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.

Struggling as an Author? Success Depends on Marketing More than Words

Publishing in a world today, where the market is saturated by wannabes and talent, is growing increasingly difficult. Navigating your way around the industry has never been more difficult, contrary to all the self-help blogs out there.

Instead, the contemporary publishing industry is a diverse environment of complex trade sector trends and arising challenges, something that most self-published authors struggle to grasp. Despite this, the author as publisher must consider marketing trends and professional networks if any moderate amount of success is to be achieved. How these networks and practices influence the role of marketing (one of the single most important strategies to guarantee author success), coupled with the author’s role in promoting the book, and how product placement sees the book into the hands of a ‘gatekeepers’ will inevitably determine success.

It’s a long-winded process, with no short cuts available. What was once an industry of traditional printing, publishing, and bookselling, straightforward in its procedures, is now a series of complex relationships interdependent with one another—and difficult to negotiate.

Vying for market and customers in an exceedingly competitive industry equates no longer to the publishing industry being a ‘straight-forward’ author-publisher-distributor relationship. The new trends and challenges are unprecedented, and with price wars between billion-dollar franchises like Amazon, Kmart and Walmart selling books below cost to entice customers through doors, the logistics of publishing an author to success are becoming increasingly challenging.

Once Upon A Time…

The contemporary publishing industry trends traditionally relied on several interwoven industries, but with the event of technology, some of these are changing. Publishing is and has only ever been one part of the complex relationship (though integral) of producing a text, whereas printing, the logistics of marketing, distributing and bookselling—whether digital or in bricks and mortar stores—and the authoring of the book also play crucial roles in the success of publishing.

The publishing world has long engaged with agents, proof-readers, editors, and marketers, as well as sales representatives, illustrators, and publicists, but not until recently has the industry directly engaged with its consumers to survive. A move driven largely by independent publishing.

The importance of the publishing companies’ engagement with the consumer—and this includes the self-published multitasking author who dons the publishing and marketing hats—is vital for success. By treating the publisher as the gatekeepers to young readers, librarian Karys McEwen stresses that marketing is vital for generating genuine interest, and influences the type of book purchased for the high school libraries she works in.

Ventura Press publisher Jane Curry agrees that marketing is the crux of the industry. The publishing business exists purely to make a profit. The bigger you are as a publisher the more likely profits are made.

It is a common theme within the industry no matter who you are. The contemporary publishing industry now pushes the smaller and medium-sized publishers into increasingly niche markets, to compete against global giants like Penguin Random House and Hachette. Only the most switched on independent publishers succeed.

The book selling industry is depressing. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, and sometimes talent simply doesn’t count as much as the marketing.

However, it isn’t all bad news for the author. The development of new media flooding the market has a silver lining, explains editors Anabel Pandiella and Tom Saras. They highlight how professional networks are reliant on collaborations which result from new media, and how streaming platforms and well-placed entertainment magazines enhance this. Reflecting on their collaboration with Who magazine to “host book clubs for Who readers”, Saras saw an increase of author’s sales. Pandiella, who promoted a novel by partnering with an SBS streaming platform, also saw an increase of up to 30 percent in author’s sales. Professional book publishing networks are essential for success.

However, in the current climate of self-publishing—a result of publishing due largely to discontent in earnings and the inability to secure a publishing contract—presents the question of what remains of the role of the author?

Tasked to doing most of the work themselves, the evolution of large-scale self-publishing has changed the face of the author’s role in publishing, even in a traditional setting with a publisher. Editing, marketing, and the author’s ability to maintain their own webpages, and other digital promotion is now commonplace for authors of any fashion. The alternative self-publishing mode has created a publisher’s requirement that an author must have some proof of ‘membership’ within the literary community through these tools and networking, even if it is minimal.

The role of the author in marketing is crucial to the success of sales. The author’s “genuine” involvement with their books when marketing on social media platforms, attributes some publishing success to the author’s display of authenticity for the public to identify with. This becomes more important if what Pandiella suggests is occurring with notable consumer interest dropping away from the Internet and digital marketing.

The saturation of digital marketing creates a difficult online environment for marketers and publicists to negotiate; suggesting the importance of a ‘personable’ author to boost revenues via social capable—an approachable author online and off. The crucial role of publishers—large and independent ones—in promotional capacity is essential.

The author’s role is to maintain the professional networks within the publishing industry and to maintain them in a rapidly evolving publishing environment.

40 Ways to Exploit Facial Expressions in Your Writing

writing facial expressions

You’ve finally finished your first draft of the next magnificent, ground breaking novel. Give yourself some credit and congratulate yourself. Authoring a book isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it’s a task most people never achieve.

Unfortunately, getting the story down on the proverbial piece of paper is only half the battle. Your first draft will be crap—there’s no getting around it. And that’s okay. But it means your WIP requires a lot of editing, much re-reading, and a lot of dust collecting as it sits in a drawer for weeks to bake—you need to do this for a fresh editorial perspective.

If you’re doing the right thing by your work (and yourself as a writer), the time spent away from your completed draft is time you’ll spend researching. You’ll need to research basics like do I really capitalize that noun or not; what makes a verb an adverb; the oxford comma placement; and general narrative structure.

But most of all, you’ll want to scrutinize your writing faults.

THE EYES/BROWSMOUTH GESTURESFACIAL EXPRESSIONSTHE SKIN
He winkedHer jaw droppedHer expression dulledHer face flushed
Lines etched his browHis smile fadedHe scowledHe paled
Tears filled her eyesHis jaw clenchedShe cocked her headExcessive makeup
The lack of eye contactShe smiled half-heartedlyThe smile reached his eyesBeads of sweat formed on his face
He closed his eyes and sighedHe gave a Cheshire Cat grinHer puffy faceThe smile dimpled his skin

More common than not is the writer’s habit of conveying dull facial expressions for their characters. “He looked/she looked” isn’t satisfactory, I’m afraid. The odd raise of the eyebrow is okay, but it’s not telling me a lot about yourself other than you’re reading this with a slight pang of curiosity.

I want to read about scepticism, vindictiveness or anger, and have it used as a solid dialogue tag or descriptor for a larger scene. Show me the traits, their temperament, and their fears.

Make your characters human.

To catch and hold a reader’s attention, your characters need to experience the life you’ve placed them in. Show their embarrassment with the crimson colour of their skin. Did their face harden as a result? Did recognition dawn on their face as terror overtook their fleeting glance, while their side-kick’s face contorted and twisted in terror?

Or maybe their face simply went blank. [insert crickets chirping].

HAPPINESSHOSTILITYFEARSHAME
Broad smileVein throbbed in neckShaky smileBiting of lip
WhistlingSnarlingBlinking rapidlySwallowing hard
Sparkling eyesSideways glanceDarting glanceSweating
WinkingFlared nostrilsPale featuresGlancing away
LaughterSneeringTrembling featuresDownward gaze

Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and Stephen King are masters of character expression (and great reads). Study the greats while you distance yourself from your draft. Get a fresh perspective for when you do your first line-by-line edit.

And remember, context is crucial for conveying expression; and writing is far from easy.

So, if you want your audience’s nose to flare with anticipation and not bore them with two-dimensional nonsense, then clench your jaw, nibble on your bottom lip and look heavenward as you contemplate the descriptors for your editing kick start.

A Beautiful Mess

The world of words is a scary place when laid on a platter for everyone to feast upon. Not only that, it’s unglamorous, lonely, and equates to a low level of pay for the rate of hours put in. Too much coffee is consumed, marriages end in divorce, and your kids end up in a strange haze of detesting you as they honestly sing your praises.

Sitting here at my desk, late at night, a single kind of co-parent – the kids are in bed and I’ve just hit the 31 thousand word limit I’ve set for myself this month – I’m contemplating a crossroad.

I’m surrounded in a chaos of books, strewn papers and incense; I love what I see. There’s a world map angled on the wall, two cats curled by the fire, and the candlelight flickers as I write. For two months I have confined myself to my desk, tasting for the first time the life of an uninterrupted writer. It is bliss.

In around 56 hours that two-month bliss will abruptly end. I am to return to the mundane; and although I can afford to live off my writing alone, I choose for the moment to return. I’ve never been good with uncertainty – growing up in poverty has that effect – but really, if I’m honest, it’s only in the last two weeks, you see, that I’ve accepted myself as a writer.

For three years I have been a paid writer, and technically if you count my first royalty cheque from Amazon, that takes me back seven years. But it’s only now that I can accept it as truth. And I ask why?

At the newly hit age of 40, maybe I’m having a midlife crisis. Or maybe I’ve just realised that if I’m on a good wicket, judging by maternal genetics, I’m already halfway through my ‘young’ life. That I’ve only realised it’s okay to be a ‘paid’ writer may have something to do with me opting for the misery that is ‘real’ and stressful work.

I’ve given myself a set deadline to resign from the ‘other’ soul-draining job. I think by then I can come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I beg myself, I will always . . . be . . . a writer.

Copyright © 2019

Diary of a Dystopian Writer

Dear Diary,

We’re strange creatures. We lock ourselves away, isolated from the real world, yet go a million miles per hour, delving into the pretend one. Rarely does the wordsmith receive understanding from the outside; only acceptance, tolerance . . . and the obligatory: but they’re a writer, as though it explains the obvious.

Writers, I think, are inherently hyperactive. Hyperactive with a splash of the neurotics. Those who aren’t writers will disagree. We resemble that of a sloth in the mornings, hunting out our first caffeine hit with the grace of a moss-covered creature. We then retreat to our cave, slowly experiencing the ritual metamorphosis, until we resemble something closer to a primate. By nightfall, the writer is a standoffish human form – a sight to behold; it’s a remarkable transformation—or so I’ve been told.

Let’s face it: writing, as a career, is one of the more mentally dystopian, draining, contemptuous acts a single person will ever embark on. It isn’t an easy career, and by all means not an easy choice. Much like our fellow tortured artists—painters, musicians, photographers—we’re outsiders looking into a world, desperate to understand the cogs and wheels turning beneath the madness. We clutch at what we know, with it sometimes slipping through our fingers. (Notebook, anyone?)

From this desperation we search every corner and every nook of our mind, trying to determine what it is to be human. Facial expressions, traits, environmental settings, secrets, how one speaks, mannerisms, stressors and reactions, suffering, misery, pain, excruciating death . . . to write is to be human. To create is divine.

And then the lone writer will constantly haggle with their inner being, nag at, doubt, accuse, and often hold such ridicule for oneself: Are we good enough? Are our thoughts worthy? Do we matter? The furball-so-called-writing companion on the desk is staring at me again . . . Am I talking out loud?! Am I paranoid? You examine the pros and cons, ins and outs of the world and then you doubt yourself even more.

And then there are those writers who routinely sit for 8 hours, produce their word count and sip iced water . . . really? [enter crickets chirping]

Then you edit, you censor, you rewrite—only to decide the original is more fitting—you pace your study, you publish, you retract, you publish again; you drink more coffee, pat the cat, and go to bed.

But you don’t sleep. Your mind wanders to your characters, your writing, your words, your day, and whether Good Charlotte will break up when they’re in their 70s? What moisturiser does Gerard Butler use and can I have some? Incessant randoms continue to haunt your Z’s until the alarm clock yells ‘Wake Up!’ only for the writer to start their day again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

A lot of writers are divorced, are hermits or have married other writers (or musicians—a strange co-existence in itself). Their children usually go on to other artistic ventures, only because they were forced in childhood to befriend their make believe worlds out of loneliness; rejected for the wordcount. That, or they practice accounting.

It is what it is, folks. But before you poke fun at the writer next time, spare a thought for their poor soul. The writer didn’t choose this wretched path. It chose them.

Now, do I hit publish or pat the cat instead?

Copyright © 2019