Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire
seanan_mcguire

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Write! Right? Fifty MORE thoughts on writing.

A year ago, I posted my fifty thoughts on writing, which has since managed to turn into an essay series (don't ask me how that keeps happening to me). Naturally, my thinking about writing didn't stop with those initial fifty thoughts, and working on the essays has just made me think about writing even more. It's a little disturbing. I've spent the last year a) writing at a pace that makes me wonder what the hell I've been doing with myself for most of my life (oh, yeah—having a life), b) revising at a similar pace, and c) thinking about writing enough that it's a miracle that I haven't managed to set myself on fire. Just give me a little more time.

I've also spent the past year really digging myself into the reality of what it means to be a professional writer, even if I am not yet full-time. So today, because I still believe firmly in the art of over-sharing, I've decided to write down some more of my conclusions about writing...and my conclusions about what it means to be a working writer, which means that some of these may be less universally applicable, but may still be helpful for relating to the writers in your life. You may look at my list and go "wow, she's totally out of her tiny little blonde mind." You may look at this list and go "wow, I never thought of it that way." And either way is totally fine. My method of writing is not yours. Your method of writing is not mine. And we should all be very grateful for that, because if we cloned my muse, the world would rapidly run out of absinthe and cherry pie.

***

Seanan's Fifty More Thoughts on Writing, Now With Bonus Business.

***

1. Editors will change things. "I love you, you're perfect, now change" is basically the rallying cry of the editor, and that's okay. That's how this is supposed to work. Any editor who says "I want your work" will follow that statement with "but you need to change these eleven things." If you can't live with that, you're not going to be very happy dealing with real editorial input.

2. At the same time, you should know where you're not willing to compromise, and you should be very upfront about those sticking points. If you have an agent, make sure your agent knows exactly where your deal-killer plot and character points are. Write them down, in detail. Be prepared to justify your position. Be aware that yes, there's a chance your work may be passed over because of the things you won't change. That's reality.

3. Everything that isn't an absolute "I will die before I change this" element of your work is changeable. If there's one thing I've learned in the last year, it's that sometimes, the things I believe are too deeply ingrained to be altered are the ones that need to be tractor-pulled out of the ground and burned. Your editor's job is to identify those things and tell you what needs to be done with them. Listen to your editor.

4. Do not, however, listen to your editor to the extent of deciding that the editor is always right. No one is always right; not you, not your editor, not the man who fixes your coffee at Starbucks. Be prepared to argue when you have to. Just save those arguments for when they're really needed, rather than wasting them on the little things, like whether or not you spell "cabby" with a y.

5. If you're going to be a writer, you're going to need an accountant. As soon as you make a sale large enough to make people stop patting you on the head when you claim to be an author, inquire in your local writing community and find an accountant who specializes in working with authors. They exist. They understand what you're going to need to do to take care of yourself, and to best approach your new career. If you've never worked with an accountant before, they'll seem expensive, but trust me, they're worth every penny.

6. Until you have an accountant, protect yourself by putting a minimum of one-third of whatever you make directly into savings, do not pass "go," do not spend that two hundred dollars. Self-employment taxes are vicious and tricky, and you don't want to wind up in a bad position come tax time.

7. It is better to have no website than a bad website. It is better to have a good website than no website. There are independent web designers out there, and you can find them if you look. Again, it may seem expensive, but it's an expense that's very much worth it, in the long run. Also, keep in mind that you'll need to revamp your website every few years. Establishing a good relationship with a web designer will really help you with this process.

8. Social media sites are wonderful tools for the writer to use. That said, if you hop onto Facebook, hook up with a million friends, and then do nothing but send them bulk messages going "Omigawsh, buy my stuff!!!!", you're actually going to be losing sales. Do not use any form of social media network to which you cannot properly commit without looking like a spammer.

9. Especially as a beginning writer, you're going to need to self-promote. You can't avoid it. I'm very sorry if you're shy, because the effort of getting your career up and running is going to be even more terrifying and exhausting than it otherwise might be. That being said, there's a lot of competition in the world of today, and you need to make yourself noticed.

10. Don't be fake. Nobody likes a plastic person. That said, don't be entirely relaxed, either. I may like to swear like a sailor and burst randomly into song, but these are not appropriate things to do at a book signing (well, depending on the song). Treat public appearances and interactions where you're being "self as author" rather than "self as person who just saw a cockroach the size of Rhode Island" as exactly what they are: professional commitments. Be professional.

11. All this networking and promoting and appearing, it takes time. While you're spending this time, you won't be writing. This is a problem. This is especially a problem if, say, you have things that are going to be coming due before too much longer. I realize that my "schedule six months out" approach is foreign to most people, but it's still something you may want to consider adopting, at least until you've relaxed into knowing your own rhythms.

12. Sometimes, you're going to need to turn off the computer, turn off the telephone, shut the cats out of the room, and just work. We are masters of distracting ourselves. The urge to not be doing whatever "the job" is can be immense. Don't let it win. Failure to produce the product you've promised is failure, whether you're doing it for yourself, your editor, or that guy in the fanfic exchange whose name you pulled out of the hat.

13. Sometimes, you're going to need to step away from the keyboard, typewriter, fountain pen, or whatever else it is you use to ply your craft. Burnout is a dangerous thing, and it can come for even the most productive or prolific writer in the world. If you start getting stressed out about the very idea of writing, take a mental health day and come back to it when you can breathe.

14. Do not read Amazon reviews. Do not read Amazon reviews. They'll be evenly split between "this author is the second coming of the messiah" and "this author can't string three words together without shoving his head up his ass," and you don't need to hear either of those things. Have someone you trust read your Amazon reviews. If they see anything useful, they'll let you know.

15. You can read other reviews, if you really want to, but they won't all be positive. Make sure you're braced for a calm, reasonable, utterly methodical dissertation on why you suck.

16. There will be times when your work will reflect themes that you not only didn't mean to put there, but that you actively disagree with. I once wrote a novella where every female character died...and because I'm a girl, and I like to write about girls, a lot of female characters died. Add that to a gender-neutral name, and wow did I look like I hated women. If someone points out that a piece of your work appears to have one of these themes, don't shoot the messenger; give the text in question a serious review, and think about the big picture.

17. Submission guidelines are important. Do not ignore submission guidelines, unless you're in the mood to have a piece of work rejected and possibly make a permanent editorial shit-list. Read the guidelines. Love the guidelines. The guidelines are your friends.

18. When a piece of work is prepared for publication, every copy-edit and correction costs your publisher money. Make your manuscripts as clean as you possibly can. If you discover that your publisher does something you don't normally do (a space before dashes, a different sort of quote), try to internalize that, and turn in your next manuscript already formatted to their specifications. This will free up time and attention to focus on the things you really got wrong.

19. Do not argue with your publisher about grammar or punctuation. You are out-numbered. Also, once that contract is signed, you are wrong.

20. You are not suddenly a celebrity just because you wrote a novel. Playing the prima donna will still get you laughed at by your friends. If they're really good friends, they may actually pour things over your head, just to get their point across.

21. Being a writer means you're allowed to be "quirky." You can wear chainsaw earrings, or truly believe that orange and green are an attractive color combination. You're still going to need to own some nice clothes for business meetings, public appearances, and other such exciting events. Once you're rich and famous, you can wear tank tops and thongs for all most people will care, but until then, buy some decent pants.

22. Being a writer does not mean you're allowed to be rude. You do not suddenly have "front of the freebie line at Comicon" privileges, nor do you get the last cookie in the con suite. Please do not be an asshole just because you feel like you're a professional now. Being a professional actually reduces your asshole permissions.

23. You are never going to be perfect. But you should keep trying anyway.

24. Exercise will actually help you write. I'm serious. If you're blocked or stressed or convinced that you're entirely out of time and the world is about to end, get up, go outside, and take a walk. The fact that we live mostly inside of our heads doesn't mean that we get to forget about the rest of the body that goes with them.

25. Sleep will also help you write. If you force yourself to stay up until three in the morning racing your deadlines, you're going to mess things up that you'll have to spend time fixing later. Just cancel your weekend at the spa and go to bed already.

26. Learn to work no matter where you are. If you're taking the kids to Disneyworld, learn to work at Disneyworld. If you're flying to Australia, learn to work on the plane. You'll get your free time back later, when you've finished getting through the hard part.

27. The hard part is never actually over. But you can keep telling yourself that.

28. Being a writer means starting to think about stories way more than most people do after they graduate from, say, eighth grade. This is going to be distracting. This is going to result in nights where you're eating dinner and blocking out grand guignols in your head at the same time. Develop a strong stomach and learn to pause before answering the question "what are you thinking about?"

29. Your book is always going to be the other woman/other man in your life. Please make sure your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever, understands this, and is willing to be wooed back with flowers and chocolates after you've closed the file.

30. Listen to other writers when they talk. Don't believe everything they tell you. But listen. It's amazing what you can learn that way.

31. Design your work environment to be as comfortable, non-threatening, and right for you as it can possibly be. If that means you work in a cave, work in a cave. If it means you work in a happy cartoon wonderland, work in a happy cartoon wonderland. Your happiness with your surroundings will translate directly onto the page, and people will know.

32. Also, please take at least one day a month off and clean your office. You'll thank me when you realize how close you were to losing the only copy of your continuity bible.

33. Cats, children, and close friends exist to distract you from your work. This doesn't mean you can lock them out of the room. If they get insistent, give them some time. You're going to need them to be happy with you when you really board the crazytrain.

34. Surveys show that all debut authors will go crazy at some point within the thirty days prior to their first book release. Surveys further show that many authors will continue to go crazy, if slightly less so, for every successive book release. Be prepared for the crazy. The crazy is coming. Warn people about the crazy. And then duck, because it hits everybody differently.

35. Oh, remember all that stuff about getting an accountant? Start saving your receipts the second you actually start making an income as a writer. You'll be surprised by some of the things you can deduct. (No, you cannot deduct that pony you've been wanting to buy for yourself. Sorry about that.)

36. People like free stuff. Try to arrange for some free stuff, at least on the first few books, but make sure that it's at a level you can sustain. Remember, no one feels entitled to your cake until you've given it to them a few times. After that, they'll be hurt if you don't share.

37. If you're going to be doing a lot of conventions, get yourself a handler. Find a friend who might not be able to afford the convention and offer to pay their membership if it means they'll follow you around and make everything go. They can provide you with food, water, and an excuse to flee if the crowds are getting to be too much. This means they can also provide you with sanity. Worship your handler.

38. When you're a guest at a convention, be sure to communicate your needs calmly and clearly to the folks responsible for guest relations. Be as helpful and forthcoming as you can, and be aware that you fall on the importance scale somewhere below every single person at the convention who's more famous than you are. The more agreeable you are now, the more likely it is you'll get what you want when you actually have to dig your heels in.

39. Let people help you! When they ask what they can do to promote your book, tell them. It's not just self-interest; your friends and the people who know you want to feel involved with your journey. If they're involved, they may feel less like they're being ignored when you get sucked into revisions.

40. Don't beg people to help you. You really don't want to get on their nerves now. You're going to need them to have some tolerance left when release day comes.

41. Find out who owns all your local independent bookstores and genre-appropriate venues, and get to know them now, while you're not demanding anything from them. Most bookstores enjoy supporting local authors, and they, too, would be thrilled to be a part of this journey with you. Provided you're not a dick. If you're a dick, you're on your own.

42. It's a good idea to have a "fun" project, something you're doing less because you have to, and more because it gives you a way to blow off some steam and relax a little. Just don't let it take time away from the work you have under contract, and don't show it to your agent unless you want to come up with a replacement "fun" project when it turns into actual work.

43. With all these demands on your time, you're going to be tempted to say that you don't have time to read. Make the time to read. I mean it.

44. Make sure to check in with your beta readers from time to time, for reasons other than "where are my edits?" Most of them are probably reading for you because they're your friends. It would be nice if they were still your friends when this was finished.

45. Take a moment before you hit "send" on any message to your agent, editor, publicist, or editing pool. Are you sure you want to say that? Seriously? Okay...just be sure.

46. Spelling counts. The spellcheck cannot save you from everything. For the love of all that is holy, do your best to learn to spell. There are even books of commonly misspelled words. They can help you.

47. It's okay to call your best friend and sob hysterically about that thing that happens in chapter three, but you still shouldn't do it while you're on the bus, and you shouldn't expect anything other than sympathetic noises from the other side of the phone.

48. No one is required to like your work. No, not even your mother.

49. Christopher Walken says he'll do anything reasonable that's asked of him, because he's so damn lucky to be able to make a living doing what he loves. Christopher Walken is a very smart man. I spend a lot of time trying to be Christopher Walken. So should you.

50. Write.
Tags: advice, contemplation, writing
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