Tuesday, April 13, 2010


One of my writer friends shared this blog entry by literary agent Nathan Bransford with me today. In it, Bransford asserts that a writer's greatest asset isn't talent, or skill, or even a good literary agent. It's willpower.

Writers that succeed at any level, whether it's completing a full-length manuscript, getting an agent, getting published, or becoming super-successful bestselling authors, have one thing in common----writing isn't a do-it-when-you-feel-like-it hobby to them. It's work. Work that they've committed to at a deep level, work that they treat like a full-time job (even if they already have one doing something else). Writers work harder, and longer, (and for less money, natch) than just about anybody.

Every time I go to a cocktail party, or a wedding reception, or a children's play date, people ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I'm a writer. They usually raise their eyebrows at me and say, "No, really. What do you do?"

To which I reply, "I'm a writer. It's what I do for money. It's my job."

I then go on to explain that I write journalism pieces for magazines and newspapers. And I do healthcare writing for universities and healthcare companies. And I'm a playwright (produced AND published, thank you). And I'm a novelist (published, too). I even do some freelance editing on the side from time to time.

I'm always amused by some of the replies I get when I tell people what I do. Like most freelance writers, I explain that I'm self-employed, earning a modest living that I've cobbled together writing for multiple markets. I've written several books, and even have had some of them (a lot of them, actually) published. Sometimes I get these corny, naive replies like, "But doesn't everybody get their books published after they write them?"

Um, no. (I always have to roll my eyes at that one.) Only about 5% of completed novel manuscripts actually see commercial publication. The numbers are slightly higher for nonfiction, but not by much. And that doesn't even include all of the unfinished manuscripts floating around out there.

I also get really annoyed with all the people who think just because I've had a few novels published, I must be as rich as Stephen King. (Um, no.) According to the Author's Guild (which by the way, sets strict publication criteria for its members before admitting them), the average annual income of the American freelance writer is $10,000. Yeah. As in, below the federal poverty line.

But the people who annoy me the most are the people who say, "You know, I've always wanted to be a writer, but---", or "You know, I have this great idea for a book, but I just don't have time to write," or my personal favorite, "You know, I really think I should write my life story, but I'm not really a writer, so will you write it for me? And then after you write it, will you let me put my own name on it and also let me keep all the $$ it makes when it hits the New York Times bestseller list?" (You'd be surprised how often I've heard that one. And not from celebrities offering big ghostwriting bucks, either.)

I'm also annoyed by people I like to call halfassed writers. These are people who have actually managed to finish writing the first draft of a manuscript or two, but then they don't have the balls to sit down and do the hard work of revisions, researching the publication markets, querying agents and publishers, etc. These are people who will leave their first drafts sitting in drawers for years, lamenting why no one will give them a book deal (or a play production, or a newspaper contract, whatever). Any working professional writer will tell you that the actual writing is only about 20% of the equation. The other 80% is hustling yourself and your work to the businesspeople (publishers, producers, etc) who will pay you for it. And that part of the biz is just brutal.

But here's the thing I hate the most---"writers' block." I really hate it when the reason people give for not writing is "writers' block." I have one friend in particular who is a halfassed member of a couple writers' groups I participate in. For the past two years, this person has been flaking out of attending our meetings because he has supposedly had writers' block for that entire time.

People, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITERS' BLOCK. Do you know what writers' block really is? It's called being lazy.

As Bransford says in his blog post, real writers are the people who force themselves to write even when they don't want to. Real writers write even when there are eight hundred other things they'd rather be doing instead. Real writers sit down at the computer (or typewriter, or longhand journal, whatever) and write laundry lists if nothing else will come out.

In other words, real writers have willpower. Lots of it.


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