characterize yourself as a “novelist” when you are a self-published author. No publishing house has accepted your work. It might be decent or not, but you have not gone through any sort of vetting process. Lastly, have you published anything since 2013?

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    1. How is it dishonest to call myself a novelist if I’ve written novels? I mean, that is the definition of a novelist. It’s not a peer reviewed process. Neither I nor anyone who wants to be a novelist must pass the gates of the guardians anymore. I don’t need permission to do what I love. And yes I’ve published a collection of short stories called “The Storm Fishers and Other Stories” a SF anthology, and before the end of the month I’ll be publishing my second novel.

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    2. Traditional publishing houses are NOT always the gatekeepers of quality. Reviews and ratings (such as on amazon) are now the gatekeepers of quality. When most readers buy books online they are looking at the quantity and quality of reviews – not necessarily the publisher. If anyone thinks otherwise then they probably only buy books from bookstores and are not up to date with the real world.

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  2. So if I churn out a poem in the next few minutes, I am suddenly a poet? You might not want to pass through those gates, but they are there for a reason. Certainly, you can do what you love, but looking at your work and others who are self-published, you often underestimate how much actual skill it takes to produce a decent piece of literature. Also, short story anthologies will never sell (just basic marketing advice).

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    1. Well yes, if you start writing poetry you are a poet. And you are looking at it wrong, those gates do not exist to ensure a quality of product. Indeed there is plenty of crap that gets published even after going through the vetting process. And I understand how much skill it takes to produce good work. I spent almost two years doing historical research on early modern Japan and samurai culture before I even put one word on the page. But I also understand that if I, and others who are working on our craft, gave up because someone told us we don’t have skill that would be tragic. Everyone starts somewhere. And I wrote the short story collection because I love short stories and science fiction and put the two together.

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  3. Of course traditional publishing does not guarantee quality, but you have to admit that because of the nature of self-publishing, which has little to no filter, most people’s work gets lost in a sea of bad writing. I admire your commitment to your craft, but I also feel that, like most arts, there are many people out there whose skills are woefully lacking and who attempt to not “give up” despite their obvious lack of talent. I do hope your novel (novels) are the exception, but I often see people imagining self-publication as a “real job” when that is not the reality.

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