J is for Job
J is for job.
Writing is the toughest job you’ll ever love. (Sorry, Peace Corps.)
When most writers start out, they have a day-job. You know—the one that pays the rent, puts food on the table, buys the computer and reference books so the writer can write. The actual author stuff takes place in spare time, time that could be spent socializing or relaxing or sleeping. The distinction is somewhat ironic, because successful authors need to apply all the discipline of a day-job to succeed in their writing job.
What does that discipline look like?
For starters, writers write. They don’t just plan on writing (although good writing takes planning.) They don’t just talk in online forums about writing (although online participation can stimulate good writing.) They don’t get distracted with Facebook and Twitter and the latest game on their phone.
Writers write. For some, that means generating a certain number of new words every day. For others, setting down new words for a specific number of minutes. Or completing a specific designation, such as a scene or a chapter. Or editing a defined section of text. Or.…
You get the idea. If you worked in a cookie factory, you wouldn’t get paid for thinking about the best cookie you ever ate as a kid. Your writing job is every bit as demanding.
A corollary of the “writer’s write” rule is: Writers meet deadlines.
Deadlines can be specific dates that you set for yourself. You’re going to get chapter 1 done by January 31. You’re going to finish a draft of the book by March 31. You’re going to finish your first pass of editing by July 31. You’re going to hire a content editor by August 31.
There are all sorts of fancy calendars that can track your deadlines. (I’ve created writer-specific spreadsheets, detailing every single deadline necessary to publish and distribute a book; it’s available for download in my book The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts.) But all the high-tech calendar systems in the world won’t do you a lick of good if you don’t meet your deadlines.
Once again, this is a basic job function. If you were a lawyer, you’d file your motion for summary judgment by the court’s due date. Give your writing self the same respect.
Other aspects of “job culture” bleed over into the life of a successful writer.
For example, writers maintain professional courtesy for other writers. They don’t savage other writers without good reason. (And even then, they make their attacks in the open, instead of lurking “backstage” in corners of the Internet where their victims can’t follow.) This doesn’t mean, of course, that all writers always must agree with all other writers at all times. Rather, disagreements should be handled with respect and professionalism.
Even more importantly, writers maintain professional courtesy for readers, especially reviewers. It’s impossible to publish a book and get 100% positive reviews. Some reviewers—brace yourself; this is shocking—get things wrong. They might not understand the fine points of the book an author wrote. They might mistake facts. They might have completely, 100% unreasonable opinions.
But the professional writer never engages reviewers. That interaction is never going to work in the author’s favor. The author might be considered a prima donna. He might attract much more negative attention than he ever would have received solely from the negative review. Even if the reviewer is completely absurd, engaging solely in ad hominem attacks, the writer is better off letting the absurdity speak for itself. The cost of interaction (especially including the time to engage) are just too high.
(One possible exception is when a reviewer is mistaken about objectively quantifiable facts; a dispassionate correction of a provable fact might not work against an author in the long run. Another possible exception is when a reviewer commits libel; an author may be advised by legal counsel that some public response is necessary.)
So, to complete your job, you have to show up for work, complete your assigned task, and not fight with your co-workers.
If you’re an author, what other aspects of job culture have worked for you in advancing your career? If you’re a reader, when have you reacted negatively to authors treating their role as a job? When has that been a positive thing?