Taking Writing Seriously

Every writer looks at writing differently. Some do it because they love to create. Some do it to express themselves. To entertain. To become famous. To make money. Etc. Most of us write for a combination of these. With the exception of fame and money, these goals can be accomplished without too much trouble (other than, you know, the trouble of actually writing). Becoming famous, in particular, is out of most of our control, so I'll leave it alone.

So what if you want to make money by writing? In that case, you need to take your writing more seriously than most. You need to understand that this is a business. You need to consider yourself a pro.

This was the situation I found myself in a year and a half ago. If I wanted to take writing seriously, I couldn't be subject to ephemeral whims like "desire" or "inspiration" to write. I had to treat it like my job. What would my boss do if I said, "I'm not feeling it today. I'm not coming to work."? Or what if, when asked when I would finish a task, I replied, "It depends on when the muse hits me."?

(I should pause to point out that I still very much am subject to ephemeral whims. Every single day. All I'm saying is I'm not supposed to be.)

And I couldn't sacrifice my real job for writing. As many of you know, my real life is not a job I can walk away from. There will not come a day when I can quit my day job to work on writing for 8 hours a day. Because of that, I need to know that my time is being spent wisely. Of course all of my writing is worth it to help me improve, but when I start selling things, will it be enough to justify disappearing from my family for 2-4 hrs/day?

Like, I've made $7.20 on my Twitter fiction. While it was extremely cool to get paid for writing, I can't sell enough to justify the time. My BCS story got me $220 for about 30 hours of work. That's more worth it -- if I focused all my time on short stories, I could probably justify that amount of time (even if it wouldn't be enough to support my family).

Unfortunately, I want to write novels. Not having sold one, I limit my time. I look at what author's make (on average). I examine my process and keep track of production speed, constantly trying to improve until the day I can produce a novel in (what I consider) a reasonable amount of time. I'm kinda harsh, but I have to be. I want to do this, but there are some costs I'm not willing to pay, you know?

What about you? What are your goals in this writing thing (for those of you who are writing)? What are you willing to give up? Perhaps more illuminating, what aren't you willing to give up?


Joshua McCune said...

Becoming serious has definitely taken large chunks of time, and with no guarantee of success, frustration ensues. My goal, ultimately, is to remain as grumpless as possible. I'm not willing to sacrifice my sanity (which may well go despite my obstinance); I am willing, and have, to a certain extent, sacrifice my self-confidence and ego.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I need to constantly be reminded of this point-- to see it like a job, to take it seriously and to set regular hours. I am awful at that. One of the ways to make money at writing is to be PROLIFIC. It's the key to success. Churn out those novels one after another. The problem with most of us (me included at the top of the list) is that we get stuck after one, two or three published works. We have to have a LOT of books in us, not just a few. With a few we will get readers, but we won't make a living.

Lisa K. said...

I definitely look at writing as a second job. Viewing it that way puts it in a whole ne light. And it does mean sacrifice, which is what I've tried to explain to friends who tell me they have no time to write (but in the next breath talk about the movie they saw or the concert they went to or the coffeeshop they spent the evening at). Of course there are some things that should never be (or could never be) sacrificed, but I believe if the drive is there, the time can be found, even if it's stolen in tiny amounts.

Unknown said...

Wise and pragmatic.
I do want to write full time - it would make the guilt so much easier to live with. Writing is the thief of time, at the moment.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Some time after deciding to make a go of this serious writing business, I actually did a very business-like thing. I wrote a Mission Statement.

Not TWO DAYS after drafting that mission statement, I was already having to refer back to it, to see what my priorities were, because a publisher was asking to see chapters of a story I never intended to publish. I decided it was in keeping with my general idea of getting stories in as many hands as possible, and I decided to take the leap and give it a try. That book will be coming out in the next couple months.

One of the most important things you can do is decide why you're in this - then the decisions follow more easily after that. Eventhough it gets crazy sometimes, I know I'm not willing to give up certain precious times with my family/kids - being with them is part of why I'm doing flexible work like writing instead of dwelling in a cubicle earning dependable money.

Tessa said...

I also look at writing as a second job. The only difference is that when I write I don't have to go to the office.

I quite like my dayjob and wouldn't want to quit. I also would never want to give up my family time, so that means cutting out TV, surfing the internet, writing even when I'm tired, thinking about story in those free moments while walking home from work, or am waiting for something in the supermarket line.

Adam Heine said...

Bane: That's an incredibly good goal, esp. while querying. I'll have to remember that.

KarenG: In How to Write SF & F, Orson Scott Card says we have hundreds of ideas in us. We just have to let them ripen into full stories :-)

Lisa K: Agreed. We make time for what matters to us. (Unfortunately that means wasting time on the internet matters to me ;-).

Elaine: That's often where I am. $227.20 does not justify years and years of writing. Hopefully that will change someday.

Susan: Congratulations on your book, and that's really good advice!

T.S. Bazelli: Totally agree. I usually don't mind driving long distances in silence, because I'm writing while I do it :-)

Myrna Foster said...

I want to write novels, but I also like writing short stuff, especially children's poetry, for magazines.

I have to sacrifice sleep, and we don't watch TV. I spend as much or more time reading than I do writing. And I've been spending too much time on the internet lately.