Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Writing Is supposed To Be A Solitary Life...Isn't It?

It's cold. The writer sits before his keyboard with an overcoat, scarf, beanie, and fingerless gloves on. He has to wear all this because he can't afford to pay the heating bill. Snow is falling heavily outside while his latest femme fatal won't stop shaking his brain around inside his head. He hasn't slept in weeks as he tries to find just the right words to convey the insightful, and hugely impactful ending he has in mind. He just has to keep going; he knows he'll get there sooner or later - and then he might be able to ring his mum and convince her he wasn't kidnapped, maybe pop down to the shops and buy a new roll of toilet paper, and finally get some vitamin D - if the sun ever comes out again--he was sure it was summer last time he actually stop on the front porch when that killer idea first invaded his skull.

Writing is a solitary life.

Or is it?

This article over at GlobeandMail (thanks to Josephine Damian for the heads up) tells a very different story. And I seem to have come down more on the fans side rather than the writers.

I know a professional writer must have a web presence. Blogging is the easiest way to accomplish that. MySpace and FaceBook, Twitter, Websites, and other methods are all good and well, but they take time and as a new writer and I think that time could be better spent learning my craft - you know - actually writing.

Once my writing is good enough to find representation, and then I gain a book deal, hopefully a multiple book deal, then I've achieved something a professional writer originally sets out to do. I can now dial down my normal work, and begin writing more. I can start churning out books more regularly, start building a readership.

Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing? Where in that dream we all keep inside us is the bit about, once I've made it, once I have a readership established, I can slow down a little, enjoy the fruits of all those unpaid hours I spent learning to get to where I am now - and damn the readership I've invited into my life through my web presence and through my books?

How unprofessional is that?

Once you gain your book deal, once you have enough money to quit the real job everyone else has to put up with, why wouldn't writing take up 6-8 hours of your day, five days a week, for 46 weeks a year? If you can't write a book with that sort of time on your side, then there must be something wrong with you. If you have family issues, or gain an invite from the Queen or the Pope then I can understand additional time being taken out. If World War breaks out, or a local skirmish in whatever country you happen to be researching in way lays you, again, I understand a delay. If illness strikes you or yours, of course deadlines will stretch.

Other than that - write the damn book your contracted to write.

As for the online presence, stick to writing or writing related topics. If you go on holidays, don't blog about, just mention you'll be away on annual leave. Organise guest bloggers, but don't swan in the sun and then announce your deadline has to be shifted back. Don't rave on about your partner, the hassle the kids are putting you through, the illness of the dog and how all this is eating up your writing time. Your readership isn't going to thank you for it. They may be understanding for a time but that is not an infinite number.

Your readership is there because of your books and maybe because of your advice in regards to the craft. Stick with that.

And if you start blogging before your deal, don't suddenly go from two or three posts a week to once a month or something. I've read a few blogs like this now. We follow the journey right up to the signing of the contract and then we get promotions. We get news but not background. No information on the machinations on how the publishing industry really works from the eyes of a newly published author. Be consistent. If you make the promise, unspoken or not, to allow people to follow your journey, then don't change the details of their ticket just as things start to get really interesting.

It takes only a few minutes a day to blog. If you really have nothing interesting related to your chosen vocation to blog about, then skip a day or two. If you've written nothing, or researched nothing, or read nothing, or submitted nothing in that time - are you serious about this writing dream? Are you serious about your readership?

Last bit - reviews, particularly negative reviews: GET OVER YOURSELF!

First, some timely thoughts from Nathan Bransford (I've started linking to more and more of Nathan's posts lately - that isn't coincidence. Nathan reads blogs and news and websites a lot and picks things to reply to, just like I do. Must be brilliant minds and all that. Do yourself a favour and subscribe to his blog.)

Try to remember all those rejection slips you once collected. Try to remember what you learned from them. Apply that knowledge. Check sales figures - if they dip, then your fans are speaking and you did a bad job. If not, a review is only one person's opinion. If your editor, agent and publisher all think the work's good, then chances are it is. If it's not great, then you should be the first one to pick that up. Stick to the basics and write well; write as you did when you secured the first book deal. Of course you'll be better skilled than when you first submitted, one would hope you've continued to grow in the craft and not just rested on your laurels, but you need to recapture that voice and go with it. Remember you are one lucky SOB to have a full time writing job in the first place. Write at least as well as the first book which got you that readership and you won't have to worry about negative reviews anyway.

I hope nobody I know ever tries to get their fan base to rally on their behalf over a bad review. I won't sit mutely to the side and let it pass - you have been warned. I'm happy to give my sympathies, offer emotional support, do what I can to get through the down time so you can return to writing the brilliant stuff you were first published for. That's it.

And if someone has had a bad review and wants an honest opinion, I'd be happy to give it the once or twice over, but I'll be honest in my opinion, so don't expect a countering good review to a bad one just because you asked nicely. A reviewers first loyalty must lie with the reader.

I've given good reviews recently to two authors I interact with - Alex and Felicity - and they both deserved them because they published good work. If the next thing I read of theirs isn't as good, I'll be saying so. No qualms.

So much for shorter posts.

That's my two cents for what its worth.


  1. I get fed up with all the advice for aspiring writers, like "you must create a web presence!" and "you must promote yourself!" and all that. Yeah, it is important--but, um, shouldn't the first gigantic piece of advice be "you must write well and work hard to improve your writing constantly or else all the web presence in the world is useless." Which is sort of what you were saying, actually. Which I guess means I agree with you. :)

  2. That was worth far more than two cents.

    I like how Kim Paffenroth handles negative reviews. He makes sure to post links on his blog. No comment. Just a link. Kind of a classy way to handle things, in my account.

    Thanks, as always, for the insight.

  3. Nice rant. I hope I don't change the way I blog when/if I get published.

    Though that also means the politics will stay, but considering my niche genre, you wouldn't expect anything less. I've been too many political people sell out when they get famous to do the same.

  4. I think there is a line between letting readers into your life, and posting boring fluff that has nothing to do with anything.

    For instance, knowing that a writer I enjoy recommends a movie, or loves triple anchovie pizza more than life itself, is interesting. Hearing about how they saved thirty cents on a bag of tube socks, on the other hand...

  5. KC - I agree one must be very careful with what advice you take and when. In this day & age, a web presence to help build a following is important. It's not a must - I think people have shown there is more than one pathway to success, but the more paths you cross, the better. Blogging is so easy to do, and it introduces you to all sorts of people with similar interests, it's probably more than enough to start with. But without doubt the most important thing is to keep growing in the craft, keep practicing, keep writing.

    Aaron - I know, I need to stop rambling on. Kim's method is very classy. I'll have to keep that one in mind.

    Ben - I hope "I've been too many" was a typo and not a Freudian slip of some sort...just kidding. I'll admit to being one who isn't quite on the same political track as you, but that's cool because I know you have plenty comments from people who are. Always happy to just talk about writing though.

    Nat - I meant more that if you're doing something personal which affects the deadline of your next book, then the last thing you should be doing is splashing it out in public. But if you are happy to talk about anything private, then do yourself a favour and not let it interfere with your writing deadlines.

    Now my answers to comments are turning into essays - I can't win


  6. A thoughtful commentary on something I've been thinking about loads lately-- like everyone else.

    I think for me it boils down to something Aaron mentioned briefly; this whining and hate-mongering on the part of professionals shows a decided lack of very basic class. It makes them look ridiculous. While it might please the more rabid fans, it turns newcomers off without even a look at their work.

    I kind of went on a rant after Martin linked to Rothfuss to a few friends, and gist of it was much the same as yours: get over yourself.

    I found Jay Lake's take on the whole thing edifying, actually.