I got the following email this morning.
If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to ask a few questions about being an author.
- Why did you decide to be an author, instead of something like… A coach?
- What made you interested in being an author?
- Would you suggest to other people, that they should be an author?
- What books should I start reading? (I like fantasy, but I know to read other types too), (also, what are some of your favorite books to read?)
- What are some of the (more) important subjects in school, for being an author?
It was from a school email address, which in general means the kid is doing homework assigned by a teacher, and I have a standing policy on BEING HOMEWORK assigned by a teacher.
However, there was a single word in one question in that little list of five that really got to me. (I’m not going to tell you which one, but you’ll figure it out.)
So I decided to do the interview with the kid—and more, I decided to tell him the truth, which is something I guarantee he hears from adults just about never.
In my experience, adults talking to kids are gawdawful liars now in about the same percentage that they were when I was a kid. Truth from an adult was like the single gasp of fresh air in a room filled with fart.
So here’s what I told him.
1: Why did you decide to be an author, instead of something like… A coach?
I didn’t decide to be an author. I was going to be a famous artist, or maybe a musician.
Tried both of those, and discovered they made great hobbies, but I hated them as jobs. So I went to nursing school, and worked as an RN, mostly in the emergency room and intensive care units, for ten years.
But four years into my nursing career, when my own children were two and three years old, two children who had been in a horrible accident were brought into the ER where I was a nursing supervisor. I ran the code on one, the ER RN ran the code on the other. In spite of everything we could do, both of them died, and their parents lost both their kids that day.
I realized that they could have been my kids, and realized that I needed a different job—one that kept me where I could be with my children.
I’d always loved to read, and was certain I could write better stories than most I read. So I spent every spare minute of my free time, when my kids were at school or asleep, writing fiction. I was terrible at it in the beginning, and got more than 100 rejections from publishers before I sold anything. But I taught myself, trying new things, figuring out ways to do what I wanted to to better, and most of all, I never quit.
Five years later I sold two poems, and then my first novel. That novel went on to win the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and I went on to sell every single thing I wrote for the next seven years straight—something that almost never happens. I still sell very well.
The year after my first sale, I got a three-book deal from my publisher, and quit nursing to write full-time. I’ve been supporting my family by writing ever since.
2: What made you interested in being an author?
Never having to run a code on someone else’s kid for an hour, begging the kid the whole time to hang on, to live, to just not die so he could go back to his mom and dad.
Knowing I could do it and be good at it.
Needing to be close to my kids.
3: Would you suggest to other people, that they should be an author?
There’s no such thing as “should.” Do not EVER do something because someone else tells you that you SHOULD do it because you’d be good at it, or because you “owe it” to your parents, or to society, or to the world.
The only reason you do something is because you love it, because it matters to you, and because you know that you can do that work well, and that by doing THAT work, you will enjoy your life and make it meaningful to yourself. You don’t owe your parents, your school, society, someone else’s expectations of you, or the world anything.
4: What books should I start reading? (I like fantasy, but I know to read other types too), (also, what are some of your favorite books to read?)
I read everything. In fiction, I read fantasy, science fiction, westerns, horror, suspense, romance, books written for men, books written for women, and everything else I can get my hands on.
In nonfiction, I read predominantly history and science, but I also research anything that interests me, no matter how odd.
5: What are some of the (more) important subjects in school, for being an author?
I learned two things in school that actually applied to my career as a writer.
One was how to think scientifically by using the scientific method:
- Ask a question
- Create a hypothesis
- Predict what will happen
- Test the hypothesis
- Evaluate the results
I used this process to teach myself how to write fiction. How to raise kids. How to use a computer. How to create a business on the internet. How to fix problems that came up at all points in my life.
The other thing I learned in school that was actually valuable was that if I wrote one page every day, I would have my notebook filled by its due date, and would not fail my class.
I discovered that’s the way you write books, too. A little bit every day, not everything all at once.
Otherwise, school was just as useless when I was a kid as it is now. It prepares people to work in jobs in an industrial society (which no longer exists in this country) and in “service industries”—in other words, to get a job flipping burgers at McDonald’s or ringing up sales at Wal-Mart.
And college is just an expansion of school—the vast majority of college graduates do WORSE on general knowledge testing than they did as high-school graduates.
If you want to do something cool with your life, you’re going to have to learn to do it on your own time.
You’re going to have to find people who know how to do what you want to do, take courses if they offer them, ask them to take you on as a trainee—whatever you have to do to learn what they know.
And you’re going to have to work HARD. You are going to have to learn how to fail, because we learn new things and create new things by failing until we finally succeed. Until you can fail at something, get back up and try to do it again, only better, you will never accomplish anything.
Furthermore, you are going to have to learn how to persist. I told you about the more than 100 rejection slips I got before I started selling anything. That was more than one-hundred times that I failed—that people told me I was wasting my time, that friends and family said I’d be better off just sticking with the thing that I was already doing.
That was more than one hundred times over a period of YEARS that I had to tell myself, “This is what I want, and what I want my life to be matters to me.”
I won—and writing is the best job on the planet. At least for me.
I wake up every morning joyful that I get to do this—that I get to go to MY kind of work, sitting alone in front of a computer, telling myself a story that delights me, knowing that not even I know how it ends yet…but I will.
Whatever you end up doing, I hope that it’s something you love. Something you fought for and earned. Something that makes you happy to get out of bed every day to do, because you get to have the fun of working hard at something wonderful that matters to you.
Last week was rough. Got fewer than three thousand words done TOTAL on the episode. Today started a little better. Got 2113 words for the day, and I like what I got.
I also managed to get the Bashtyk Nokyd tracking bar up in the right sidebar, so if you’re so inclined, you can follow along on my progress even on days when I don’t do a word-count post in here.
Here’s a tiny snippet from today’s work.
NOTICE: This material is copyrighted, unchecked raw first draft, probably buggy. Please don’t post typos or corrections (I do my edits at the end of the first draft of the project and will not see your comments when I revise). This material may not survive to publication. Do not quote or repost anywhere or in any format. Thanks.
Three days later, with the Longview refueling at the Paderick’s Free Zone Station, Shay was still floating on the coup of having successfully snatched Bashtyk Nokyd out from under the universe’s nose.
Sullying her happiness, though, was her current mission, which was to pick up the replacement for Charlie, the Longview’s previous Pact Covenant Observer, or PCO.
PCOs came to the Longview and other Death Circus ships straight out of their training, lasted a few years before the horrors of their job overwhelmed them, and either fled while on leave, or joined the Longview crew after the Longview reported they’d committed suicide. Committing suicide was one of the Pact Worlds’ expected outcomes for that particular job class, and flight while on leave was another. No PCO administrator ever questioned the truth of either report.
PCOs were malleable, and sometimes, like Charlie, they were salvageable.
But they were also mandatory spies for the Pact Worlds, and bringing each new one on board was a fight. Fresh out of their training, they thought they were fighting a war for the preservation of the Covenants, and they were pains in the ass until reality rubbed the green off of them.
I got the news today. The non-compete clause for my Scholastic contract is dead, and I’m now free to write stories in that world again.
So now the issue becomes looking at my schedule and figuring out how and where I can start opening the world up again.
For a little context on my move to publishing my own work, read I’ve quit Big Publishing to publish myself.
I’ll have the full audiobook available from my own site in a few days. The audiobook is over two hours in length (nice for a few days of short commutes), and for early purchasers, I’ll be offering it for less than what such audiobooks usually go for.
Questions are welcome, of course.
Writing was, and is, my passion.
I worked at my fiction from the time I was twenty-five until I was thirty-one without ever making a dime, and never begrudged a minute of that time. While I was writing, I was happy. I was creating. I was learning to write better. I was finding my stories and my voice. I was discovering a life-long love.
When I was thirty-one, I sold my first novel, and experienced the realization that I was home.
In that moment, I knew my purpose in life.
I was born to write fiction, to create worlds and characters and stories—and every crazy, dangerous, scary, heartbreaking, and wonderful thing I’d done in my life had been building up to that moment when I could roll what I loved and desired, feared and hated, lived and remembered, into stories that people who shared my same passions and dreads could read.
More, I found my mission.
I knew I wanted to be able to help other writers know what it felt like to come home to their lives’ purpose, to get their fiction into print, to get paid to do what they loved in the world, to turn what had been an impossible dream into “This is my real life, every amazing day!”
I have a vision.
Mine is not a grand vision of a whole world changed by what I love. Mine is a little vision, but it’s mine.
- I want to live in a world where readers can buy stories they love directly from writers whose work they love, and who can directly, one-on-one, help those writers keep their careers alive, and keep writing the fiction they love, where the commercial publishing issues of sell-through or book-to-book increases cannot interfere with this human-to-human connection.Where the reader will always be able to ask her favorite writer, “Can you tell me a story?” And where the writer will be able to say, “Yes, I can.”
The potential for this world now exists, but it isn’t fully realized.
- I want to live in a world where writers can wake up every morning to write their fiction first, because that is what they’re being paid to do directly from the people who love what they do.
Where motivated, passionate writers can afford to feed themselves and their families, can afford to create better lives for themselves, because their readers happily buy their stories and ask for more.Where every writer who is willing to work hard to perfect his or her craft can connect with the people who value that writer enough to pay to read what he or she does…and who will recommend the writer to friends who share the same loves and passions, and who will love this writer, too.
The potential for this world exists, too—but too many writers don’t realize that what they love is within their reach, or know what they have to do to reach in.
This is a problem I have solved for myself and know how to teach other writers to solve.
- I want to live in a world where writers from anywhere in the world who want to write for a living can do so, regardless of previous education, regardless of pressures from family or society, and in doing so bring joy and laughter, comfort and courage, to the people who share their community, their understanding, their world view. And who can, by reading the works of these writers who share their world and lives, know that they are not alone.The Internet makes this world both reachable and creatable, and I am working right now to build my small part of it.
Since 1991, I’ve been feeling my way toward building my part of this world I want to live in.
I made mistakes along the way. I went in wrong directions, forgetting that every person who wants to live a better life has to work to do it, and has to be paid for that work—and that the only way any writer can fully realize his or her dream of writing full-time is to get paid for doing that.
I was the first person who jumped in front of the ‘do it for free’ bus I once recommended, and my family suffered for many years because of that.
When I realized that if writing was going to be my work, I had to work for money, I put together a little writing shop, and invited other writers to create work for readers and writers and publish it there—but while I did pretty well for a few years moving nonfiction for my writers, I couldn’t do anything for their fiction.
And keeping up with the expanding platform and the books on it turned out to be more than I could handle while still keeping my own writing career going.
I tried to create Rebel Tales as a way for writers to connect directly to their readers with serial fiction, and got my ass handed to me by a thief pretending to be an editor.
Both of these projects of mine were before Amazon and other online bookstores opened up their platforms to indie authors. Amazon and other platforms created much larger access for writers than I could ever offer. They are one of a number of pieces now in place that can allow me to expand my vision, my passion, my mission.
I have strengths and weaknesses that affect what I can do with this vision, this passion, this mission of mine.
- I know how to find the best people on the internet, both readers and writers. Some of them hang out here, and have for years. Some of them hang out in my old Forward Motion writing community, now owned and run by my friend Lazette Gifford. Some of them hang out in my new—well, newer—writing community on How To Think Sideways, which has been alive for about seven years now.
- I know how to show them how to change their dreams into their reality. What they love is what I love—and for the writers, what they want to do is the same thing I wanted to do. I did it without college, without funding, and without assistance from the government, and I know that to succeed, other writers don’t need those things either.
- And I know how to write good fiction, how to revise it, how to make it hang together so that readers want to read more.
Those are my strengths.
On to the weaknesses.
- I am only one person, and I’ve now used up more than half my life, no matter how optimistic I might choose to be about how long I can hope to live. My great-grandmother lived to be 103, and when I was twenty-four (and she was ninety-four) I looked at her and thought, “I need to be doing something that I can still do when I’m her age.”
That was the origin of my New Year’s Resolution to finish my first novel before I turned twenty-five.I made it, and I made it here, and as long as my mind stays sharp, I can do this until I die. And I intend to.
But in the last four years, I’ve had a brain tumor scare and a cancer scare. So far, the symptoms turned out, after expensive testing, to be from benign problems.
But one of these days, they won’t be. I can’t do everything. And I don’t have forever in which to build the world in which I want to live.
- In my HowToThinkSideways.com writing school, along with pros who are sharpening skills and intermediate writers who are close to breaking out, I have thousands of “baby writers.”
Many of these folks are going to become the great voices in fiction for the next fifty to seventy-five years. But right now they’re brand-new, and struggling to find readers.
- I want to help them find readers—but I need to help them find THEIR readers. I need to help them find the people who will love what they do, who will help them discover their voices, and who will, when they start publishing, find and buy their first stories, and their later stories.
People who will value them for their writing, will pay them to keep writing, will love what they do and spread the word to other readers who will ALSO love what they do.And I don’t KNOW their readers. But you do, or someone you know does, or has a cousin once removed on his mother’s side who’s uncle reads exactly what this person writes.
I want to recruit people who share my purpose, my passion, my mission…my vision.
I have some of my core people already.
My web developer, Dan Allen, understands what I’m doing and why. He knows this mission, and like me, he sees why it matters. He’s on board to build the infrastructure that will make it fly. And he’s in this for the long haul.
My amazing moderators know the mission, and in the forums every day, they are now—and have been for years—helping writers figure out new ways to use my writing courses. They help people adapt processes that I use myself into processes that work for brains wired far differently than mine. And as we move forward, they’ll be putting together writing challenges, and using new forum features to help writers make their fiction better.
Even while we’re on the crappy forums we’re stuck with until Dan finishes turning a battered, ancient database into a well-oiled machine, they’re on the boards every day. They are magnificent.
I’m still missing some core people.
I have two service providers who are also HowToThinkSideways students, and who created special offers for my writing members, so that they could get better prices on getting their books edited and formatted.
- I need more folks like these.
- And I need readers for my writers.
As part of my ongoing mission to create an online writing school that teaches writing dreamers how to become writing professionals, I’m adding a service for readers.
http://ReadersMeetWriters.com will introduce READERS WHO SHARE MY VISION to writers who are working to become professional writers, and who are trying to find their readers.
- These are readers who are dedicated to helping the writers who are going to become the great voices of fiction for the next fifty to seventy-five years,
- Who want to read good fiction and who are willing to support the careers of the people who it by buying their work…
- And by recommending their work to others…
- Who are willing to pitch in on crowdsourcing final manuscripts, for example, to make sure broke beginning writers are able to put out high-quality, non-buggy fiction even when they’re just getting started…
- Who are willing to help split test things like cover art and cover copy (basically, you’ll just go to pages linked from a Want To Test? page and click around, browsing what interests you and ignoring what doesn’t).
- Who are willing to get involved in helping the writers you’ll someday love BECOME those writers.
Dan and I will have to build this, and my moderators, and volunteer readers and writers, will have to test it.
As Dan and I work toward building a better online writing school, I’m going to ask you what you want, either as a reader or as a writer.
I’m going to use this site to talk to you about these things, and ask you to test various site features and let me know what you think about them. I’m going to ask for your opinions. I’m going to ask for you to help me find the people I need to make various parts of this vision of mine work.
I’m building this thing so it will outlive me. I want to know that writers will still have a place where they can learn what they need to know to build lives, feed their families, and reach their dreams doing what they love. And I want that place to still have some part of me in it. To go on doing what I love when I no longer can.
I don’t know how long this place can last.
I don’t know who else besides me this vision, this passion, this mission speaks to.
But if this matters to you, please tell me here. And tell me WHAT matters to you, and WHY.
The view from fifty-four is a wonderful view. It is watching my dreams made real in the world in the lives of writers who reach their own dreams.
Thank you for joining me for all these years in making this happen. Please help me make the vision clearer, the mission stronger, the passion more loved, more respected, and more cherished.
(Link opens in a new tab/page so you won’t lose your comment)
This runs about an hour, and this time there are only a few seconds of dead.
I turn 54 this week.
I’ll have a post on that in a couple days, but for today, I have some presents for you.
Today (Monday, Oct 6, 2014—through Monday, October 13, 2014)
For every fiction book you buy from my shop for $5.99, I’ll give you one $2.99 book free.
Astute readers will have already noticed that there are 8 books for 5.99, and only 6 for $2.99.
So if you buy more than SIX fiction books, you also get your choice of ONE of the following:
- Character Clinic,
- Plot Clinic,
- Language Clinic,
- Culture Clinic,
- World Clinic,
- Page-Turning Scenes.
To get them, set up a HELP DESK ticket. Title your ticket HAPPY BIRTHDAY! FICTION. (You can copy and paste the ticket title)
Copy and paste your receipts (including purchase dates) from my shop, Amazon.com, or B&N, and let me know which books you want.
If you buy one BIG COURSE from the Shop:
- How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers
- How To Revise Your Novel: Get the Book You WANT from the Wreck You Wrote
- How To Write A Series: Master the Art of Sequential Fiction
You get one Workshop from this list:
- How To Write Dialogue With Subtext
- How To Beat Writer’s Block
- How To Motivate Yourself
Or both workshops from this list:
- How To Find Your Writing Discipline
- 7-Day Crash Revision
One course from THIS list:
- Character Clinic,
- Plot Clinic,
- Language Clinic,
- Culture Clinic,
- World Clinic,
- Page-Turning Scenes.
To get them, set up a HELP DESK ticket. Title your ticket HAPPY BIRTHDAY! NONFICTION. (You can copy and paste the ticket title)
These offers are also good for purchases made ON OR AFTER Friday, September 5th, 2014.
Skip forward to 1:28 on the video. The start is me wondering why no one is in the classroom yet, and trying to figure out if I had something set incorrectly.
In this unusually small How To Write A Series chat group, we ran out of lesson questions almost immediately, so we moved on to story brainstorming. This was a lot of fun, and I hope you get some pointers on developing your own series from this Question & Answer chat.
One of my students, Kathryn Kistner, found this. It’s a very attractive WordPress theme designed specifically for writers.
I have no idea how “limited time” this is, but the theme is free now, and will be $35 when it returns to being pain.
I’m passing on the recommendation. You can check it out here:
We have a chance right now to speak up on either sanctioning or protesting the creation of second-class citizens on the internet. I chose to protest.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Dear Chairman Wheeler,
As someone who built my first personal website back in 1996, and who built my first internet business about ten years later, I’d like to suggest that the Internet is the most valuable source of information and understanding on the planet.
My writing students take my classes from all parts of the world, and from every continent except Antarctica—and I’d happily give a free writing course to the first guy stationed down there who asks, just to get the bragging rights.
I’m a small business owner. I have about ten to fifteen thousand students, with between five hundred and a thousand active in my classes at any given time. I don’t add massively to the GNP or the GDP, and am unlikely to.
But I do add something, and it’s more than I was able to add when I was an RN.
Like tens of thousands of other Americans, I’ve found a way to offer my skills—in my case, in writing fiction and teaching others how to do the same—to a broader audience than I could have ever hoped to reach at any time in human history.
And, as with all other small businessmen and businesswomen working online right now, I am able to do this simply because no one has chosen to encourage roadblocks that would slow me down.
Or my students.
And this letter speaks to the situation of many of my students. Writers are overall not a rich bunch, and statistically, income for writers skirts the poverty line pretty tightly when it stays above it at all.
I ask that you work to maintain the current Internet structure of steady overall improvements that permits these folks to stay online and interact with other writers—to learn the skills of a paying trade, and by doing so, to learn how to better their own economic status. And to do this without the barriers imposed by being designated second-class citizens, relegated to the cheap seats in the Internet’s magnificent theater of the mind.
Once a “slow lane” is created with a baseline that—once set—will be ignored because it can be, service providers will have little incentive to improve that base standard and upgrade the overall network. The folks in the cheap seats will fall farther behind as “fast lanes” get the lion’s share of improvements.
And this will bury a lot of my folks, who are just squeaking by as it is, or who are on Internet that is barely acceptable as their current baseline because they live in areas of the country poorly served by broadband.
My students are of all races, all religions, all economic strata. A lot of them are single moms and single dads, retirees, kids in college, professional writers with barely-there careers trying to improve their work to reach a broader audience…and all of them are folks who hope to make their lives better than they are now.
I’m doing everything in my power to help them succeed.
I ask that you do the same.
Novelist, writing course creator.
You can submit your own comment to the FCC, and I ask that, if this matters to you, you do. (link opens in new tab)
Your comments are welcome below.