Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Writers As Whiners

I Got a Question…

The question was basically how did I handle things like moves and sickness and other life rolls when I had book contracts. Good question, since for a few days right now I am deciding to not write as I get things switched around.

I am going to put much of my answer here expanded some.

I want to be clear that with traditional contracts and deadlines, I never missed a deadline in over a 100 novels. Not a one. And I thought writers who did miss contract deadlines to be problem writers. And as a ghost writer, I often wrote books for publishers because some famous writer couldn’t make a deadline.

So sick, traveling, death in the family, it didn’t matter. My contract deadlines always came first. How did I power through?

Simple. I stopped whining and just did the writing.

Writers, by our very nature, are whiners. And lazy and full of excuses. Pretty much all of us.

You want to see what it should really be like to be an internationally selling writer, simply watch the blind auditions on The Voice and listen to some of those stories about years on the road and working bars six nights a week. Fiction writers have it easy and we are trained by myths that actually spending a lot of time sitting alone and making stuff up must be hard work.

And if you write too much, spend too much time at making stuff up, you are called a “hack” and you can’t be any good.

Seriously. We are trained that you should write less to get better. And God forbid we think about practicing our writing. Which is why so many self-proclaimed great writers are teaching college and not writing much at all. They are the kings and queens of writing less, thus they must be the best. That’s how the thinking goes.

So what happened when I was faced with life crisis and moves and such when I was under traditional contracts? I just sucked it up and did the writing.

And I will be doing that shortly again. The key now is that I am in control of my own schedule and have no contracts, so I can pick when I get back to writing. Much saner.

But I am not going to whine about not writing. It is a choice right now. Nothing more and nothing less.

I could do it, I could force the time. But I am 67 years old, have over 200 novels and god-knows how many hundreds of short stories through my fingers. I can take a few days or a week for other stuff and still write in a year more than most whiners (I mean writers) ever will.

Go watch The Voice, listen to some of those stories, then ask yourself if you had to be on the road for ten years, work in a bar six nights a week, and make almost no money to do your writing, would you do it?

At times I worked that hard. And I now do this storytelling stuff for a living. Go figure.


  • Linda Maye Adams

    Yeah, I had a lesson on this with my former cowriter. I originally agreed to cowrite because I had problems with books running way too short due to structure and secondary plot issues. At the time he said it was a strength for him, though it turned out there were a lot of problems. He was a small business owner in a one man shop, and he loved marketing. Both of these turned out to be huge weaknesses on his part because he thought publishing worked like his world.

    So we get this book done, and it took 3 years. As we got it in the mail to agents, I was scared to death. What if an agent did accept it? Everything I’d heard then about the publishing deadlines was for a year. So I told cowriter that we needed to learn how to write faster because of the publishing deadlines.

    He poo-pooed me. “Everything’s negotiable,” he said with extreme confidence.

    It hit me right there that he had NO priority for writing. He liked marketing the book better than he liked writing. And I had this horrifying vision of him blowing off the deadline by simply not getting around to his part and me trying to fill the gap with my broken skills just to get the manuscript in.

    It is important though to understand how to balance out all the deadlines, and also make decisions about what you can take on and can’t take on. At least with writing, there are choices that can be made, like deciding that I can write for this anthology or no, I just don’t have the time. I’m dealing with this at work where they hand out deadlines like M&Ms and I don’t have a choice. There are a lot of people with an unreasonable sense of time. We can’t be one as a writer.

  • Kenny

    This message needs to be added to your Killing the Sacred Cows.

    I’m getting to the point where I’m seeing the need to build a team around me to help be the best person / entertainer I can be. And this is one of the reasons why I check this blog out almost every day and have started being intentional in whom I spend time with. One advantage of this would be to help me keep me focused upon what I should be when facing issues like you’re dealing / dealt with.

    (Maybe you should start up a new workshop Teams in Fiction Writing… Not to be confused with Teams in Fiction 😉 )

    As an aside: it’s been years since I’ve watched The Voice (UK version) but now you’re making me want to see if I can find the USA version on my box to watch.

  • Cynthia Lee

    I became less whiny when I stopped reading my reviews. Reviews were starting to mess with my psyche quite a bit so I quit them.

    Also, I stopped asking family and friends to read my stuff. I would get quite mopey and whiny if the friend/family member didn’t ever read my books/stories. I think doing this can also mess with a writer’s enjoyment of his/her work. I decided that writing stories is for my own health and happiness and ever since I’ve been loving it.

    • dwsmith

      Great attitude, Cynthia. And amazing how when you have fun and write for yourself and get it out to readers, money comes. So keep having fun. It really is the secret.

  • JM

    I remember a story from the earliest days of your blog (long since consigned to the digital aether) in which you mentioned stepping away from a safe, boring career (architect?) because it would not leave you enough time to write, and working in bars, writing any time you could get 15 minutes, because you really wanted that writing career.

    The writing might be easier, but I also remember some of the risks you mentioned on the blog that you took (one on a recent blog entry about driving through snowstorms for a writing seminar/group/thing when you really were taking your life in your hands). Given all of that, I can see why you identify so much with the contestants on The Voice.

    Writing might be easier, but the writing life isn’t necessarily an easy one.

    This is why I admire those who can do it.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, JM. I also had three years of law school and kept tending bar to have time to write instead of becoming a lawyer. The pressure from friends and family was stupidly intense to go get a “real” job. And that lasted for years as I got better as a storyteller and learned the business.

      I guess I always respected fiction writing as a career and treated it as a career right from the start.

      Now understand, I have zero issue with writers who want to be part-time writers, writing stories as their life allows and getting them out. That is actually most writers and I do a lot to help them here and in workshops. I admire anyone who wants to learn and write.

      Where I have issues are the writers who say they want to be full-time professionals and yet don’t give my profession any respect because they think they can do it by working thirty minutes a day. Sort of insulting. (grin)

  • Rikki Mongoose

    For me it’s hard to bear the fact I don’t know much about genre I’m going to write.

    Here, in Russia, horror genre was abandoned for all of USSR time. Only spy and war thrillers were published and respected.

    But even the classical gothic novels of 19th century is not even a bookshelf, but a library.

    It isn’t research, more like introducing myself into the genre, but it looks like a really endless task.