Can the Working Writer Be an Artist?

Every four seconds, someone buys a novel by Lee Child, author of the popular Jack Reacher series. That’s 15 books every minute; 900 every hour; 21,600 every day.

University of Cambridge lecturer Andy Martin’s new book, Reacher Said Nothingfollows Child throughout the writing of Make Methe 20th of Child’s Jack Reacher blockbuster novels, providing Child’s fans and anyone with an interest in the creative process with unprecedented access to the writer at work.

The part of Martin’s book that most interested me was the copy of Child’s schedule for one writing day:

7:45 Up, straight to work
Coffee 3 (mugs)
Camels 3

9:28 Breakfast. Sugar Smacks

9:35 Back to work
Coffee 3
Camels 5

1:29 Lunch
Toast and marmalade and cheese (Swiss)
Coffee 2
New Yorkers 1

1:55 Back to work
Coffee 5
Camels 7

7:01 Dinner
Alpen cereal
Coffee 2
Camels 4

7:35 Evening shift
Coffee 4
Camels 7

10:20 Shut down

Total number of words in the day: 2,173

Total mugs of coffee: 19

Total Camels: 26

I was fascinated not just because of the daunting amount of coffee and tobacco Child takes in every day, but because this rigorous accounting of his writing day reminded me of a similar account given by Anthony Trollope in his autobiography in 1883. Trollope reported that he sat down to write every morning at 5:30. (He paid a servant an extra £5 annually to be sure that he was awakened on time.) He then wrote for three hours, after which he left to go to his job at the post office. Trollope records that it was his practice “to write with my watch before me, and to require from myself 250 words every quarter of an hour. I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went.”

Writing at this rate, he found, “allowed me to produce over ten pages of an ordinary novel volume a day, and if kept up through ten months, would have given as its results three novels of three volumes each in the year… which must at any rate be felt to be quite as much as the novel-readers of the world can want from the hands of one man.”

The autobiography closes with the Victorian equivalent of a spreadsheet recording the titles of Trollope’s novels, their publication dates, and the amount he was paid for each one.

Trollope’s autobiography came close to killing his literary legacy.

Unlike Child’s readers — cheerful purchasers of genre fiction who are thrilled to have new novels produced as rapidly as they can be consumed — Trollope’s readers, and the critics who weigh his fitness as a “real writer,” were not content to think of writing as a job and novels as a product of work. They had been trained by the Romantic movement to think of writing as a mysterious, spiritual experience where one is overtaken by inspiration.

The English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley gives probably the best example of that Romantic theory of creativity in his 1821 Defense of Poetry. While he writes specifically about poetry in that book, this same theory would have been applied to novels, paintings, drama, and nearly any creative endeavor of the time.

A man cannot say, “I will compose poetry.” The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the color of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure.… I appeal to the greatest poets of the present day, whether it is not an error to assert that the finest passages of poetry are produced by labor and study.

Writing, for the Romantics, was not a matter of sitting down at a writing desk at a particular time and not getting up until the day’s work was complete. The Romantics waited for inspiration.

And so when Anthony Trollope listed his daily schedule, the Romantics and the critics who loved them dismissed him completely.

It did not help that Trollope noted,

I do lay claim to whatever merit should be accorded to me for persevering diligence in my profession. And I make the claim, not with a view to my own glory, but for the benefit of those who may read these pages, and when young may intend to follow the same career. Nulla dies sine lineâ [Not a day without a line]. Let that be their motto. And let their work be to them as is his common work to the common labourer. 

Now, a little more than 130 years later, Lee Child is joining Trollope in sharing his less-than-romantic writing process with the world. I strongly suspect that he will respond to any critique of his productivity with, “Millionaire, don’t care,” but I suspect nearly as strongly that there won’t be such a critique.

Child is already firmly fixed in the minds of critics as a genre novelist — which means he is less subject to critical snark. But also, we are no longer shocked to hear that writers follow 18th-century English writer Samuel Johnson’s advice: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”

Indeed, lately readers are far more likely to excoriate their favorite writers for not producing new works fast enough. I think Trollope might have enjoyed that.

I know he would have been at his desk at 5:30 tomorrow morning, writing. I suspect Lee Child will be as well. After all, there’s work to do.

Note:

This is Trollope’s accounting of his novels and what each one earned:


(Written by Sarah Skwire) Published under Creative Commons. Attributed to Foundation for Economic Freedom.

7 Tips for Millennials Who Want to Write a Book

Every generation faces unique challenges, especially now in the publishing space.

(Written by Remso W. Martinez)

I know many people who want to write a book, and that’s where it ends. They want to write a book, but they either don’t put in the work to turn this dream into a reality, or they give up somewhere along the process. This is a constant problem in the publishing world, but millennials are uniquely advantaged to become the generation that publishes more books than any other in human history.

The ability to research, the tools to write, and the resources to publish and build a brand are more accessible now than at any other point in history. So what is in our way? What unique obstacles will potential writers encounter that can either harm them or help them?

study from 2016 tells us what we already know: Millennials are distracted by their phones. They are distracted in the classroom, behind the wheel, and are even replacing face-to-face communication with a screen out of pure convenience. I’m not here to bash phones—ultimately, humans are choosing to enable these behaviors, and phones are just the outlets.

If you want to commit to something as hefty as writing a book, you need to place limits on yourself and build some personal discipline.

Trust me, your phone won’t walk off, and the world won’t end if you ignore Facebook and Twitter for at least an hour.

This means putting the phone away, disconnecting from the internet on your laptop if you have to, and dedicating a consistent block of time to writing your draft. Your only thoughts and focus should be on your manuscript.

Trust me, your phone won’t walk off, and the world won’t end if you ignore Facebook and Twitter for at least an hour.

The internet is a beautiful monstrosity and a terrifying masterpiece, and we are the first generation to be completely fluent in it. From online masterclasses to YouTube tutorials, writing cooperatives, and tools to help you while you are actively writing, there is no question or challenge you could face that someone hasn’t encountered—and overcome—that hasn’t already been addressed.

Also, for non-fiction works and even research, the ability to contact subject matter experts, witnesses, and other key people necessary for you to get the full picture is as easy as a click of a button. Your ability to craft a well-rounded, thorough book isn’t just possible—it’s real, it’s easy, and it’s as accessible as making a quick search on your phone.

Having a body of existing work isn’t just needed to convince publishers you are serious; it’s also necessary in order to convince your readers you are actually someone worth listening to. You don’t need much to earn some credibility; you just need to show readers that you were contributing to your field prior to writing this book. There are plenty of blogs, outlets, and opportunities for even “Letters to the Editor” where you can get published. Even if you have to start your own blog, podcast, or website, anything is better than nothing.

The same principles apply to fiction, too. Have you published fan fiction on a forum? Have you entered a short story contest? Do you blog about a television show or a comic book series? Everything adds up and is necessary for long term success. This will help you when you need to find an audience to market your book, too.

Don’t write like you text or talk to your friends. Period.

I hear from professors and editors all the time that well-intentioned people will use shortcuts as they write. “JK” and “LOL” don’t have a place in your book unless you’re writing dialogue. Discussions of new websites, apps, and technology are always going to be alien to some people despite their age. When writing, even for a targeted audience that might understand your professional vernacular, you have to assume your reader knows nothing.

Using discretion, you might need to explain what TikTok is. (I’m 24, and I still don’t understand TikTok, so do me a favor and explain it.)

This isn’t a problem just for millennials; all generations talk a different “jive” so to speak, so keep this in mind regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction.

The broke millennial stereotype isn’t even that; it’s a part of reality for many of us. Specifically, if you are self-publishing, you’re going to have to pay for editing (multiple times), copyright, cover art, marketing, and all the other random expenses that always seem to take more cash from your wallet.

Your readers and customers don’t care about your life circumstances. They want a quality book, just like you would expect if you were buying one.

I worked as a mall cop just so I could funnel that money back into my book, so you can easily drive for Uber or even curb your spending. Besides, if you hustle, you could potentially make that money back and eventually walk away with a profit.

Understand that age discrimination is a real thing, and being in your twenties and writing a book looks more like an unrealistic passion project than something that will result in a final project. Now is your time to prove this perception wrong.

There are plenty of outlets and organizations that want to boast about having the next intelligent, fresh face who can be the future of their field. Sometimes it may be patronizing, but as anyone in business or even Hollywood will tell you, if you got it, work it.

Don’t do anything you’ll regret years from now just to make a quick but or get five minutes of attention, though this is easier said than done in hindsight. Seek counsel, look to others in your field, and remember that once you publish a book, you are a public figure. How you push your product reflects on you, and how you carry yourself reflects on your product, too.


Published under Creative Commons. Attributed to Foundation for Economic Freedom.

The 4 Pillars of Good Writing

How to “deschool” your writing.

Which hard skill do recent college grads lack the most? In 2016, PayScale.com asked employers this question. The top response was “writing proficiency.”

Wow. Our education system teaches few practical skills, but it does emphasize writing. So what gives? Incompetent teachers? Unteachable students?

Actually, the problem for many college graduates is having absorbed their academic training all too well. The challenge for them is to unlearn the bad writing habits picked up from 16-plus years of school.

Doing so takes the right approach, but it also takes work. An article can’t teach you good writing. At best, it can teach you how to teach yourself to write well. So, I won’t offer much style advice. Instead, I’ll explain the mentalities and practices that are most fundamental for becoming a good writer, and that are also most missing among young writers, as I’ve found as an editor and writing coach.

As a student writer, your job was to perform according to specifications. A successful essay was one that jumped through the right hoops as defined by the assignment requirements and grading rubrics. It also demonstrated that you had done the reading and attended the lectures.

Real-world audiences are looking for a good experience, not a “correct” performance.

But as a real-world writer, you’re now in the experience business. Your job is to show your readers a good time: to intrigue and inspire, to enlighten and engross, to please and provoke. You’re a dealer in fascinating ideas and satisfying arguments, a purveyor of a-ha moments and epiphanies.

Now you’re writing for readers, not graders. Real-world audiences are looking for a good experience, not a “correct” performance.

But to offer a good experience, you must be able to recognize one. Every good chef is to some extent a connoisseur. Similarly, to be a good writer, you need to be a discriminating reader. To produce quality writing, you must be able to appreciate it when you read it and to distinguish it from mediocre or poor writing.

How does one become a connoisseur of food? Through practice: eating a lot of dishes, especially delicious ones. How does one become a connoisseur of words? Again, through practice: reading a lot of books and articles, especially ones you love. To be a good writer, you need to be an avid reader.

I myself only blossomed as a writer after I rediscovered my long-lost love of reading.

College students read a lot. Why doesn’t that make them good writers? The problem here is that it is mostly compulsory. There is no space to seek and discover what kind of reading experiences you love if all your reading time is taken up with stuff you are assigned. You cannot make someone a connoisseur by force-feeding them.

Your reading diet needs to be voluntary if it is going to help you figure out the kind of writing you love. Find a topic you are curious about, look for some well-reviewed titles on Amazon, and dive in.

I myself only blossomed as a writer after I rediscovered my long-lost love of reading. And that only happened after I graduated from college and was no longer tied down to a syllabus.

It was only after being able to recognize excellent history writing that I was able to produce it myself.

My first post-grad reading love affair was with books about history. I became obsessed with learning the story of human civilization, from ancient Mesopotamia to the present. Through pursuing this passion, I developed a discriminating taste for history writing.

Later, I started writing historical vignettes of my own. These were published on a major website and garnered admiring comments from readers. This was my debut as a published writer.

It was only after being able to recognize excellent history writing that I was able to produce it myself.

In your first draft, when you are initially hammering out your sentences, good taste will be of some help. But where it really makes a difference is in self-editing.

Be picky with your own prose. Demand quality. Now that you know what you like, go back and edit your own writing until you enjoy reading it: ideally until you love it.

Take as many editing passes as needed to carve the piece into something you’re proud of.

Rearrange sections to ensure a logical flow. Reword awkward phrases. Add creative flourishes, like a vivid metaphor or a delightful turn of phrase. Make the wording musical to your mind’s ear. Tweak and fine-tune. Take as many editing passes as needed to carve the piece into something you’re proud of.

Above all, prune. If you’ve recently graduated from college, your writing is probably way too wordy. Minimum word counts have trained you to pad your prose.

Here’s a worthwhile exercise: next time you write something, try cutting its word count in half. Comb through every passage and ruthlessly delete anything that doesn’t clearly contribute value to the piece.

Is that paragraph a digression? Remove it. Would your meaning be clear without that adverb? Zap it. All that verbal foliage will only drag the reading experience down. Once you trim it away, your piece will be much more brisk and enjoyable.

The more frequently you write, the faster you’ll improve as a writer.

No amount of tips and tricks will make you a good writer. It is not a matter of adopting the right formula or following an expert’s dos and don’ts. Ultimately, it’s up to you to teach yourself how to write well through experience and self-evaluation. Most best practices can only be learned through actual practice.

And as with any form of training, you have to get your reps in. The more frequently you write, the faster you’ll improve as a writer. Start a blog with Medium.com or WordPress.com. Challenge yourself to write and click publish every day for a month.

Share your posts on social media. Occasionally review your older posts and notice how your writing has evolved. Identify flaws that seem to be persisting or virtues that seem to be missing. Push yourself to improve every week. If you do that for a month, you are certain to be a much better writer than when you began.

Why not start today?

Reprinted from the Praxis blog.

Dan Sanchez
Dan Sanchez

Dan Sanchez is the Director of Content at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and the editor of FEE.org.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.