Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

The Secret To Being A Long Term Writer

This Post Brought Forward and Updated Some…

(I thought this would be a fun topic to bring up again. This is from a bunch of years back and was only part of a daily report post.)

I got a question from a writer about what full time writers there were and if I would recommend some of them to study to see how full-time writers did it.

Well, I am about the only long-term full-time writer who does this level of honest blogging about my life. But my way of doing things is not the only way by a long, long ways.

I tell writers to find their own way. What works for me might not work for you. You will only know if you experiment, but most won’t. It seems writers right from high school know what is right for them and breaking out of that belief system is almost always what holds writers back.

But all that said, there are some basics I have mentioned before about full-time writers and traits we all seem to have in common. Not all, but many. And we did a workshop on this very topic for a while about two years ago called “Essentials” which was basically the essentials needed to make a living with your writing. (It dated and is no longer available.)

So let me list a few of the top factors I see among my friends and other long-term professionals.

Top factors (my opinion only):

1… Complete and total love of story of all types.

We consume story and always have, it seems, from movies, comics, books, games, you name it, if it has a story, we consume it.

2… Writing is not work, it is who we are.

Sure, we might get discouraged and stop at times or do something else, but writing is always there and it is always who we are. It never occurs to us we have put in a long day when we are writing. For anyone else that would be like saying, “I put in a long day today living.”

(This is why I always tell writers these days to just have fun.)

3… We are, almost without exception, prolific in our own ways. 

Definition of prolific varies, but as years go by, the numbers add up. Often with many long-term writers, much of the writing is hidden in various ways, from articles to introductions to nonfiction books to blogs and on and on.

4… We study craft all the time and never let business get far from our attention at any given moment. 

This varies from writer to writer, but all long-term writers I know are good with business in one form or another, really good with taxes, and have adapted their lives around the writing, not the writing around the lives.

5… Longer-term writers like me and Kris, almost without exception, try to help younger professionals when we can.

Most are not as overt as Kris and I or Dave Farland or Judy Lyn Nye or Keven J. Anderson and others. But it is there, either by apprentice like Mike Resnick does or by writing books like Stephen King does or giving speeches like Neil Gaiman does.

6… We have never stopped for very long.

In other words, we are the ones who didn’t quit when knocked down, when things went bad, when the money stopped and no one would buy our work. Long-term writers are writers who never knew the word quit, or at least not for very long.

In our new bookstore, we have lots and lots of older science fiction books, and I can run my hand down the line of books and see name after name that were either hot young writers at one point or sold a few books and quit.  They are now what-ever-happened-to writers.

The difference between me and them. I’m still here and writing and they quit.

The secret to being a long-term writer????

Don’t stop.


  • Thomas E

    My experience is one more common thing is that long term pro writers follow Heinlein’s rules in their own way…

    ( Yeah, writer X might say they rewrite each book eighteen times BUT even if they say that they write one, two or more books every year consistently for years at a time.)

  • Kessie

    Thanks for this! Between your blog and Kris’s blog this morning, I’m feeling encouraged. One thing that always stops me cold in terror is the taxes. Other indies I see are paying 30% and more of their total yearly income in taxes (being sole prop). Some of them form LLCs, like Rachel Aaron. I wish you or Kris would do a post about what to expect in the way of taxes when you start being successful.

    • dwsmith

      When you start paying taxes as a fiction writer, you need to form a full C corporation and learn all the fantastic benefits in that structure. LLC is a structure used for certain types of business, is a pass through, and sucks for writing. When a writer forms an LLC, it is automatic that their account does not understand their business.

      We have a lecture on Corporations and a lecture on Taxes for writers on Teachable.

  • Mike

    Great post, Dean. If you don’t quit, you can’t fail. Sometimes hard to keep in mind on the day-to-day level but really appreciate you continuing to beat the drum and lead by example here!

  • Janine

    Great tips. Two things I want to note.

    First, especially with the explosion of social media, many newer writers believe that you have to be well known/popular/famous *before* you publish your first book, as they see many social media superstars publish debut novels to high acclaim and watch those without the same publicity drop off. I occasionally have this same thing happen to me that I have to get famous first before publishing anything, since I might not get the same momentum as they do. Then I remember that they are the outliers, not the norm and that it’s usually the ones with lots of books that get noted.

    Second, there is still this belief that writing a novel and getting it published is a years long process by necessity. Just a few days ago, someone posted that exact notion, and I responded that it can be a quick as a couple of months, especially if you go indie. They responded that you’ll lose all the services that traditional publishing gives to you and that without an agent, “you will be particularly vulnerable to exploration and theft”. I didn’t respond as there’s no point talking that’s deep into the myths, but I know that’s false. Both with how little traditional publishing offers writers with bad deals and how having an agent actually makes you *more* vulnerable with all the horror stories I’ve heard over the years from you, Kris and others. It’s also another way to convince writers that you must desire to be taken care of because “writers shouldn’t do business”.

    • dwsmith

      Janine, amazing how silly all that is when held up in the light of day and plain old business logic. And good job not going down into the myths too far with a person with those beliefs. They are gone until something kills the belief for them. Chances are, sadly, it never will and they will put the dream away and move on.

    • LindaB

      I never understood the common wisdom that, in order to succeed, you had to be “famous” before you published a book . Before publishing, you have no product. If you go the “famous before” route, you can spend a lot of time working on becoming famous that you would have been better off spending on writing your book.

    • dwsmith

      There are four more steps in Heinlein’s Rules and frighteningly enough, they are all critical steps. So yes, you must write. But you must finish and not rewrite and market and keep it out there. I understood what you meant, but that first step is totally not the only critical step in survival.

      • Greg P.

        Dean, how do I escape the rewrite if I write with a pen? Can’t avoid breaking that rule…the pen and paper make me so happy 🙂

        • Céline Malgen

          Is it really “rewriting” or merely typing in the same words you wrote with your pen? Rewriting is changing the words with the idea of making them “better” or even “perfect” (all the while losing your voice and your originality).

          But if you’re merely typing in the exact same words, I just see that as part of the process of getting your words out to market. Just like adapting the form of your manuscript to the market you’re sending your story to. Or like adding a cover and a blurb before you indie publish. It’s a necessary part of getting your words out, not really rewriting.

          Greg, have you tried looking at the time you spend writing with pen and paper and then typing in, versus when you’re directly writing on a computer? If the time difference isn’t too bad, you can then stick with what works for you. If it is really bad, maybe that would give you an incentive to try to change?

  • Topaz

    Dean, your second point is exactly why I return again and again and again to writing. No matter how long I stopped. Somehow, sometime I come back and tell the next story.
    Thanks for the post.

  • mickie dreysen

    Hi, Dean,

    I have a question about your C-corp comment for writers. I don’t dispute that it’s a good business decision, from some of your comments and implications, someone familiar with business structures (I am/have my own consulting work in my tech field, but it’s not enough (and neither yet is my fiction income) to justify C-corp status, and my mother’s accounting specialties were tax and estate work) and copyright can guess at the advantages available.

    That being said, there’s a usual rule of thumb about years and rate of income before a C-corp move makes sense (a good guess is when you hit the 40 percent withholding threshold for a couple years in a row and can well project that rate continuing; it used to be 250K as an individual but can fluctuate depending on both your state tax structure and the current fed rates). Is that implied in your suggested route to incorporation for writers? I suspect you might cover this in more detail in your classes but just want to make sure I haven’t otherwise missed a comment somewhere in your writing here.

    Thanks -mickie

    • dwsmith


      In fiction writing, basically if you are paying taxes, you are more than likely doing something wrong. The entire world is tax deducible to writers, under certain conditions.

      Here is the flip side of your question. A C Corporation (meaning the large one in your country, whatever it might be called, here in the States is is a C Corp) costs you some bookkeeping to keep records (you are already doing that without the company if you are doing it right) and some accountant costs. In Oregon, a C Corp to maintain costs a $110 filing fee when you renew it and a $150 base tax. So per corporation, I pay $260 per year in base rate. (I have four of them.) I also pay an accountant $425 per year to do the taxes for the corporation.

      That’s it. So if your writing income has a tax bill of more than $685, I would say it was time to move over. That is just my opinion.

      Everyone is so afraid of the paperwork and the “extra burden” of a corporation. I flat don’t understand that.

      And folks in general, if you get an accountant who says you will be double-taxed if you are a corporation, simply say thank you, stand up, leave the office and RUN LIKE HELL. They are too stupid for words.

      The tough part, of course, is figuring out how to move money from a corporation to your personal expenses that you can’t cover with the corporation. (You corporation could buy your house, you know. Pay for all upkeep, depreciation on the house can save you even more.) So that takes some thought and work with an accountant who understands those who work in the arts.

      None of this is tax advice. I am simply saying that there are legal ways for writers to make a lot of money and legally shelter that money in things that are useful to the writer and family.

      Kris and I are stunningly careful with taxes. We keep all records, document everything, can prove all income and expenses with records. If you are not that kind of person, than maybe you should be cautious with a corporation, folks. (grin)

      • Laura

        The country where I live is a bit different. Being a sole proprietor makes more sense. The taxes are less, the renewal is less, accounting is less, I guess it depends on where you live. To open a company vs a sole proprietor you would have to pay more that 100x the amount and then every machine you use you have to pay taxes on it every year. It’s a bit ridiculous.

  • Dave

    Hey Dean! Just wanted to say that even though I don’t comment much, I read every single post. I’m absorbing it all in. Thanks for all the great posts like this one. Pure gold. I’m here, learning and writing every day.

  • Kenny

    I’m a roleplayer (tabletop, not computer or ‘bedroom’). My current game I’m playing in has a group of fantasy thieves. My character, a short Shamanistic thug character, was taken to the police because of something they just did (he blew up a goat using magic).

    What I loved about that police scene was how the facilitator describe the group of police in the same room as me as being afraid of me and letting me go with a worried ‘uh, please guv’nor, don’t do that again.’ (Okay something is lost in translation.)

    But I can see your point about loving stories in all types. I mean aside from the escapism I love that game because we’ve all got stories going on and it’s interesting to see how each of our own stories interact with the groups stories.