In your own words, how would you describe your writing profession? Duties, responsibilities, ect.
In my opinion, the duty of a professional writer of fiction is to entertain. More specifically, the fiction writer’s job is to help the reader feel satisfied with their choice of escape-time activities.
In order to accomplish this, a professional writer must do things that other writers of fiction (i.e. amateurs) don’t like to do. For instance, Arthur C. Clark once pointed out that writers write. Earnest Hemingway clarified the idea when he said that a writer never says something when he means to write it. Ray Bradbury informed would-be authors that they must get their work done. In short, I write, and then I write more.
John Steinbeck said that the first draft is always garbage. He’s right. And he’s wrong, of course, because in essence most of a professional piece should be there in the first draft. But rewriting in that wonderful opportunity to take something that is bad and make it into something better. Then take something that is better and make it even better than that. And then do it again. Improve it yet again, until the work is professional level. I rewrite my work a minimum of seven times: every story, every novel.
What is professional level writing? Pro writing is what people will pay for. If they don’t find the work satisfying enough to pay bucks for it, then it is not professional. It might be outstanding! It might be the sort of work that will make you famous for centuries after it is discovered after your funeral. But if no one will pay you good hard cash now, then it’s not really writing that anyone could dub professional, because it has nothing to do with a “profession”—a career, maybe (a career is simply what you use to employ your time), but not a profession.
So, my job is to write a lot, and then make sure that I am producing pieces for which people want to sacrifice a portion of their own, personal income.
What are the obstacles you’ve come across while writing? And what obstacles did you face in order to become published?
I have faced a great deal of obstacles with my writing, including the nearly impossible task of getting published. I’ll talk first about the obstacles, then about publication.
Foremost, to my great annoyance, was the long and arduous road that I had to follow in order to bypass very typical and predictable amateur activities as a would-be writer. (Of course, I did not realize they were “typical and predictable amateur activities”, not until later. Sometimes I really feel like the slowest learner on the planet!)
The first was simply not reading enough. I wanted to write certain kinds of stories or books, but I didn’t read hardly any of them. Reading one author, for instance, really does not in any way prepare a kid to become a professional writer. Nor does reading many comic-book authors, not if the would-be writer wants to become a novelist or short-story writer. Also, once upon a time I did not read widely enough. Seeing many different kinds of writers really helps the young would-be writer to spot what is bad and what is good and what is great and what is genius. After all, if the amateur really likes stories that a good (but not great, and not genius), then they are likely to imitate good and then compete against other would-be writers who are imitating great writers and geniuses. Of course, there are so many different kinds of fiction writing out there. I needed to see what the pros were doing in the professional environment before I could really act like them.
Second, I wasn’t writing enough. Ray Bradbury used to say that you should write one story a week. If you do, you will have 52 stories at the end of a year. He liked to say, “I defy you to write 52 bad stories.” I had to write far more than that before my stories got good enough to sell. And, like an amateur, I thought my stories were great! I thought that they were at least good. Now, after writing thousands and thousands and thousands of pages, I look back and my older stuff and can hardly bear it: it’s junk. It’s trash. It is clearly the work of an amateur, and not worth a dime. Even if some people liked me enough to say that they liked it and paid me in dollars for cheep self-made copies. It’s okay to be bad. I just had to get better. The only way I found myself able to do that was to write en masse. Then … miracles started to happen.
Third, I had to learn to fall in love with rewriting. It never occurred to me that the pros love to rewrite. When I did read about that, I couldn’t understand why. Rewriting is the big professional secret. I already told you why. The first draft of any masterpiece is really so riddled with rot that you might not be able to see well, that to have faith in it is very unprofessional. Unless, of course, you have professionals take it into the shop, do a full-body make over, and then publish it. (There are a few big names that have had that opportunity.) Rewriting is the chance to take something that exists—you gotta have something before you can create something fabulous—and then make it into the best piece of art possible. I learned to love that step. For one reason, it is a chance to take good scenes and make them ten-times better, just with an addition here and a subtraction there. The end result? All the non-professional writers, which is a large percentage of people who read books for entertainment, think that the professional is a genius and made it that way the first time! I told you, rewriting is the professional’s big secret.
There are many other obstacles. Family always tries to dissuade the would-be author, because (frankly) it would be easier to go to medical school, graduate, and become a medical doctor. The odds are stacked against artists of every kind. One of the reasons is that there are too many of them. Luckily for the pros, most people are not willing to do all the work necessary to really clog up the system. They could. They just won’t. It’s too hard.
What about publication? I used to imagine professional publication to be a large bolder, the size of a house addition, that the would-be fiction writer has to get rolling. First you slam your body against it. Then you pull back and do it again. Then again. And again and again and again and again, until finally that big old bolder starts to rock … just … slightly. Of course, that is not enough. That is when the writer has to hit it harder, again, harder, again! Harder! And keep hitting it until the bolder is rocking so much and it begins to roll. As it rolls, every shove makes it roll faster and faster, until it really gets going (so that the only way to stop it would be to stop writing for so long—stop ramming the bolder for so long—that the momentum dies, the writer is forgotten, and the bolder rests in perpetuity). That’s what getting published is like.
You’ve read it already, I’m sure: you can’t get published without publication credits. You can’t get publication credits without publication. Can you see how it is like hitting a rock-steady bolder? But I know that if you keep going, it rocks. But you mustn’t quit. Not ever. If the would-be writer would EVER quit, I recommend that the would-be writer should save her strength and not even begin. At least, not with the intention of becoming a professional writer. There are, after all, many other kinds of writers. And they can be just as happy. I believe that.
John Grisham’s first book was rejected by the first 30 publishers. Most people stop sending their work to publishers before their manuscripts reach ten. The average novel, in the old days, was rejected twelve times. Tom Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October, was rejected by everyone; no one would publish what thereafter became known as the most famous techno-thriller of all time, unless he paid for all the cost out of his own pocket. Even then, he was very fortunate that it got noticed.
Rejection hurts. I have easily be rejected a couple of hundred times. My work is still rejected, though not as often as before. About half of my novels are turned down. But the other half are accepted. There once was a time when I would send out short stories and get form-letter rejections that said nothing useful. That’s changed for me. One editor saw my publication credits and said, “Of course I will publish your story!” The last story I sent off was not only accepted but published in an anthology of stories, and they paid me twice as much as they advertised initially. This clearly leads me to the next question.
What benefits have you gained from following your dream as a writer?
For as long as I can remember, even predating public school, I wanted to be a writer. Now I have that. I am living the dream! It was far from easy, but it’s happening more and more; the bolder is rolling faster and faster.
I have spoken to book clubs, writers’ clubs, and elementary school children in assemblies with nearly 200 students present at a time. I love making up stories and telling stories!
Most recently, I have signed two book contracts for eight publications—each! That’s sixteen books on the way, audio editions already in the works, and I don’t front a dime. Publishers believe that I will make them money. And, thankfully, there are making enough to want more.
People believe in me. Can you understand how good that feels? They know that they will get books that will satisfy their need for escape, their need for a diversion from the dull or painful aspects of life. I am regularly recognized as a writer, and I think that is what I have wanted all along.
In 2011, one of my stories was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I was doing snoopy dances for a month.
What kept you motivated while working towards publication? And what keeps motivating you to keep writing?
Well these questions are a bit two-sided. I’ll answer them the best I can.
What kept me motivated while working towards publication before I was published? Hope! The dream! And I have always gained great strength from studying my peers, those who have traveled a little farther on the artistic road. Eventually rejection gave way to succeed.
What kept me motivated while working toward publication … yesterday? That is a little more fun. I know my books will get published; I just trust that fact. And if I’m wrong, I don’t care, because I know that other books that I write will get published. I’m working on a very exciting novel right now, and I am just loving the story. It is different from anything else that I’ve done, and I love doing things that I’ve never done before! So really, I’m doing it for the joy of writing and the prospects of greater success to come. The bolder is still rolling. (I just got a six-month check from my publisher for books that I wrote and published years ago. I was very happy.)
What keeps me motivated? Well, beyond what I have already said and implied, I feel so good after I have been writing. It is like a drug. In contrast, Ray Bradbury taught would-be writers, “A day without writing is a little death.” I feel that. I know what he was talking about.
Any advice you’d like to give aspiring authors wishing to be published as well?
My advice to aspiring authors who want to go pro is two-fold:
First, take time to decide (I like to imagine in writing; so perhaps one should write it out) what you really want from writing. Many women get married and write for fun at home. It is enough for them to vanity publish their work, show their stuff to family members, and receive their adoration and praise. Do you want money? Like a professional? Or do you, maybe, just want to see your name in a magazine that was published in the professional arena? Many don’t pay (literary mags, for instance), but you get credits (about half of my work is considered “literary” by the pros, even though the other half is genre fiction). These are fine goals. And it leads me to my second piece of advice.
If you want to get published, then I recommend my motto: The Writer waits for the publisher, the publisher doesn’t wait for the Writer. I used this almost as a mantra. It means the following: amateurs and wannabes are always waiting for the professional market to recognize their genius, even if no editor anywhere has a copy of their work on their professional desk in their professional office (contrary to most amateur chit-chat, pro publishers don’t fiddle around on the Internet reading the work of credit-less writers; they don’t have time, and they are trying to feed their families by making money every day); the would-be professional writer sends out as many manuscripts as possible and then waits to hear back from all these busy publishers while sending out even more.
I did this. It worked.
I hope this will be helpful to you in your class and in your future as a writer. Please don’t feel pressured to like anything that I have written. It is just the opinion of the majority of professional writers out there; certainly, it is mine. I don’t believe that many people who imagine themselves as professional writers have an inkling of all the real work that goes into it. Most of the job is not writing a new story. I wish it was. But all the pros talk about this. Most of the job is rewriting and marketing. If a writer doesn’t gain the business sense, then that writer is doomed to face a lot of heart-ache, anger, and depression. But as I said, there are many kinds of writers. Just imagine what you really want and then decide if you are willing to pay the price to get it. That is the best advice that I can think of.