It’s Not Easy Being A Writer…

For those who follow this blog of gray walls and black words and a little blood spatter here and there, then you know that recently I have been on a Terrible Minds kick. I preface this piece letting you, the readers, know about Chuck Wendig’s blog titled, 25 Things A Writer Should Stop Doing. If you want to read Mr. Wendig’s post covering these 25 things, then follow the previously posted link (preferably after you finish reading this post).

His words are on the money—all 25 pieces of advice holds water better than a bucket on a rainy day. Every couple of days I go back to this post and read it and each time I think, ‘man, he is so right on this and that… oh and that, too.’

So tonight, after having read the article yet again, I want to tackle another of Wendig’s nuggets of advice. This one may be one of the top five:

Stop Thinking It Should Be Easier

It’s not going to get any easier, and why should it? Anything truly worth doing requires hella hard work. If climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro meant packing a light lunch and hopping in a climate-controlled elevator, it wouldn’t really be that big a fucking deal, would it? You want to do This Writing Thing, then don’t just expect hard work — be happy that it’s a hard row to hoe and that you’re just the, er, hoer to hoe it? I dunno. Don’t look at me like that. AVERT YOUR GAZE, SCRUTINIZER. And get back to work.

There are two types of people—and no, I don’t care what anyone else says about it. There are those who work and there are those who are lazy. Period. Sure, you can say there is an in between, but honestly, there isn’t. You either work or you don’t. Whether that is at a job or at an artistic endeavor or at being a housewife or househusband (yes, there is such a thing), its still work. For those who make an honest living out there, I commend you and thank you. For those who don’t, well… unless you have a legit reason, you and I may not get along that well.

[[Side Note: With today’s economy being in the suckage hole, please understand that I’m not referring to those people who had jobs and lost them of no fault of their own. I’m referring to those folks who would prefer to sit on the sofa watching soaps all day and not out looking for a job and probably haven’t held one in a while because they’re lazy and prefer for folks that do work to pay their way. End Side Note]]

We live in a world of entitlement these days, a world where people think things should be handed to them instead of having to work for them. Those folks–those entitled folks–make me want to punch something… oh wait, they make me want to punch them.

Enough talk of violence. I’ll just punch someone in one of my stories…

Writing is not easy. Okay, maybe the writing part is somewhat easy. It’s everything else that isn’t. And, if you want to become a published writer everything is ten times harder. (Oh, I see those out there saying, ‘it’s not so difficult for me.’ Fine. Then you are the blessed half percentile.)

You have to:

First write the story
Edit
Re-write
Edit some more
Re-write again
Edit, yet again
Re-write
Proofread (ah, you thought I would say edit again, didn’t you?)
Research markets (often meaning you have to purchase a few books/magazines to garner an idea of what they like)
Find the right market for your work
Read the submissions guidelines (and hope they make sense)
Format the manuscript
Write the query letter/submission letter
Oh, wait, you better proof that story again
Make changes yet again
Make sure you formatted the manuscript right since you made changes
Don’t forget to change the word count
Attach the file (or send it via snail mail)
Press Send
Then wait
Wait some more
Still waiting, are you?

And that’s just for a short story.

That doesn’t even touch on sending out a novel, which involves so much more, including finding an agent, writing a really good query letter and synopsis of the novel and finding someone else to edit and proofread the manuscript. Oh, and the long waiting period…

If you are a writer, then you better be prepared to work for it. No writer gets anywhere by being lazy.

What if one of your short stories gets picked up? Well, you can’t just sit on it, can you? No. You have to tell the world about your publication. You have to let everyone share in your success. Do you have Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Anybeat? Guess what? You have to go shout it from the rooftops on these various social platforms. It’s kind of like those kids back in the old days that would stand on street corners selling newspapers:

EXTRA, EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT. MR. WORKSHARDALOT HAS A STORY PUBLISHED. EXTRA, EXTRA.

Go ahead, laugh, but it’s true. No one gets anywhere in this business without spreading the news. Also, word of mouth goes a long way. If you post a link to your story or where to buy it and someone sees it and likes the story, then chances are, they will repost it on their social media platform of choice. By doing so, the word spreads that Mr. Workshardalot wrote a good story and, by golly, you should check it out.

Do you have a blog and have 18 followers, as I do? Hey, that number has gone up recently. If so, then you need to post on your blog that Mr. Workshardalot made a sell and be proud of it. And don’t just throw that blog up without editing it and making sure it reads right and making sure any applicable links, italics, bolds and videos and images show up in the PREVIEW section. Yes, more work.

Promoting and marketing may seem easy, but after posting on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace (if you still have one of those dinosaurs), Google+, Anybeat and any number of writer forums you may belong to, as well as posting to your blog (which, by the way, you will want to post links to it at all those previously mentioned social networking sites) you will realize that you spent quite a few hours on that ‘easy’ task.

And this is all for one short story acceptance.

But, wait, I’m not done yet? Do you think your story will be accepted to the first place you sub it to? More likely than not, it won’t. More than likely you will have to submit that story to various places until some editor finds it worthy of their publication. That’s finding sometimes multiple markets to submit to.

There is also work that must be done after the acceptance and before the story comes out. There is the contract to read over–and make sure it sounds right in your ears. There is the editors edits that you have to go over and either make the changes or choose not to (but, be wary if you choose not too). There are proofs that need to be… well, proofed.

Being a writer is easy. Being a published writer is hard work. It takes dedication. It takes determination. It takes the epidermis of the largest elephant you have ever seen and maybe the tusks, as well.

Back when I first started out (which was only a few short years ago), it took me over a hundred rejections before I received my first acceptance. Did you get that? It took over a hundred submissions before someone thought one of my stories was worth publishing. At the time I thought it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. People will know my name and people will want to read my stuff and I can become famous and… oh, shut-up already.

I had no clue what it took to get my name out there. It’s a LOT of work. I wasn’t part of any social networks at the time and I was fairly bad at writing. Bad. Bad… Awful…

Thanks to some well timed advice I began to learn about writing, about how to write and about social networking (though I’m still working on that part). I had to work at it. Work. Work. Work.

Writing is fun–it is only second to one activity of the things I enjoy most. But, it’s a lot of work and if you think you can just waltz in here and start getting published without working for it, well, you better think again.

Before I go, let me add one thing to all of this work oriented talk. When you sit down to write, enjoy the process, enjoy learning about your characters and how they react to what is happening to them, enjoy letting the story unfold. If you enjoy the process of writing, it makes all the work well worth it.

Now, do you still think you want to be a writer? If so, get to work…

A Risky Business? Maybe It Should Be.

Since I’ve been awake all night—literally—and my mind has been in somewhat of a fog, I decided I’d tackle another one of Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing. We’re going to tackle #14: Stop Playing It Safe.

Here’s what Mr. Wendig had to say on the subject:
Let 2012 be the year of the risk. Nobody knows what’s going on in the publishing industry, but we can be damn sure that what’s going on with authors is that we’re finding new ways to be empowered in this New Media Future, Mother*******s (hereby known as NMFMF). What that means is, it’s time to forget the old rules. Time to start questioning preconceived notions and established conventions. It’s time to start taking some risks both in your career and in your storytelling. Throw open the doors. Kick down the walls of your uncomfortable box. Carpet bomb the Comfort Zone so that none other may dwell there.

Risk. That’s something a lot of folks have a hard time taking. It’s also the only thing that gets anyone anywhere in life. Come on, how many of you men out there sweated taking the risk of asking a pretty girl out? With fear coursing through your veins and trying to be cool, keeping that voice even is near impossible. Just the thought of asking certain girls out petrified me when I was younger. Really, what could they say? No? Sure they could. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Interesting enough, I never got turned down for a date—the girls either said yes because they wanted to or because they felt pity… It may have been more pity than anything else.

Life is one big gamble and as Kenny Rogers once said, You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.

If we were to use Poker as a guideline, then life really is about the risk/reward. You get your hand, like a few cards so you put the others back. You either raise the stakes or fold. If you raise the stakes, you better hope you have a strong enough hand and that those cards that replaced the previous ones are good. The Risk: betting in the first place and then hoping your cards are good enough to beat everyone else’s at the table. The reward: taking home the pot if you hold the winning hand. The flip side: losing the money in the pot (and if you’re smart, it wasn’t a lot of cash).

Writing is much like poker in many respects. You can play it conservatively and not put in as much or not draw as many cards after the initial deal-in or stand pat with what you have. In writing terms, you can play it safe by writing what everyone else writes or doing what everyone else does, by staying in the confines of your comfort zone. You can submit your stories or novels or what-have-you’s to the markets you know will accept them, but maybe not pay you all that much. Yes, you can do all of that. But, where’s the risk in that?

Or…

You can step outside your comfort zone.

My friend, Petra Miller (a talented writer in her own rite), told me something about three or so years ago. She said (and I’m paraphrasing here since I can’t remember word for word) ‘A.J., you’re a good writer, but if you ever want to get anywhere you have to step outside your comfort zone and write things that you wouldn’t normally write.’

I stewed on that conversation for a day or two (and if you know me well at all, you’ll say it was longer than that) then sat down to write something completely out of the norm for me: I wrote a story involving sex. No, I’m not a prude, but I steer away from sex in my work. Most of the time I don’t feel it necessary for the content, but for that story that is what I wrote.

I also started working foul language into some of my stories, but only where I deemed it appropriate. There are way too many writers out there who feel the need to cuss ten times in one paragraph, mostly completely unnecessary. That may be how they talk in real life. I don’t know, but it’s not needed in stories unless it is important that the reader understands the type of person that spouts off all those expletives.

Let’s be honest here: some words just don’t capture the full effect of what you are going for. I mean ‘darn’ is all fine and dandy, but ‘damn’ gets the message across. As do other words and phrases that I’m sure you know and that I don’t need to go into detail about.

There is also the point of not just submitting to the easy markets. Sure a lot of the ‘for the love’ or low paying markets readily accept quality work and that strokes the ego a bit, makes the writer inside feel like they are doing something right and are going somewhere. And, you know, there is nothing wrong with that… if that’s where you want to stay. It gets you some exposure and exposure is as valuable as money in many cases. But, if you really want exposure and you want to get paid well for your work, you have to aim higher, shoot for those tougher markets to get into.

Again, risk/reward. You are risking getting rejected by the bigger dogs, but your reward is so much greater if you get an acceptance, both in pay and in exposure.

On the flip side of that, I will say that supporting the lower paying pubs is a good thing for all of us and I have no issues with someone helping out the smaller publications by submitting their works to those places. I just wouldn’t make that the majority of where you send your best work.

Then there is the whole thing about writing out of your comfort zone. If it has an affect on you, do you think it will have an affect on the reader? As Stephen King said in On Writing, if he doesn’t know where the story is going, the readers won’t either and half the fun is the journey. Take your readers and yourself on that journey. I did that in my as yet unpublished novel, Cory’s Way. I knew what I wanted, but in getting there I learned a lot more about my characters and the storyline than I would have if I would have just wrote it the way I saw it in my head. I went on that journey with Cory and his friends and, in the end I think the novel turned out much better than it would have if I would have been in control of it instead of my characters.

Will Cory’s Way ever sell? Honestly, I can’t say I don’t care. I do. I think it’s a good story and that’s the important thing. It was outside my comfort zone, it was something different as far as style is concerned and it’s a novel—something far different as far as word count is concerned. I believe it will sell one day and I believe the readers will like it.

So, editors and publishers alike can say they think it won’t sell. I’m okay with that. I’ve seen the stuff that is selling and I refuse to write like that and I refuse to believe that my work won’t sell.

I’m a long-winded writer and it shows in my work. Will my work sell? Some of it will. Maybe some of it won’t. But I don’t know that and neither do the publishers. What they do know is what they want to sell. There’s a big difference between the two.

I’ve taken a lot of gambles lately. I plan on taking a few more. And, guess what? You should, too. Don’t let someone tell you that what you’ve written won’t sell. In this world of e-books and self-publishing, what do they know? What do any of us really know?

Thanks for reading and I’m A.J. and I’m out…

Prove Them Wrong…

Recently Chuck Wendig posted the 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing on his Terrible Minds Blog. He is blunt and to the point and, more importantly, he is right. In fact, he is so correct in his assessment that I could probably write a blog for each one of those 25 things.

I’m not going to do that. I don’t have the time, really and if I did, well, I’m not sure what I have to say would be any different from what he said. However, there are a handful of these suggestions that I will write about.

Why?

Why not?

It’s simple. They are all things that I have faced or dealt with while writing that I think are important for other writers to know about. They are also things that we all need to overcome (not just in our writing world, but our real world as well) in order to even see a hint of success in this business we call writing/publishing or at anything else in life.

For this blog I’m going to tackle #21 on the list: Stop Listening to What Won’t Sell.

Chuck’s words:

You’ll hear that. “I don’t think this can sell.” And shit, you know what? That might be right. Just the same — I’d bet that all the stories you remember, all the tales that came out of nowhere and kicked you in the junk drawer with their sheer possibility and potential, were stories that were once flagged with the “this won’t sell” moniker. You’ll always find someone to tell you what you can’t do. What you shouldn’t do. That’s your job as a writer to prove them wrong. By sticking your fountain pen in their neck and drinking their blood. …uhh. I mean, “by writing the best damn story you can write.” That’s what I mean. That other thing was, you know. It was just metaphor. Totally. *hides inkwell filled with human blood.*

One thing sticks out about this more so than the rest: It is your job as a writer to prove them wrong.

Okay, let me repeat that:

It is your job as the writer to prove them wrong.

Tell me something: has anyone ever told you that you can’t do something? What did you do when that happened?

I’ll tell you what happens with me. I prove them wrong.

My art teacher in high school told me I wasn’t good enough, that every other student in the class was better than me. She was a vindictive lady and she, clearly, didn’t like me. I was a sophomore and still feeling out the world. I said nothing—I think that was her intention; to hurt me so bad that I wouldn’t say anything or that I would ask to be transferred to a different class. One problem with that. I had to take art and she was the only art teacher. There would be no transfer unless I took a failing grade in the class.

That wasn’t happening.

What did I do? Well, I stewed for a couple days—maybe even a couple weeks—before deciding she was wrong and I was going to prove it. By the end of the school year I had created a black and white penciled work that held 17 images on it, all of them related to wars and the military. In crumbling gray tombstone letters, I had drawn the words MEN OF WAR in the center of the image, a beret hanging off the edge of the M. Another of the pictures was a rifle jabbed into a mound of dirt, a helmet hanging over the butt—a soldier’s grave. A battleship being bombed at Pearl Harbor encompassed one corner. There was a plane and a man crouched on the ground, weapon aimed at the enemy. There was a crosshairs—yeah I was especially proud of that. You see, there was meaning in those crosshairs. Can you figure out what it was?

I’ll give you a hint: my art teacher was in my sites, so to speak.

I passed the class and she, begrudgingly, gave me an A for the project… Oh, yeah, no other student could touch that picture—they weren’t good enough…

Another example:

I grew up playing basketball in a gym where I was the only white kid. That’s right, I was white bread, cracker, whitey. I was told ‘home boy can’t play.’ No respect. None. I went to that gym four or five times a week to shoot baskets, rarely getting invited to play in the games (you can call me Rudolph D. Rednose, thank you very much).

Then one day—I guess I was thirteen or so—one of the guys wanted to play a game of one on one. “Twenty-one, win by two,” he said. Understand, that’s not scoring by twos and threes, that’s scoring by ones, with the person who scores getting the ball back with another opportunity to put more points on the board.

This guy was older than me by three or four years and I knew what was going to happen. He was going to embarrass me and he was going to enjoy doing it. Then white bread would be laughed at and never come back. I saw it in his face, in his eyes, in the way he smiled at me when he threw down the challenge.

“Okay,” I said.

He looked a little stunned. Surely, white boy wasn’t going to accept his challenge.

I did and he commenced to wiping the floor with me, winning 21-3. Yeah, it looks like a football score. To put this in perspective: he made 21 shots. I made three.

His buddies laughed and howled and just rubbed it in with each shot he made. When the game was over, not only did he win, but the entire gym probably thought they had run me off.

“Let’s go again,” I said.

“What?”

“Let’s go again.”

We did and he beat me again, but not as bad. I scored seven that time.

“Let’s go again,” I said after losing the second game.

We did and he beat me again and again and again. Six times this guy drudged me in front of his friends. By that sixth game, though, I had started figuring him out, the way he dribbles, his favorite shot, how he defended me. I only lost by five in that last game. His friends were no longer howling and laughing and having a good time. I think he was relieved that he won that final game.

The next time I saw him at the gym, I challenged him. What was he going to do? Say ‘no’ to the white kid right there in front of his friends? He beat me three more times.

Then one day I beat him. It was a close game, but I won. Then I beat him again. They all took notice and white bread was no longer white bread, but one of them. They learned my name, even gave me a nickname. I had proven to them that white bread could play.

As a writer, I was told I sucked by an editor. It was a few years ago and that editor and publisher is no longer around. His exact words were: You should quit writing. You’re not good at it.

Brutal.

I stewed for a couple days–probably more like weeks–and I almost gave it up.

Almost.

Instead of quitting, I wrote more and more, trying to hone the craft that I knew I could do. I’m a good verbal story teller. I can paint pictures for people as I tell it to them, drawing them into my world. If I can verbally tell these stories, I can write them as well. No doubt about it.

This brings me back to #21: Stop Listening to What Won’t Sell.

Answer me this: how does anyone know what will and will not sell? They don’t. They may think something will or will not sell, but they don’t know.

I can’t believe I am about to type this, but, Twilight was turned down by a lot of publishers before someone took a chance with it. Oh, yeah, it won’t sell, by the way. That’s what the publishers thought. They were wrong. Twilight has sold quite a few copies and, in case you haven’t heard, there are a few movies dedicated to it…

No one knows what will or will not sell, so why listen to them?

The slice of the pie in today’s publishing market is bigger than it has ever been. Sure, there’s more competition out there, but if you are a writer and you can tell a good story then you can do this. It takes work–a LOT of work, but you can do this.

And I don’t mean writing what everyone else writes. As a writer, in order to be worth a grain of salt or anything else, you have to have your own spin on things. You can’t be a cookie cutter writer and expect to set yourself apart from all the other cookie cutter writers. Experiment. Have fun. Take risks and don’t be afraid. Enjoy the process of creating… and don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you’ve written won’t sell. There’s a market out there for good stories. You just have to find it and one day someone will take that chance on you, on your work.

Trust me on that…

For now, I’m A.J. and I’m out…

[[Side Note: My short story collection, Along the Splintered Path, is out and can be picked up at Amazon by going: here

To anyone who picks it up, I say thank you very much for doing so and I hope you enjoy the read.]]