Time-wasting Techniques for Writers

Let’s face it, many writers actually avoid writing. In fact, I know lots of writers who have given up completely, but they all seem to do it in different ways.

Some writers stop writing by “courting the muse.” They may wander to foreign countries while spending years researching a novel, or take long nature walks every day, or spend a lot of time at the gym, all in the hopes of feeling inspired. All of those things are great in moderation, and most authors actually know that inspiration almost always comes when you are down in the trenches, working your butt off on a new manuscript. But still they court the muse in all the wrong places. Hey folks, those aren’t muses you’re courting, they’re succubi!

One of the most horrible succubi is the one named “self-promotion.” Now, it’s true that as authors we need to do some self-promotion, but many writers carry it to extreme excess. I find that as a writer, I’m always being invited to conventions or book signings, for example. I love doing those kinds of events, and I love being invited to do them. But it would be very easy to destroy my life by going to them.

Let me give you an example. I was invited recently to give a talk in Wyoming about my book In the Company of Angels. Now, the place I need to go is a seven-hour drive from my home. So I need to plan on 14 hours of travel time. Then of course there is gas and wear-and-tear on the car, and we have to come with the fact that I will lose two days off of work. So the total costs for this self-promotion to me is roughly a minimum of $1000. So I’m happy to do it, but this is the kind of thing that I can’t do very often—once or twice a year.

But I know authors who do it once or twice a week. Some folks become so enamoured with being celebrities that they eventually lose any free time to write. Quite literally, they are going to a new convention or speaking at a library or writers group twice a week, and eventually they become what I call an “author” instead of a “writer.” A writer is someone who writes for a living. An author is someone who writes infrequently, as a hobby.

There’s a side note to this that has to do with bookselling. Very often when you’re an author and you go to a convention, the convention will have a designated bookseller who is supposed to handle your books. This bookseller will almost always “have trouble” getting your books in, and so they will ask you to bring your own books, let the bookseller sell them, and then reimburse you. The problem is that when you as an author get your books from your publisher, you get them at a 40% discount. But then you have to pay to have them shipped to you. And if you’re going to carry a bunch of books on a plane, you may have to pay expensive baggage fees. Then when you get to the convention, you are asked to sell them to the bookseller at a 40% or even a 30% discount. Guess what? You’re screwed. You end up selling every book at a significant loss, and if you sell a thousand dollars in books, you end up losing $200. It’s not a wise business plan. A note to folks planning conventions: I love booksellers, but I want to make a profit too, particularly when I do all the work and take all of the risk. The same thing often happens with schools. I had a school a couple of years ago that desperately wanted me to drive for many hours to talk to the kids, but they wouldn’t let me bring books to sell and of course they had no money to pay for my expenses. It turned out that the principal of the school was morally opposed to the idea that the author make any money. Unfortunately, I just had to say no to that deal.

There are a lot of writers who have entire “time-wasting routines.” They turn it into an art form. They have to make sure that the email has been checked, along with their bank account, and that the cats are fed and petted, and the bed is made. They need to make sure that the news is watched and a favorite video game is played, and that they’re music channel is set to the right station on the stereo, and that they’ve got their three-mile jog in, and all of their 5000 Facebook friends are doing well. They have to be fed, have their favorite beverage nearby, poop, and be sitting in a perfectly comfortable writing chair. Only then, can they write, only then.

The problem is, that their routine keeps growing longer as they get older. I have one friend whose routine consisted in part of getting himself “loosened-up” by sitting on his porch and drinking beer. He couldn’t get loosened-up enough until he got to about his sixteenth beer, and by that time he was ready for a nap.

Screw your freaking routine! Sit down and focus on your writing. When you’ve worn yourself out on brain work, then you can have fun at the gym or find out how fat your accounts are. The writing must become your priority.

You as a writer are a one-person global enterprise. You produce and sell your fiction. You market it to publishers and movie studios in hundreds of countries around the world. No one else can or will create your art for you, and it won’t get done without you. So you need to treat your writing like a business, or all too soon you will be going out of business.

 

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One thought on “Time-wasting Techniques for Writers

  1. Robert B Finegold, MD

    Dear Dave,

    Much truth in this.

    And yet…I will humbly suggest (in a quiet respectful voice) that perhaps there should be no “classifying” of authors as distinct from writers. To me, this may have the unintended suggestion of authors “versus” writers, a division that may inadvertently (or not, as the case may be), imply dismissal. As I remind my Orthodox Jewish brethren when they speak of Conservative or Reform Jews (and I was delighted to see similarly expressed by successful to newly published as well as unpublished writers at this year’s Superstars Writers Seminar): “We are all one Tribe.” 

    I admit to some feelings of guilt when I am with far more successful and, particularly, fiercely striving new “writers” — although this emotion may come easily to me as part of my heritage. 😉 For it is true that I do not need to write to make a living nor do I ever expect to.

    Based on how great a challenge it is to earn a living as a writer, I can only add, “Thank G-d,” and only admire with similar awe those writers who do.

    Still, I have a passion for words, writing (“authoring?”), and storytelling. I write, rewrite, or edit each week and often each day. I enjoy the challenge – if not as much the struggle – to craft a great story that readers will enjoy and, I fervently hope, remember.

    After decades in my primary profession, engaging with this community from big name writers to my coterie of newbies (of all ages to fellow fans as well as all our cousin artists, editors, and publishers at conventions, seminars, workshops, and online forums has brought me new excitement, inspiration, and joy in this later stage of my life. What a delight to discover that you can teach an old Doc new tricks. 

    On reflection, I suppose I am content being an author who writes.
    One who admires writers like yourself who inspire and guide so many of us to do so better. Thank you, Dave, for these Daily Kicks.

    Respectfully,
    Bob

    Reply

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