Things I’ve learned over 30 years of writing for a living.

  1. You constantly hear “No one makes a living writing novels.” I’ve heard it for decades. In 2012 I was at a conference where I gave a keynote, then was listening to another keynote speaker, David Morrell of Rambo fame, saying “Don’t quit your day job”. And it started to worry me, until I realized my day job was writing. So I didn’t quit. Besides, I’d been in Special Forces and done the Rambo thing as my day job too. Nobody shoots at you while you’re writing. Usually.
  2. It’s the best time ever to be a writer. I’ve heard all sorts of gloom and doom, but I can honestly say, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time because the distance between you and your reader is the Internet. That’s not to say it isn’t an extremely confusing time. The deluge of content has leveled the playing field once more and it comes down to the eternal truth: tell a good story. Don’t focus on all the gimmicks of marketing. WRITE A GOOD STORY.
  3. There is more information than ever before out there. Which could be bad too, but seriously, you can garner a wealth of information about the craft and business of writing without leaving home.
  4. Leave home. One of the greatest mistakes I made in my early writing career was not networking. Even in self/indie publishing, it’s key to network with people. I know you’re an introvert (the least likely of the 16 character types on the Myers-Briggs is INFJ, which they kindly labeled: Author), but get out there and talk to people. It’s a people business. And network with a couple of other serious writers on your craft. I’m not a fan of large writers groups getting together and doing line by lines, but 2 or 3 serious writers working on story, like we do at Writing Scenic is invaluable. Find better writers than you to work with.
  5. Writers support writers. Mostly. I advise writers to join their local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter. It’s the most professional writing organization around and your local chapter has tons of expertise and friendly people and monthly workshops.
  6. It’s about story not the book. Change your frame of reference. I sell stories. In various modes: digital, audio and print. Wrap your brain around that concept. It’s about the content not the format! I market using . . .
  7. Slideshare (lots of them), blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc. all from home. I used to not be a fan of book trailers, and while I don’t think they do much direct selling, they increase your digital footprint. And they’re cool. It’s not about gimmicks, its about having SEO. Today, it’s not about distribution as much as it is about discoverability. They can’t buy you if they can’t find you.
  8. The framework of the story is evolving in the digital age. Since you can self-publish just about anything, you aren’t constrained creatively. I think self-pubbing is doing what the cable networks did to TV. HBO broke ground on new formats for series and characters. Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood. Other networks have picked it up. Have you seen Westworld? My brain exploded on that pilot episode– ah The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind— the book my wife and I bonded over. The Expanse? Science fiction is taking advantage of new technologies in film-making, but it’s always the story! I love studying story and then playing with it.
  9. You can study story in books, but also on Netflix, HBO, Showtime, etc and On-Demand. Watch everything twice. The first for enjoyment of the story and characters and to learn what happens. The second time is the key as a professional writer. Because you know what’s going to happen, now you can see how the writers crafted the story and characters . The second time is eye-opening. If Marie hadn’t stolen that damn state spoon in Breaking Bad, Hank would still be alive and the story would have gone in a completely different direction. Get it? You didn’t the first time you saw it and probably forgot that little event. The second time, it looms large.
  10. Bottom line: The only person who can stop your success is you.

And #11, because Spinal Tap says go to 11. Do you understand your creative process? We focus a lot on craft and business at writers conferences and workshops but not enough on how we actually create and that is the core of our profession. We must go from being craftspeople to artists. Lately my wife and I have focused more and more on how we create. How the mind works. Some of this has developed from working with other writers one on one and via our Writing Scenic Workshops. Process is more important to understand than anything else.

Which means, since writers aren’t in the bell curve, and we’re not necessarily on the good side of the bell curve, that you need a good therapist!

Nothing but good times ahead!