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How to Keep Your Writing Going for All of 2014

31 December 2013

From Dean Wesley Smith:

I’m starting this post with a couple of warnings: Understand what is failure in a goal and what isn’t failure.

Every time I talk with writers at the end of the year, I hear goals being set that are seemingly impossible when you do the math. I’ve set a few of them myself, to be honest, over the decades.

I honestly have no problem at all with impossible goals. None, as long as the person setting the goal understands that the likely failure can also be deemed a success. But most writers I know don’t understand that simple detail.

For example: Three years ago here I set a goal to write from titles and publish here and online 100 short stories. And even though slightly behind, I felt I was pretty much on schedule to hit that goal when one of my best friends died and I took over his estate. I turned away from writing almost completely to do the estate and only did what deadline work I had.

So did I fail? Nope. I wrote and got out over thirty original short stories that year, plus a number of stories for original anthologies that didn’t count in the challenge. Not the year I hoped, or even my best year, but not a bad year considering all the factors. It would have been far, far worse without the challenge.

But most writers I know, when faced with actually missing their goal, just stop completely. The problem is that the goal sets them up for a failure, and then they use the failure or life issue as an excuse to stop writing.

. . . .

Every long-term professional fiction writer can spot a hopeless want-to-be fiction writer easily.

— They are the fiction writers who talk about writing, but never finish anything.

— They are the fiction writers who feel jealous of all your writing time because they can never find the time.

— They are the fiction writers who come up with one idea and spend years on it, talking about it, researching it, workshopping parts of it, but never finishing it and moving on.

— They are the fiction writers who believe they will never succeed because they don’t have a major fan base like a major writer, so why bother. Or worse, they finish one thing and spend all year “promoting it.”

— They are the fiction writers who decide they are going to write in the new year, but set no plans, no goals, no structure.

— They are the writers who just get to their fiction writing when they can, when the muse strikes, because ideas are hard and writing is hard.  They “just can’t find the time.” And then the following year they try the same thing that didn’t work every year before.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Writing Advice

58 Comments to “How to Keep Your Writing Going for All of 2014”

  1. Thank you for this, and thank you for the blog. It’s encouraged me more times than I can count and made me savvy to things that would have been difficult to ferret out otherwise. I hope you and yours have a wonderful New Year’s.

  2. Wow. I stopped reading this guy’s blog last year after he sent me a nasty email for having the gall to disagree with the advice in one of his posts. (He first informed me that he had originally intended to “take [me] apart in public,” but he had generously decided to block my comment instead…and then he ended with an admonition to never oppose “someone with a hundred more novels than you have written.”) But I’d forgotten how arrogant and elitist he really is.

    So people who only write when they have the time are wannabes? People who work on one project for a while instead of churning out books like batches of cookies are “hopeless”?

    Seriously. Everyone has a different process. Some people work well with a rigid structure to their writing schedule, but others work better when they go with the flow. Some people can turn out a book a month, but others take a year or two to plan and perfect. Some people can force themselves to write at any time; others are tired after their day jobs and can only write well on weekends, or when the kids have soccer practice, or whatever.

    Writing slowly doesn’t mean you’re a hopeless wannabe. It just means that you’re different from Dean Wesley Smith, and maybe writing isn’t your number one priority. (*Gasp!* You mean life exists outside of fiction writing? Who knew?!)

    • You reworded his points to something he did not say.

      If you don’t FINISH anything, if you never “have” any time to write only talk about it, or if you focus on one thing without EVER moving on to something else, than yeah, you’re a wannabe because you won’t make a living (which is the only thing he’s addressing here, not hobbies, etc.) if you have one book or one idea that never becomes a book. That’s what he said.

      HOW he said it may bug you, but he didn’t say if it takes you a while to write or if you use only the time you have or if your writing isn’t your number one priority.

      He has freely said ALL THE TIME that everyone has a different process. He has freely said that there are times you can’t write for various reasons (life getting in the way). He’s also said if you want to make a living, you need to have an inventory, and if you’re talking about how you never have any time to write instead of writing in whatever brief time you got, then he doesn’t expect you to make it.

      THAT’s what he said.

    • Sounds to me as if he called you out and you got your feelings hurt. Be thankful he did it in private.

      • Yes, he called me out on politely saying I disagreed with him. I think the post said something about writing to genre conventions to please readers, and I said I didn’t want to write to a template, and he took my dissent as a personal insult.

        Of course I got my feelings hurt. Or, more to the point, I was brutally disillusioned. He was someone I had respected, someone I had believed to be reasonable and open to discussion. Turns out the only people qualified to discuss anything are the ones who have written as many books as he has.

      • He has a well-known habit of calling out anyone who has the audacity to disagree with him. It’s happened to me as well, and I’ve seen it happen to others.

      • “Be thankful he did it in private.”

        This quip bothers me. Not deliberately picking apart and trying to publicly shame someone shouldn’t be considered nice and worthy of thankfulness – it should be expected.

        If DWS has a habit of “calling people out” and/or tearing them apart in public, why should T.K. be “thankful”? Her being thankful would imply that DWS did her some sort of favor by… not trying to publicly humiliate her?

        I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make DWS a nice guy. It makes him an ass. One has to deliberately go out of their way to “call someone out,” as you put it. If T.K. should be thankful he didn’t do so in public, then the way he “calls people out” must be particularly mocking or spiteful. And if he does it often enough that his readers come to expect this behavior, that expectation says more about his personality than any one commenter can.

        • I have read Dean’s posts from the beginning of this revolution, and I will say that he is very heatedly opinionated to the point of calling certain myths and opinions stupid, but I have personally never seen him say something in a fashion that I would take personally. I’m opinionated. I get it. I get that you can be heated to the point of problematic about an opinion and in an argument, but I have gotten in those sorts of arguments with him (one or two major posts ago) and promptly agreed with him thoroughly and had a nice conversation on the very next post.

          En brief, it’s NOT personal, even if it feels that way to people who actually have a grasp on tact. (I am, by dictionary defintition, tactless.)

          If you are willing to discuss reasonably, he gets over the initial heated reaction and discusses equally reasonably even while generally maintaining his disagreement.

          Mocking perhaps. He has no patience for anything he considers actively harmful to the writers he’s trying to help, even from them. Spiteful? Haven’t caught him at it.

        • I will also say that I agree “Be thankful he did it in private.” was inappropriate.

    • You can choose to take his advice or not. It’s not set in stone. If you think working on one piece for years is the right way for you to go, then more power to you. He apparently has a totally different audience in mind. If you dislike what he’s saying, perhaps you should find a blog that agrees with your views so that you can set your own goals accordingly.

      • You can choose to take his advice or not. It’s not set in stone.

        According to Mr. Smith, it is. You will excuse me, I hope, for taking the only example in which I was personally involved, since it is the one I remember best. I pointed out to him that by his standards J. R. R. Tolkien was not a ‘real’ writer because he spent many years working on The Lord of the Rings. He answered (along with a lot of personal insults in no wise related to the case) that this was correct: Tolkien was not a real writer.

        As long as the discussion remains in the abstract, Mr. Smith seems quite happy to acknowledge that his is not the only way of doing things; but as soon as anyone mentions other ways specifically, or names counter-examples, he becomes rude, dismissive, and insulting in a way that suggests his mind is completely closed on the subject.

        If you think working on one piece for years is the right way for you to go, then more power to you.

        That is not what he is saying. He says quite specifically that if you work on one piece for years, you will fail and deserve to fail. He has been thoroughly dogmatic on that point in the past.

        • But fail to what? He has already made it clear there is only ONE goal he is discussing: making a living as a writer. He’s not even talking to writers who want to become famous. That’s simply not his audience. If you don’t seek to have writing as your living and only writing, then he’s not giving you any tips or pointers or help. He’s ONLY talking about making a living as a writer.

          And there are always outliers, but it’s more than a little foolish to count on becoming one.

          And I’m not saying this as a groupie. I’ve argued with him politely on his blog plenty a time.

        • In all likelihood, he’s probably right. You probably will fail…to have a career. Let’s be honest, publishing houses are not all that interested in people who spend five years working on one novel and it’s highly doubtful that you could make a living off of that kind of schedule as a self-published author. Even if that novel turns out to be brilliant, it just doesn’t bode well for that writer’s earning potential in 2013 (almost 2014) that it takes them that long to write something that may or may not sell. The only exception may be for writers who established brands already, like Stephen King. But hopefully new writers aren’t deluding themselves into thinking they’re likely to get the same deal as Stephen King either. Those days are probably almost over. J. R. R. Tolkien, by the way, is a pretty bad example. Who is to say that a lot of the literary geniuses we know and love from the past would even be noticed today? Literary writers are ignored all the time. He was a product of his time. Back then writers were coddled more. Things are different now and writers will have to play by very different rules now.

          But that said, writers can choose whichever approach they want. I think people get too wrapped up in listening to people on the net. Take the advice or don’t take the advice. If you think Smith’s got a point, then maybe you should take him seriously. If not then don’t.

          I really don’t see why some writers are so emotionally bothered by this kind of stuff. Surely you guys know that you’re likely to hear much worse than someone telling you won’t have a career if you spend too long on one book. I can come up with a plethora of book reviews where authors are told far worse every day about their actual writing ability and not just some hypothetical about what kind of career they’ll have in the future. The only thing I can think of is that Smith might have hit a nerve.

        • I have to agree with Tom Simon and TK Marnell here.

          I like Dean’s articles, but I have seen him rip people apart for making minor disagreements with him; including many people from the PG crowd. The man has a serious attitude problem. Which is why I try to avoid participating in his blog, as you never know what will set him off.

          Compare with Konrath- as long as you are polite, he never insults you, and may even answer your objections.

      • Well, I’m a pretty contrary person, so no blogger will always agree with my views :p

        The great thing about blogs like PG’s is that they pull articles from different sources, so sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don’t. I do like to read advice that I dislike from time to time, to challenge and either reaffirm or modify my opinions–otherwise I’ll end up the same person at 50 that I am at 25, and that would be terribly depressing.

        I will grudgingly admit that there’s truth in what he says, though the way he says it rubs me the wrong way, and he doesn’t get at the root of the problem. Yes, many writers use “I can’t find the time” as an excuse. So what? They’re “hopeless” and that’s that?

        Every January, people say, “I’m going to be different this year! I’m going to set goals and stick to them!” And then they fail again, and they say, “It’s because I didn’t try hard enough. It’s because I made excuses, because I didn’t have the discipline. But this year I’m going to be different! I’m going to set goals and stick to them!”

        What you really need to do is identify the stumbling blocks that compel you to make excuses. Are you afraid of failure? Are you afraid of success? Are you intimidated by the enormity of finishing an entire Great American Novel, and you need to set more manageable mini-goals? Do you get hung up on the little details and lose sight of the big picture? Are you too proud to ask for help when you need it?

        Everyone has reasons for procrastination. It’s not just because they’re weak, or they lack dedication or discipline, or because “writing is hard.” Setting more goals won’t fix anything; you have to figure out why you haven’t been able to attain them.

        • But knowing those details about a writer’s motivation has no bearing on the fact that a “hopeless want-to-be” will remain just that if they don’t write, don’t finish books, don’t publish, and don’t move on to the next one at a pace that generates enough income to make a living as a genre fiction writer.

          People have plenty of circumstances in life that hamper writing. I have three kids, a chronic health condition, and one of my children has significant special needs (medical and developmental). Other writers have other life circumstances, psychological roadblocks, etc. There comes a point where, if you want to make a living doing this, you simply have to do it. The reasons for *not* doing it can be heart-wrenching, profound and difficult.

          But the difference between those who make a living at this and those who don’t is a combination of production level, quality, determination and luck. You can’t succeed without a blend of all those, and if production level isn’t there, you definitely won’t. The reasons don’t matter.

    • Dean’s a bit curmudgeonly and short on patience when it comes to dealing with dissent on the comments of his blog, but try not to take him personally. If you imagine how Harlan Ellison would have responded instead, you’ll realize he’s really quite tame.

  3. I would like to read the entire post, but can’t get it to load. (Kris Rusch’s blog also won’t load for me today…I assume they’re on the same server and it’s a server issue.)

    From what I can see quoted here, it seems reasonable enough. My dear, wonderful husband has been talking about some writing he wants to do for as long as I’ve known him, but he endlessly tries to refine and perfect the ideas behind his story and world-build and character-build without ever actually WRITING this story.

    I wouldn’t call him a wanna-be writer…I don’t think there’s any feeling of entitlement to an imagined fancy-pants “writer’s life” (if anything, he’s seen all the crap I go through to produce my books and the scales have long since fallen off his eyes with regards to the mythic “writer’s life.”) I think in his case it’s more a deep fear of failure than an assumption that he’s different and special and shouldn’t have to do things like actually carve time out of his schedule to write. (I’ve CERTAINLY known lots of people who pull the “Oh, it must be nice to have the time to write; someday when I have time I’ll write a novel” all the time. Arrgh.)

    I got him a copy of “Write Your Novel in Thirty Days” for Christmas…not because I think he should magically write a novel in 30 days, but because it’s full of great advice about getting the hell out of your own way and just WRITING. He’s already started reading it, so hopefully he’ll find some good advice in there that he just won’t listen to when it’s coming from his wife. Ha ha.

    Based on what I saw quoted here, I didn’t think Dean was being overly snarky about people who take longer to write, write less, etc. However, if I’d had the same kind of experience with him as T.K. has had, I’d probably take his tone much to be much harsher, too!

    • I might not have interpreted the post as harshly if it didn’t have his name on it. But I did read the quoted text before I saw the name and thought, “Who does this guy think he is?” [Checked source]. “Ohhh, that’s who he thinks he is!” :p

    • I think a lot of writers have a deep fear of failure. After all, we work in one of the few professions where complete strangers are constantly telling us we need to seek other work or live in poverty. Or they look at us like we’re crazy for pursuing this field if we don’t sell like James Patterson right out the gate. There’s just a lot of negativity surrounding what we do. It can be debilitating to hear that throughout your life. I’m watching one of my good friends go through this. For years she was burning with the desire to get published, but she’s just never “found the time” to write much. She talks about ideas all the time though. I don’t think she’ll get much done, but I still hope each day to be surprised.

      I decided to get over my fear of failure in 2012 and just try to live my life and pursue my goal. Best thing I ever did.

      • Yep. The best thing is to really, simply, and truly not give two drips of runny crap about others’ opinions of your work. Neither critics nor fans.

        Two trusted beta readers: I listen to *them*, and literally nobody else. Otherwise the doubt will rear its hideous little scaly head.

        • Well you probably do need to care what your fans think, if you want to keep working.

        • I agree. I keep telling my husband this, but he’s a military guy, and in the military if you don’t get it right the first time, people could die. So it’s a difficult mental switch for him to make.

          I keep reminding him that if he writes a bad sentence, nobody’s life is at stake. One day he’ll realize it’s true. 😉

    • I had the same problem earlier, but the post loads fine now. He mentioned on his daily diary that he was working with his host on some WordPress issues, so it may have been temporarily down. I’ve been there when I hosed my site a few times trying to make some changes (the hazards of DIY programming).

  4. Writing forums are filled with what DWS describes above. Writers write. Commercial genre fiction writers who (want to) do this full time and earn a living wage (or better) can’t be/do any of those bullet items.

    • This.

      From correspondence with IASFM decades ago.

      “The problem is that everyone whats to have written. No one wants to write”


      • So true. I get that a lot from people I know. After they’re done telling me how writing doesn’t pay and it’s not a real career, they’ll admit that they tried to write but gave up on it years ago because they just couldn’t get it done. These people tend to get mad with me when I give them the famous quote: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
        (Mary Heaton Vorse)

        But it really is true. I don’t say it to be mean. It’s just true. Many writers who have seriously dreamt of being writers for many years know there’s just no other way than to ACTUALLY write. And getting a first draft down is nowhere near as hard as people think it is. People just don’t like having to sit down and face their insecurities head on. In my experience, most people will try to get through as much life as possible trying to avoid dealing with their deepest insecurities. Having hard deadlines or being held accountable by others tends to force them get over it. And then suddenly they find they can get a draft down. Weird, isn’t it?

        • People just don’t like having to sit down and face their insecurities head on.

          So true! I saw Kris remarking in a reply to a comment on her blog that you would think that after decades of writing (and publishing) the process of writing would get easier. She reports that it just doesn’t!

          I don’t have nearly her experience, but that sounds right to me. The new story – whatever that story may be – is as yet unwritten when I start and pursue it. And the work of discerning it and building it – word by word – is always challenging. I confront my fears and insecurities as I confront the blank portion of the computer screen. And that is hard.

          And, yet…there’s also the thrill of writing, the satisfaction of writing, the surprise of the writing, the joy of writing. Those are real, too. But I must face my fear in order to have all the rest. And I don’t expect that will change.

        • Three years ago, with my 5000-word barely-begun novel nearly two years old, I decided to either sit down and finish it, or stop talking about it and never write again. Make the choice: Wannabe or writer.

          The thought of never writing again and considering myself a failure was apparently the inspiration I needed to plant my seat in the chair and push through every obstacle I put in my way. And yes, they were all put there by me.

          I’m about three-quarters of the way through book two in my series now, and (sigh) fighting those obstacles all over again, hoping that someday they will go away and I’ll be able to just write every day without having Evil Editor in my head.

          Yeah, I don’t believe that, either. Kate Wilhelm told us at Clarion that you need to turn off your internal editor while you’re writing, and turn it back on when you edit what you wrote. She’s not wrong.

  5. I wince when I read those bullet points, because I used to be one of those wannabes. And the chief reason I was a wannabe was that I was listening to, and buying into, so much of what DWS calls the “myths” of writing and publishing. It took me a while to learn better, and now that I’m on the other side, and writing/publishing regularly, I see the truth in what he’s saying. Granted, he’s writing to a particular audience, and that audience does not include certain kinds of writers. But what he wrote, and writes, really opened my eyes and changed my life, my career and my writing.

    Does it work for everyone? Of course not; nothing does.

    • It’s easy to buy into the myths. Our culture does seem to perpetuate a lot of myths around the writing profession. I don’t blame people for getting caught up in it. At least you realized that it’s actually hard work. You have to be very driven and goal-oriented to do it successfully. But that’s really not all that different from most jobs that pay above minimum wage, I would think.

  6. When I took up writing in 2012, I desperately wanted to find a model of a good, commercially-oriented, genre writer who could comment on both the trad and indie worlds.

    DWS (and Kristine Rusch) may not be the only voices of experience in this area, but, by god, they are active ones who speak with a great deal of commen sense, and my entrepreneurial background (in IT) strongly approves their business sense and project-oriented approach to powering through production goals.

    • They both really are wonderful. I especially find Kristine’s article helpful. She’s really opened my eyes to the way the industry works too. As a little girl I could have never imagined all the problems with this industry and I probably never would have found out if it weren’t for people in the industry speaking out.

  7. I totally understand T.K. Martell’s reaction to Dean. The fact is, Dean is very passionate about what he believes — but he actually changes and adapts a lot more than people think who don’t read him regularly. (He’s like a relative of mine who absolutely HATES sprinkles on her ice cream until she decides she loves them — then it’s like she never had anything against them ever.)

    He has excellent advice if he doesn’t piss you off first.

    The thing I wanted to point out, though, is that when he pisses you off, you can miss out on what he’s saying:

    This is a total mischaracterization of what he said: “So people who only write when they have the time are wannabes?”

    Major parts of this post was about assessing how much time you have — however little it is — and assuming you won’t be able to use all of it. And how even if you do that, life will knock you out of your plans, and how you need to not kick yourself for it.

    I really wish he would leave out his obsessive need to build up straw men, and just focus on what’s so great about what he has to say. If he would just realize he doesn’t need to kill the “myths” in people’s heads, he just needs to build new ones.

    • This is a total mischaracterization of what he said: “So people who only write when they have the time are wannabes?”

      This. I noticed T.K. never addressed the fact that she was arguing against something he didn’t say, which was pointed out to her.

      • I don’t think TK was doing that, but feel free to put words in her mouth if you feel like it.

      • I can address it now, if you like. I don’t address everything everyone says to me because I don’t like taking over the comment threads of other people’s blogs. But it’s a bit late for that now, so what the heck.

        There are three bullet points that imply that people who only write when they have the time are wannabes.

        – They are the fiction writers who feel jealous of all your writing time because they can never find the time.

        – They are the fiction writers who decide they are going to write in the new year, but set no plans, no goals, no structure.

        They are the writers who just get to their fiction writing when they can, when the muse strikes, because ideas are hard and writing is hard.

        #1 implies that people who are jealous of those who have more free time don’t have legitimate reasons to be envious. #2 implies that people with unpredictable schedules, who can’t stick to a rigid writing routine set in advance, are wishy-washy and don’t really want to succeed. And #3 literally says that people who only write when they can are just afraid of hard work. Throughout the post, he also repeatedly mocks people who say they can’t “find the time” to write.

        All of this boils down to one message: “People who only write when they have the time are wannabes. Real writers make the time.” The attitude is, if you can’t find the time, you must not be looking hard enough.

        For some people that’s true, but for others it just means they have different priorities. Personally, I think the stance that “life gets in the way of writing” is whack. You’re a human first, a writer second. One of DWS’s favorite points, from what I remember, is that writing is a business, a profession like any other. But no accountant would ever think, “life gets in the way of taxes.”

        When I’m on my deathbed, I won’t be thinking, “I published a total of 9,837,452 words. Dang, I could have made it an even 10 million if I’d tried a bit harder.” I’ll be thinking, “I wish I’d spent more time with the grandkids;” “I’m glad we took that trip to Japan;” “I should have gone on more fun adventures while I had my youth and health.”

        But then, I also believe the most practical advice you can give someone who wants to make a living writing fiction is: don’t. If you’re after money, there are more reliable ways to get it. And if you write because you love it, then why turn it into a chore?

        • I like to read Smith’s blog and I always only take advices that I think work for me and ignore the rest. Sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience with him.
          I believe Smith’s point was (I could be wrong, though), if one’s goal is to live off writing, one has to take time for it, even when life throws obstacles in shape of crisis and emergencies. One can’t stop going to work for long period of times, either, not without losing one’s job, right?
          My goal is to one day live off of my writing and I’m working on that by making writing every day as my top priority, right after my day job. Actually I’m treating writing as my second job. I do procrastinate, of course I do, I need to sometimes, but at the same time, I’m taking this serious, because I have to, if I want to reach my goal and support myself with something that I love doing and something that has become such a big part of me.

        • But then, I also believe the most practical advice you can give someone who wants to make a living writing fiction is: don’t. If you’re after money, there are more reliable ways to get it. And if you write because you love it, then why turn it into a chore?

          Ah. You’re a hobbyist. That explains a lot about what you’ve written here. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, but hobbyists aren’t going to see the world in the same way someone interested in making a living at something will–just isn’t going to happen, and the advice that works for one isn’t going to make sense to the other.

          Figuring out the underlying assumptions of the people giving out advice is the first step in deciding if that advice is for you.

          I’m so glad I never listened to anyone who told me I couldn’t/shouldn’t make a living from fiction. People who want to make a living writing fiction have to ignore the hobbyists, because their perspectives and goals are so different.

        • I’ll leave your point #1 alone. It does imply that.

          #2 said clearly NO plans OR goals OR structure. It does not imply in any way that a schedule is required, just something. Patricia Wrede just made a plan that boils down to get a rough novel draft this year. By the words he wrote, that is not a want-to-be. And she’s not. She’s a professional.

          #3 uses standard English grammar to list an excuse and a clarification on which interpretation he’s coming down on: when the muse strikes. The whole reason he said the first point you took issue with was because if you DO write in what time you have, you generally won’t complain as much about writers who take more.

          I stand by my first analysis, which covered his points for what they were instead of a condemnation of all slow writing.

    • ” (He’s like a relative of mine who absolutely HATES sprinkles on her ice cream until she decides she loves them — then it’s like she never had anything against them ever.)”

      I see you’ve met my sister.

  8. These are great posts for New Year’s Eve, thanks PG.

    As a pantser I find that momentum is the thing. It’s hard to sit down to a blank page and a fragile grasp of story and character, but for me they are mostly found in the writing (and, only when the writing is happening, in the down time between). Without goals and some sort of structured plan for achieving those goals, I do tend to drift because the idea of writing is much harder than actually writing. There’s also the worry, even after so long as a confirmed and hopeless pantser, that if I don’t know what I’m writing I’ll write crap. I find that to counter this it’s important to plan to write and have a weekly word goal.

    • “the idea of writing is much harder than actually writing”

      Can we get a poster of this for the wall. I find this so true and I’ve never understood why it is.

    • Laughed out loud at this: “if I don’t know what I’m writing I’ll write crap”. So true. I’m not a pantser, but I don’t plot out everything. I’m somewhere in between, and I keep thinking I -should- have everything plotted out. I do write faster when I know where I’m going. But my subconscious knows what it’s doing, too. If only my subconscious and conscious writers would talk to each other…

  9. margaret rainforth

    I was told when I became interested in self publishing that DWS was a must-read. So I did, a couple of times. But his opinions and writing style are not for me. Thankfully for all of us, not everyone has the same reading tastes! As they say in AA, ‘take what you like and leave the rest’. (I must confess that reading this thread makes me want to go over there and yank his chain just for the fun of it! I won’t, though, I promise.)

  10. I think many people who object to Dean’s advice are sort of missing his main point. Dean is talking about making a living writing (or aiming at doing so), and his advice is spot on, not just for fiction writers but for all sorts of writing. I’ve been a pro writer for fifteen years (non-fic books, features, articles), and when you are commissioned to write a book in 4 weeks, or have to compile a feature in a day (most of which you’ll spend on the phone trying to get hold of people), or back in my news days, have to file a court report off the cuff as soon as the jury has returned a verdict (off the cuff means dictating it over the phone as soon as you walk out the court room – now that’s hard writing) you have to follow Heinlien’s rules whether you like it or not. Deadlines are deadlines and you don’t have the time to rewrite or spend hours pondering your prose.

    I base my fiction writing around the same principles. I want my fiction to pay, so I calculate exactly how long a book takes to write, including research and self-pubbing processes, and then I multiple that by what I would normally earn in my day writing job if I worked the same hours on a project (about £50 an hour). By doing this, I realise each book has to earn me about £5-6,000 before I considered it has ‘earned out’.

    I released four books six months ago (actually one little longer than that but it didn’t start selling until I released the others) 2 books are set to earn out after 12 months, the other two 6-8 months after that. But the bonus for me, is that they could be earning money for a lot lot longer than that.

    Take Dean’s advice if you want to make money. Don’t take it if you enjoy creating pretty sentences – there is nothing wrong in creating art for the sake of art – but don’t expect to make much money that way.

    • I run a variant of this for my analysis. For each work, I track its contribution margin, monthly. That is, I take the income less the cost-of-goods-sold less the specific-to-the-book additional costs (distribution, research, etc.). That number starts out negative but improves monthly since most costs are front loaded and the per-book sales are profitable.

      The numbers stay red until they go positive. From that point on, the work is contributing to the overall business, with all the rest of its overhead. For novels, it happens after a few months. For stories, they may never earn out, but then they don’t cost much either, and “never” is a long time.

      It’s a great thing seeing the numbers go from red to black for a work. Helps me evaluate when I’m comfortable investing in a work again, like making an audiobook, since I can wait until the work generates enough contribution to pay for it.

      Yes, this IS a business, when DWS and Kristine Rusch describe it, and I am interested in what it takes to make it a better business.

      I can shrug off the exasperated DWS’s responses to dumb questions (including my own) — I recently had to tell him to stop beating me in a workshop comment, I wasn’t a dead horse. It’s not personal. 🙂

  11. T.K.,

    If you have no intention of being a professional runner and just want to jog occasionally, you don’t go to an olympic marathoner’s blog and complain that their priorities are out of whack and their methods too rigid.

    Dean’s a tough teacher. Some of us love that.

    • Can I just say: This is quickly turning into a witch hunt against TK, and personal attacks on her.

      The attitude here seems to be: Dean W Smith is the Prophet, and anyone who disagrees with him is an amateur and unprofessional. It seems Dean’s attitude has slipped into this forum.

      PG- Can you temporarily switch off the comments if the situation doesn’t improve?

  12. Dean and his wife Kris have very strong opinions based on years of experience. I don’t always agree with them (although I OFTEN do), but I always stop to consider their opinions and I greatly appreciate them offering their opinions freely and being a solid voice for writers in this time of tremendous change.

    They have very successfully stradled the line as hybrid authors (traditional, running their own publishing company and self-publishing online) and have highlighted a “third way” between the extremes of traditionally published authors (“all you amateur indies suck”) and the indies who wouldn’t sign a book contract if it was printed on gold leaf. They have been at this full-time for a long time, so I think their opinions deserve serious consideration.

    Dean has described his writing process in detail — he starts out writing a novel with only a vague idea of where he is going (no outline) and says that he basically does one pass on every book, that’s it. I could never do that — my brain just doesn’t work that way.

    But every author has to find their own path, and as with anything, use what you find useful, discard the rest.

  13. I don’t see personal attacks at all. T.K. is remaining calm and reasonable, as are the other commenters. She’s coming back to respond to points being made, which furthers and extends the discussion.

    Why on earth should comments be shut off?

  14. It does seem to be a matter of taste. I read the same article and came away inspired.

    Many years ago I quit smoking. I tried and failed a hundred times. People said I should quit trying. But I knew that the only person that succeeds is the one that keeps trying. And I did succeed in the end.

    That doesn’t mean it was ok to fail. I was never ok with the failing, and that’s why I stopped failing.

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