The Job of Writing

We’ve all heard that in the current publishing environment you’d better enjoy the process of writing because publishing can be an elusive goal. I think this is very true. But can we really like every aspect of the job? And what is the job?  Outlining before-hand, for some. Writing, obviously. Revising.  Attending critique groups.  Revising.  Submitting.  Attending writing conferences. Revising.  Submitting.  Reading in your market niche.  Revising.  Submitting.  Blogging.  FaceBooking, for some.  Outlining.  Writing.  Rinse and repeat.

My dad once told me that I probably wouldn’t like 50% of any job I chose.  I think that figure is a little high unless you’re a masochist.  But still, I don’t approach every aspect of my job with the same joy.  I don’t approach the same aspect with the same joy on different days, but the work has to get done. Some days the ideas just won’t come.  That’s a good day for revising.  Some days you just can’t face going over that manuscript another time.  That’s a good day to write something new.

Sometimes I let it slide a little, reading instead of actually writing or revising or submitting.  That’s a good way to “refill the well,” but if I do that too many days in a row I start to go a little crazy.

News Flash:  Writing is hard work.  (Everyone reading this blog probably knows that.) So is revising.  And submitting.  They use very different skill sets.  Different writers approach them with varying amounts of dread, but they all have to be done.

What about marketing and promotion?  If you’re good enough and lucky, you’ll sell to one of the larger publishers where a good deal of this will be done for you.  They’ll still want you to blog and have web presence, but they’ll often help you with that. If you sell to a smaller press, more of the task will fall on your shoulders.  And if you decide to self-publish, your job description expands to include pretty much everything.

A commenter on another blog said she’d rather cut off her arm than do the self-promotion necessary to be successful as a self-publisher.  I sympathize.  It’s not my first love either.  I have mixed feelings about this comment though.  On the one hand you could say she knows herself and her limitations.  Self-publishing isn’t for everyone or for every book.  On the other, you could say she’s turning her back on an entire set of possibilities because she doesn’t like one aspect of the job.  An aspect she could hire out if she really didn’t want to do it (and could afford it).

Janni Simner made a good observation concerning this.  She said she’d rather work on the next book than take time away from writing to do self-publishing’s necessary design and marketing, or pay someone else to do it and wind up with a sub-standard product.

I don’t think the sub-standard product problem is a given, but the time issue is a valid one.  Life is short.  If you choose to self-publish you have to spend time educating yourself at least enough to hire the right people, or to do the job yourself.  This is time that could be spent writing and revising and submitting to traditional publishers.

Every business has grunt time.  As writers we spend it perfecting our craft and doing taxes. Some things aren’t fun, but are the foundation of getting us where we want to go.  (Which for most of us is having people read our work.)  Time spent marketing and doing promotion are part of the job of writing for the self-publisher.  (Although some people enjoy it, I suspect that as introverts, most writers don’t.)

Time is precious.  Spend it wisely.


Filed under Life, writing

11 responses to “The Job of Writing

  1. There’s definitely a lot more to writing than just writing.
    Thanks for giving us your perspective.

  2. This was a thought-provoking post. Much of the writing gig does feel like a job. I guess it’s a calling…are you willing to put up with the dull and draggy bits to get to the gold nugget? I’d wager most of us would say yes even on a really bad day.

    I’m not sure I see some parts of the marketing and self-promotion as a time-waster though? Partly, because like crafting prose, the more you do it, the better you get at it. If you loathe the marketing side of things and don’t want to learn it and don’t think of it as being fun, as some of us do, that’s surely not where you want to focus your time. Time spent in a profession should, I believe, produce value. To do that as an author requires a return in the form of either goals/creative satisfaction (finishing work, selling work) or in another form of yet more time (funded by money, increased access to doors formerly closed).

    Your last comment about most writers being introverts surprised me a little. I don’t think of most writers as introverts. Maybe this is because I don’t think of myself as an introvert. Many of us have spoken publicly to large audiences, run companies and fought large government bodies on behalf of animals who had no voice. I don’t think of those roles as introverted. So, that got me thinking about all the authors I know… Did you ever notice that most of the very published authors we have met through RWA over the last few years are not at all introverts? This might suggest something about how our own drive and marketing savvy might increase our reach to the masses. Not all best sellers contain well written prose and some obscure books that barely see the light of day are brilliantly written. There are a lot of factors contributing to the popularity outcome of both those situations, but based on my own in-person observations and conversations with bestselling authors over the last few years, I’d say being introverted as a writer and being a bestseller typically are not found together. Granted, not all of us can be bestsellers or extroverts, but it makes me question how much moving outside of our comfort zone can help us reach more readers, editors, agents and also sell more books?

    • You hit the nail on its head when you mention how “moving outside our comfort zone” may help us. I’m not sure whether my lack of assertiveness in submitting my work to agents and editors is due to introversion or merely a lack of confidence, but either way I have to push the boundaries of my comfort zone to do it.

      BTW, when I talk about introverts, I’m using the definition that I found many years ago “somewhere.” It said that extroverts are energized by being with people, introverts recharge themselves by being alone or with just a friend or two. (And this is a spectrum, not just an either/or.) As an introvert, I’ve learned to expand my people skills. I’ve learned to enjoy being in larger groups. But when I’m tired, I need to be alone for a while. I think that since so many of our job tasks are solitary ones, introverts gravitate to writing.

      • I have to push to both finish and submit, so I can certainly understand. And, using your definition, I would say I’m an introvert. Now this is making me think about the link between introvert/extrovert tendencies and confidence/assertive behavior… but that’s probably better addressed on a behaviorial psychology blog, not on yours 🙂

        I do tend to need quiet and what I call “down time” by myself, or at least to be at home, to recharge my battery. If I’m maxed out, I want quiet, low TV volume, no commotion and don’t enjoy video games during those times. I have had the experience of being very energized by time spent with friends, other writers and entertaining, but I do need quiet time in between and wouldn’t call myself a social butterfly by any means. Whatever the case, I have noticed that a lot of romance authors seem to be more assertive… or at least, more assertive than I, and I’d like to push myself outside my comfort zone a lot more. Good things happen when I do. 🙂

  3. I don’t see the extrovert/bestseller correlation at all in my field … J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins all come across as pretty reserved when they speak (which neither does often), yet they’re among the very bestselling writers out there. I get a similarly reserved vibe from Stephenie Meyer, though I’ve never actually heard her–maybe because I don’t think she ever spoke much either.

    When I think of successful writers I know, I come up maybe half and half, introvert and extrovert. If anything, maybe slightly more introverts. But mostly, no real correlation at all.

    Being an introvert certainly isn’t a career barrier, judging by the number of bestsellers I’ve read by same.

    • Perhaps it’s mostly the romance niche that seems filled with extroverts? I believe I mentioned RWA specifically in my note? And, since you’re writing in the YA and Fantasy genres, it may be more of a 50/50 proposition in those niches, I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t suggesting being an introvert was a career barrier, just an opportunity to see where, authors could help enhance the communications reach to readers, editors, agents. That doesn’t mean public speaking is a necessity. I was referring to that earlier on in my note only in the context of actions that might suggest whether one was an introvert or extrovert, and the fact that the mention of introvert in the post made me think about what kind of actions define one as an introvert or extrovert. While we might define ourselves as being in either category, my point was to question how going outside our comfort zone might help bolster our careers. As for JK Rowling, that’s like saying the majority of authors I’ve met have a career of that magnitude or at the success level of say, a Stephen King. The bestselling authors I’ve met through RWA, with the exception of a small few, like Nora Roberts, are not mega-bestsellers, like King or Rowling.

      • Also in the adult SF/fantasy fields I see a pretty high introvert ratio. I think it’s one of the reasons cons can often turn a little bit cliquish–a lot of people uneasy with being social, trying to be social all at once.

        And the 50/50 proportion comes more from the “merely” successful writers I’ve interacted with know. Any of the megabestsellers I know anything at all about seem to actually be introverts, to me. But that’s a smaller subsection, as you say.

        Though if it comes to that … as far as I can tell, the biggest bestsellers spend the least time on promotion. Which could indicate they don’t need to promote as much, but could also indicate they’re simply putting most of their energy into writing the next book, which as far as I can tell has more career-advancing power than anything else we can do, in multiple ways. But that’s the subject of a whole other post.

      • The writing has to come first — many hours and pages of it — in order to become proficient in our craft. “After” that (I use quotes because there really is no “after” the quest to improve our skills goes on and on) the question of the source of publishing success is sort of a chicken and egg thing. If you start with a good, well written book, does it become successful because the publisher promotes it? That is one of the benefits of going the traditional route after all. In the absence of publisher promotion, can a book succeed on it’s own merits? (We know it can, but to what degree?) Can an author’s efforts in this arena make a substantial difference? I believe so.

      • Good observation about SF conventions.

        The ratio in the population as a whole, as supported by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (which some dispute) is 25% introvert, to 75% extrovert. Some will be nearly indistinguishable, however, as they test out near the center of the scale.

      • And different fields do attract different proportions of all the personality types. (I’m assuming that 25/75% comes from things like Myers-Briggs and the Kiersey temperment sorter, which is where I heard it.)

        It’d be interesting to know what the breakdown of introverts and extroverts is among writers. Surely someone has looked at this …

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