Friday, March 6, 2009


Over at Nathan Bradsford's Blog, he has been running a week of thinking positive and today he's thrown up a Ten Commandments type of thing. Here's the link to the original post.

I thought I'd take these commandments and extrapolate them to focus on my writing journey.

1. Enjoy the present. Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellordom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the "if only" game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I'll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I'll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you're actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It's found in the present. Because writing is pretty great -- otherwise why are you doing it?

I'm very much in tune with this commandment. When I first started writing. I had no idea why I was doing it. When I finished the first manuscript, I broke this commandment into tiny little pieces and stomped all over it dreaming of the future and sending my crap words out to different agents expecting ridiculous advances to be coming my way. I learned. I now live for today. I plan for tomorrow, and still have dreams, but I know how hard it will be and so enjoy my craft and those I have met because of it. Full mark for this one. (1/1)

2. Maintain your integrity. With frustration comes temptation. It's tempting to try and beat the system, whether that's by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir. This may even work in the short term, but unless you are Satan incarnate (and I hope you're not) it will steadily chip away at your happiness and confidence, and your heart will shrivel and blacken into something they show kids in health class to scare them away from smoking. Don't do it.

No problems for me to keep this one. My integrity is impeccable. As is my honesty and pride in my own advancement. I love to improve my ability and to show others how I'm moving forward. A little vain, maybe, but I don't care. Pride is supposed to be a sin, but without it we may as well all cut off an ear and make nothing from our art till we're dead. Where is the fun in that? Full mark for this one. (2/2)

3. Recognize the forces that are outside of your control. While it's tempting to think that it's all your fault if your book doesn't sell, or your agent's fault or the industry's fault or the fault of a public that just doesn't recognize your genius, a lot of times it's just luck not going your way. Chance is BIG in this business. Huge. Gambling has nothing on the incredibly delicate and complex calculus that results in a book taking off. Bow before the whims of fate, because chance is more powerful than you and your agent combined.

I'm down with this one as well. I am nothing if not determined. Perseverance is closer to my middle name than apathy. Another full mark. (3/3)

4. Don't neglect your friends and family. No book is worth losing a friend, losing a spouse, losing crucial time with your children. Hear me? NO book is worth it. Not one. Not a bestseller, not a passion project, nothing. Friends and family first. THEN writing. Writing is not an excuse to neglect your friends and family. Unless you don't like them very much.

I need to be better with this one. I don't have friends outside of writing. I have work colleagues who I don't socialise with anymore. I did in the past. Only occasionally to be sure, but I don't even do that anymore. I interact with people at my cricket club when I'm there. Outside of that, I have nothing to do with any of them. I have no other 'physical' friends. My family has friends I'm friendly toward, but they're not really my close friends. I try to spend some quality time with my wife, and kids but it's probably not enough. Some of these factors are economical, but a lot of it isn't. It doesn't cost anything but time to go for a walk or to sit and listen to my little girl read or to go and kick the footy with my lad. And all writers know that time is our biggest issue. I'm only giving myself a quarter of a mark on this one. I can definitely do better. (3.25/4)

5. Don't Quit Your Day Job. Quitting a job you need to pay the bills in order to write a novel is like selling your house and putting the proceeds into a lottery ticket. You don't have to quit your job to write. There is time in the day. You may have to sacrifice your relaxation time or sleep time or reality television habit, but there is time. You just have to do it.

See, this contradicts somewhat with number 4. Everyone's day is busy, especially if you have a day job, or have kids at home (which is more time consuming than most traditional out-of-house day jobs). Find time to write outside of your normal work and yet keep friends and family close: No - I haven't figured out how to do this yet. Maybe this is why so many full time writers are older - they wait until the kids have flown the nest and they are able to retire. Everything leading up to that is the apprenticeship. I haven't quit my job so I get a full mark for this one. (4.25/5)

6. Keep up with publishing industry news. It may seem counterintuitive to follow the news of a business in which layoffs currently constitute the bulk of headlines. But it behooves you to keep yourself informed. You'll be happier (and more successful) if you know what you're doing.

I do this. I read a lot which takes a huge chunk of time away from writing, but I need to do more. It was made clear to me the other day that I know painfully little about the industry in my own country. I know plenty about the process, and I know a bit about publishing in the USA. I even know a little bit about it in the UK. I know less about Australian publishing and that's not good. I will be rectifying this. I'm only giving myself a half mark for this one. (4.75/6)

7. Reach out to fellow writers. No one knows how hard it is to write other than other people who have tried to do it themselves. Their company is golden. If you're reading this it means you have an Internet connection. Reach out and touch a writer. And plus, the Internet allows you to reach out to writers without smelling anyone's coffee breath.

This is probably the truest thing anyone should take note of. Writers need other writers. Family and friends will love and support you. They will offer praise and encouragement, but they will never truly understand what you're going through when self doubt creeps in, or when ideas seem to evaporate, or when you feel like you are swimming through molasses. Other writers do. I have great 'virtual' writing friends through the Internet. I may never meet 99% of them face to face unless I get that huge book deal one day, but these are the people I interact with most days. Thanks Jamie, Aaron, Cate, D, Ben, Scott, Nat, JT, Flick, Talie, David, Chuck (website currently offline), Amy, Carol (Needs to get a web presence!), Marty (AHWA President), & Alex. I think this is everyone I currently converse, or check in with, on an almost weekly - if not daily, basis. Full mark (5.75/7)

8. Park your jealousy at the door. Writing can turn ordinary people into raving lunatics when they start to believe that another author's success is undeserved. Do not begrudge other writers their success. They've earned it. Even if they suck.

This took me a while to come to grips with. I was very green over some writers successes early last year. Now I am simply in awe and extremely happy at every acceptance I see other people get. I understand we are all heading down the same highway, but with different modes of transport, and pulling in at different rest stops along the way. Some of us will continue into the distance while others may sit a while and enjoy the sunset before ever moving on. Occasionally some may even buy a house in the little town behind the rest stop and never get back on the highway. For those of us who maintain the white-line fever, we will eventually get to where we are supposed to be through luck, determination, and talent. Everyone here has these abilities in abundance - we just need to keep driving. I'll give myself three quarters of a mark here. I still have bouts of envy, but I now use it to drive myself on rather than wallow in self pity. (6.5/8)

9. Be thankful for what you have. If you have the time to write you're doing pretty well. There are millions of starving people around the world, and they're not writing because they're starving. If you're writing: you're doing just fine. Appreciate it.

Appreciate it, but don't just accept it as your lot in life. Don't just sit in the nice diner who publishes your stories occasionally for pittance, or posts them on the notice board for free. Stretch yourself, see if you can get to the next rest stop, the next big step on the publishing ladder. Improve yourself and your ability in the craft. Good writing will be recognised eventually. It just takes luck, determination, and talent--and endless bucket loads of the first two of those. So I'm thankful, just not satisfied or complacent. If I was starving, I wouldn't be satisfied or complacent either, I'd be doing everything I possibly could to feed me and mine. I know many have to go to refugee camps for aid, but I couldn't see myself ever sitting around and waiting for a supply truck. But then again, I've never had to so maybe I'd act differently than I think I would - I don't think so, but there is that possibility. Still, I do appreciate what I have so I'm taking a full mark. (7.5/9)

10. Keep writing. Didn't find an agent? Keep writing. Book didn't sell? Keep writing. Book sold? Keep writing. OMG an asteroid is going to crash into Earth and enshroud the planet in ten feet of ash? Keep writing. People will need something to read in the resulting permanent winter.

Funny - let's hope we all get a publisher and our books printed before the thing hits, so we can make a squillion bucks and build a safe haven we can all hide in with a nuclear powered generator which will run our own endless power supply so we can continue to write into the future. Seriously though - why are you writing? If it is for any reason other than you have to, you're probably in the wrong game. There's nothing wrong for getting paid for doing what you love, but there is no guarantee of financial gain in this industry. Satisfaction of getting published and sharing your work with others is fleeting at best. Doing it to fit in, be different, because being considered artsy is cool - are wrong. If you do not have a hunger, a physical need, an addiction to read/write/express yourself, then you are not a writer - let alone an unpublished author. I am well and truly addicted so I'll take a full mark. (8.5/10)

Eight and a half out of ten. Not bad. And I'm planning on improving where I fall short.

How honest can you be? How will/do you meet these commandments?


  1. Mr. Bransford has strung together a nice list. I find it too easy to lose sight of some of the reality.

    I won't be marking myself here, for fear I would land a lackluster 5/10 or worse.

    Thanks for posting.

  2. Very nice, introspective post. It got me thinking but I am with Aaron on this one. I am afraid I would be lackluster at best. That and some of them don't apply. I don't have a day job to quit.

  3. Eight is my favorite. We all have our "gosh, I wish that was my acceptance" moments, but that's where it should end.

    Besides, being pissy makes reaching out and making friends MUCH harder. No writer is an island and all that ; )

  4. Number Eight is so's very easy to fall prey to the green-eyed monster, especially near the start of one's writing career.

    It's also worth keeping in mind that famous quote, about needing to put in at least ten thousand hours at anything to become a master of it. A lot of work awaits a new writer :-)

    It's best to remember that each and every one of those people who seem to glide from acceptance to acceptance has at least ten rejections for every sale. It's all just persistence and hard work, and you'll get there in the end if you don't give up.

    A bit of friendly competition between writing mates is alright (and often quite productive), but jealousy is just poisonous and can consume you. Time better spent working on one's own stuff!

    I really liked this post, very mature and insightful. Best of luck with your writing, and hopefully I'll bump into you at the Natcon if you're going.