Friday, February 4, 2011

Writing for a Living

Hm, no internet yesterday at the house here, otherwise this would've gone up then.

Really quick, before I get started for the day, my good friend and fellow writer Matt over at The Vanishing Blog posted a few nice words about my own.
Here's the link:

I'm done with my first week of classes now. There's going to be a lot of writing coming up this semester. I would say that I hope I can keep up with it. But judging by my performance during this past week, I don't think there's going to be a problem. (I've averaged 2,000 words/day for the past three days; this is exciting production for me.)

One of the classes I'm taking, however, looks to prove more fun and more informative than any of the others. It's  called "Writing for a Living." It's taught by a no-nonsense Canadian who has been working as a professional writer in one capacity or another for the past 21 years. (Realization time. I can actually say something like "21 years ago" and have an idea of what the world was like then. Wow...)

On the first day of class, he asked us if anyone would like to tell the class what we are working on. So, being the talkative American that I am (and attempting to break out of my fear of feedback) I volunteered to go first.

I think we spent about twenty minutes discussing the perceived benefits and drawbacks of my writing habits, career goals, and overall approach to this craft. It was challenging, enlightening, and invigorating to discuss my goals in such stark terms with other writers. As with any writing group (and this is going to be the challenge throughout the semester) there was a mix of useful insights, though-provoking suggestions, and ignorant assumptions. Some of these writers know what they're talking about; others haven't got a clue about the business, but have some inspired projects they're working on. If yesterday's sample is any indication of the kinds of discussions we'll be having, it's going to be a worthwhile semester.

On that note, here's a list of topics we're scheduled to discuss in-class:
-Freelance Writing, the big picture with guest lecturer Andrew Crofts (wrote our textbook).
-Music Journalism, with guest lecturer Laura Barton.
-Writing Fiction for a Living, with guest lecturer James Miller.
-What Agents Look For, with guest lecturer Elinor Cooper.
-Life-writing and Editing, with guest lecturer Bridget Hourican
-Travel Writing and Other Non-fiction Genres
-Writing for the Stage
-Writing for the Screen

Now, a few of these things are obviously topics I've delved into extensively in the past (fiction writing, agent queries, freelance writing, etc.) But most of these topics are going to be brand new as far as my experience is concerned. And even with the "older" topics, I'm convinced that you can always learn something new about something you already know. (Although, I seldom follow through on practicing this ideal.) So hopefully the class will bring me some new insight into these well-worn avenues of knowledge.

So, that's the class. On a related note, I've been following an interesting thread of knowledge on the internet about writing fiction as a full-time author. Obviously, this is a topic that I'm very much interested in. However, it wasn't until recently that I began to understand the actual possibility of doing so. Yes, it's still difficult -- and these sources have made that abundantly clear how much work goes into the career -- but it seems much more reachable now.

I was probably going to separate these two posts originally. Talking about the class yesterday, and saving these websites for today. But seeing as I wasn't able to get the post up yesterday, you all get a little bonus today. (Hooray!)

Alright, here they are:

"Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing," by Dean Wesley Smith
This is the website that got me started on this recent quest for knowledge. I was linked to Smith's website as part of an ongoing debate about the usefulness of agents in representing authors (a lengthy and bitter debate that I won't summarize today.) While I was at his site, I clicked around and found that he's very open about helping upcoming authors. He's very successful financially, and he has a lot of "alternative" views on the publishing industry and the creative life in general.
His best summation of these views comes in a series of articles (he terms them as "chapters" because they will eventually be compiled into a book [or perhaps already have]) about putting to rest the persistent rumors that new writers believe when they're trying to "break-in" to the business. I've found them to be insightful and his article on the "magic bakery" (I think it's title is: "No Money in Writing Fiction") is genius.
Alright, now a brief caveat: he is very much focused on the commercial aspect of writing fiction. I don't want to judge a person's motivations or beliefs, and I don't want to make any judgments about the quality of his work without having read any of it. However, he seems less interested in the art of the craft than a number of other successful writers (George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Stephen King, etc.). Again, I don't want to judge a book by it's cover, but... well, there is something to be said about making a good first impression.
All that aside, I think he's ideas about the business side of writing are worth considering. And he certainly encourages you to think for yourself, which I appreciate.

"Breaking In Without Rules," by Kurt Busiek
This one is a bit less practical but no less useful. Kurt Busiek is a writer for DC and Marvel comics. He's had a difficult time at breaking in, but he's managed to do so. Several times.
That's the remarkable thing about Busiek's story, and it's the point he's trying to make. There's more than one way to bake a cake. As long as you keep trying and play to your strengths and all the other inspirational cliches, you have a chance.
Overall, Busiek is a bit less optimistic than Dean Wesley Smith about your chances at turning a creative life into a full-time career, but there are still nuggets of wisdom to glean from his story.

"Mugging the Muse: Writing Fiction for Love AND Money," by Holly Lisle
I've mentioned this one before. It's not a website, but it's been instrumental at inspiring me to attempt making a living out of my writing, so I decided to include it.
Holly Lisle does a lot to help new authors. She runs a number of online workshops focused around various writing topics (character, world, language, etc.) and has written a number of books about writing, the first of which is "Mugging the Muse." It's old. It's probably outdated. And I haven't read it in years, so I don't even know how helpful it is. But for me, in my embryonic writer stage, it was perfect. I cannot emphasize this enough. If it weren't for Ms. Lisle, I don't know if I would still be a writer today.
John Shore is an interesting character. I honestly don't know what to make of him as a person.
His writing advice in the above link, however, is consistent with the rest of what I've been reading. So this website is useful if only as confirmation of what I've been promoting above.
I'm sure I've mentioned the podcast filled with writing advice for all levels by Brandon Sanderson (epic fantasy master), Dan Wells (brilliant fantasy-horror debut), and Howard Tayler (long-lasting web cartoonist) before now. If I haven't, then I have surely committed some sort of sin or crime. This podcast is fantastic. It's funny, insightful, and applicable to all levels of writing at some point or another. True, Brandon tends to dominate when he's on the cast, and there are a few episodes or approaches to topics that are less useful or less funny than usual. But the guests are fantastic, the cast is skilled, and the production value is generally top-notch. (Plus, they're eligible for a Hugo this year.)

Wow, well there's five right there. Off the top of my head. I think I'll call it a day here. It's time to actually go do that writing I was talking about earlier.

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