Well, here we are with another post that isn’t part of the usual series. Still, even with these that are not part of the normal series, I try to pass along what I’ve learned as a writer.
This post is the result of an email I received in response to a recent short story of the week. The respondent (also a writer) writes,
[H]ow do you manage to get all these stories edited? Congratulations on your many stories…wow, one a week- sort of takes a huge amount of time.
I didn’t respond to him as thoroughly as I wanted to or probably should have, but I’ve grown a bit gun shy recently.
What I did tell him is that I send the stories to a first reader and then publish them. I told him I follow Heinlein’s Rules and that I follow a process called Writing Into the Dark. I said like Bradbury, I believe “plot” is what the characters leave behind as they run through the story. And finally I said I write about 1000 words per hour so writing a short story per week really doesn’t take up all that much time.
Then I got to thinking, I kind of enjoy writing these little interim posts, the ones that appear between the posts in the normal ten-day rotation, so why not write one about this and expand on my answer to him? After all, if even one writer out there gets an aha moment from it, that will be great for that one writer.
For the majority, who will think this is all hooey or that Heinlein’s Rules can’t possibly work for anyone but SF writers or whatever, well, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything to help them anyway. They’ll have to just keep doing what they’re doing, and that’s fine with me.
But for that one guy, that one woman, for whom the little light might come on, here’s what I should have written in response to the gentleman’s email:
I don’t have the stories edited, per se. I do have a first reader (and copy editor) read over them and look for inconsistencies, wrong words (e.g. waist vs. waste), etc. but nothing else. The cost of the copy edit, like the cost of the cover and the time involved in writing the story, is an investment. Whatever that total cost is, that’s all I’m ever going to put into it. Yet the story will earn income for me and my heirs from the time I publish it until 70 years after I die.
If it costs you $150 (time writing plus cover plus edit) to publish a story, and you make only $15 per year on that story from all sales venues, that’s a ten percent Return On Investment. Not too shabby. And if you’re smart you publish every short story on its own plus in a five-story collection plus in a ten-story collection. So for every story I write, I have three streams of revenue.
So here’s what I do. Per Heinlein’s Rules,
- You must write. (I write.)
- You must finish what you write. (I finish what I write.)
- You must not rewrite except to editorial order, and then only if you agree. (I don’t rewrite.)
- You must put your work on the market. (I publish what I write so readers can buy it.)
- You must keep your work on the market. (I keep it published so more writers can buy it.)
Writing a short story per week isn’t a problem for me because I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Does it take some time? Yes. About one hour per 1000 words plus an hour to design a cover and publish it. But what else am I gonna do? I’m a writer. Writers write.
Would you say to a mechanic, “Man, you put in one carburetor per week? That must sort of take a huge amount of time.” If he’s a mechanic, what else is he gonna do?
As I also told my respondent, writing a story per week isn’t a problem. The problem is having to stop working on the current novel to write the story. Over the first 15 days of March 2015, I wrote 30,852 new words of fiction. That’s only a little over 2000 words per day, so right at 2 hours per day.
From January 1, 2015 through March 15, 2015 (so 74 days), I’ve written 172,354 words of new fiction. Still, that’s only 2329 words per day. That’s less than 3 hours per day. I’m currently working on two novels. For those of you who have read the Wes Crowley series (Leaving Amarillo, Longing for Mexico, and South to Mexico), I’m currently writing a prequel to Leaving Amarillo and a sequel to South to Mexico. It’s absolutely the greatest fun I’ve ever had.
I mentioned earlier I write about 1000 words per hour. If that seems like a lot, divide it by 60. You’ll find that 1000 words per hour is only 17 words per minute. Can you write 17 words in a minute?
Now, my respondent was impressed that I write a short story per week. He said it “sort of takes a huge amount of time.” But I’m a writer. Why do folks—and especially other writers—find it unusual that I want to (or can) Just Do My Job (write) three or four or five hours per day? Is that really “a huge amount of time”? Not if you’re a writer.
Life is all about priorities, and we each set our own. I mean, if you have other things in your life that are more important to you than writing, then spending three hours per day writing probably would seem like a lot of time to you. But to me, walking along the beach for three hours would seem a horrible waste of time. Watching TV for more than about an hour per day would be excruciating.
I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else than writing, because I’m a writer and writing is my priority.
Ray Bradbury once wrote, “I love to write. It’s all I do.” I can relate. At one point during his career, Bradbury was writing a short story every day.
More than one time during his long career, Harlan Ellison set up a small desk and a chair and typewriter in the display window of a department store and wrote stories “live.” As he rolled a completed sheet of paper out of the typewriter, he’d tape it to the window so people outside could read the story as he was writing it.
Writers write. That’s all. Writers write.
If you want to be a prolific writer (if you want to make your living as a writer) you don’t have to write garbage, and you don’t have to be a “hack” writer. You just have to put the hours in the chair.
What you do have to do is stop rewriting and polishing your original voice off everything you write. Follow Heinlein’s Rules. And instead of being the great Writer God On High directing the little characters, step down off your pedestal and run through the story WITH them. Enjoy.
I promise, it will be the most fun you’ve ever had.
PS: If you’d like to learn some of these techniques and you live in or near Tucson, I’m teaching what will probably be the final presentation of Writing the Character Driven Story in Tucson on Saturday, March 28. We’ll begin at 9 a.m. and go all day. If you want in, email me pronto and I’ll send the rest of the info. I have only a couple of slots left.
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