Three Things People Think About Writers

Sunday, August 27, 2017
          Yesterday a book of Chicken Soup for the Soul books was delivered to our home. It was expected. I'd gotten  a story published in their My (Kind) of America anthology, and it goes on sale on August 29. A few minutes after I opened the box, my husband grabbed a copy and started scanning the table of contents. I knew what was coming--he does it every time. This time, I beat him to the punch.

         "Page 147," I said.

          "Out of..." his voice trailed off. He thumbed to the back. "401. That means you're in the front half."

           According to my husband, the placement of a story indicates its value. The weaker stories are towards the collection's end. The stronger stories they put first. No matter how many times I talk about theme and the juried process the editors put the stories through, he continues with his screwed-up thinking... which makes me think about what other people think about writers.

1.   "You don't have a book published? (Then, you're not really a writer, are you.)" James Patterson has beaucoup books on bookstores shelves, and all he does is outline the plot. Other (unnamed) people write the books. I'm not sure that means he is really a writer.

          On the other hand, I know many people who write every day, submit to many different markets, and their pieces are published all over the place--just not in a book. And I know many folks who write almost every day, and haven't got published... yet. They're all writers, from my perspective.
They do the hard work on a regular basis.

2.   "It's easy to write. (You just sit on your butt and tap away at your computer, right?)" Much to the surprise of people who don't write, the words don't come flowing out the right way the first time. (Except for Cynthia Rylant, the who in an interview spoke about her revising process saying, "I don't really have to revise. It comes out right the first time. I'm guess I'm just lucky that way." Some day I'm gonna slash Rylant's tires...)

         Writing is more slashing and burning than it is lining up the lines and the paragraphs and the pages like a battalion of soldiers. If everyone knew how many words we delete, compared to how many we keep, they'd be amazed... and perhaps a bit more respectful of the craft.

3.   "You're so lucky. You get to make your own schedule. (You get to watch lots of TV and lay around on the couch. I'd love to be able to live that life.)" I know some full-time writers. Cathy C. Hall. Sue Bradford Edwards. Lisa Ricard Claro. Sean McLachlan. I know some people who retired from other jobs and now freelance. Linda O'Connell. Pat Wahler. I know people like me who work other jobs and fit writing (sometimes not very well) into their lives.

        Unfortunately, we usually don't get to make our own schedule. Vegging out on the couch and watching movies isn't something we can do every day. Being a writer might mean squeezing it in, 15-minute increments at a time. It might mean waking up an hour earlier than necessary every morning to have some uninterrupted time to write.

       It also might mean we'd prefer to be working on a manuscript, but a deadline for something else takes precedence.

       How about you? As a writer, what can you add?

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Sioux Roslawski doesn't have a book on a bookstore shelf with only her name on the spine but nevertheless, she considers herself a writer. Most of the time, she's teaching middle-schoolers how to free themselves enough to write honestly and most of the time (99% of the time) she loves her job and revels in the strong student voices that surround her. Currently she's working on polishing up a historical manuscript for middle grades (she's polishing it until it's nice and shiny); if you'd like to read more of her stuff, check out her blog.       



Anne M. Beggs said...

What would I add to the list-

As a fiction writer, it is hard to keep the inner voices in line. Not my own negative, self doubt ones, but the characters, known and unknown. It gets really noisy in my head, and the fun and challenge is to plot it out.

Angela Mackintosh said...

That's interesting that your hubby thinks they organize anthologies by stories from strongest to weakest! I would never think that way. When I organize publishing stories, it's usually for reading flow, pacing, content, and theme. You don't want too many tear jerkers near each other and you don't want to have stories that are too similar next to one another. But yeah, I guess people make all kinds of assumptions!

I did NOT know that about James Patterson! I think I read one of his books way back when and wasn't too impressed, so... perhaps that's why...

I'm nodding my head at all three of these, Sioux!

I guess I'd add that some people think writers write there are no specialized fields and writing one thing is the same as writing another. A friend of mine just got back from military training in Afghanistan and said, "You're a writer, maybe I should have you write a book about my experiences.", not qualified to write about that topic without spending countless hours of research, and hello, not a ghostwriter!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Anne-I've only had one project that that happened--where the voices of the characters filled my head. It was a wonderful project (and one hopefully that will published at some point) because the book almost wrote itself. Okay, it's a middle-grades manuscript, so it's only 28,000 words, but still... ;)

And if that's your horse or was your horse, I am soooo envious.

Angela--My husband is not a writer. In fact, he brags he's only read three books in his life, but I'm sure that couldn't be right. I'm sure he read a few more in high school because they were required. At least I hope so.

I think he thinks of anthologies in terms of 1st place (goes first in the book) and 2nd place (is the second story) and so on. No matter how many times I've tried to reason with him, he sticks to his unreasonable reasoning. He's Polish. What can I say? ;)

You're right. People think if someone can write, it doesn't matter if it's an instruction manual or a science textbook or a poem. We're supposed to be able to write them all...

Anne M. Beggs said...

Sioux, yes, that is my horse. They are treasures and a huge inspiration for my writing. And, yes, I hear their voices, not necessarily in story form, however. Thank you for asking.

Val said...

I tend to agree with #1. People hear that you write, and start to ask questions, and when they find out you haven't published a whole book, all your own, they patronize you, pretending to believe that you're a REAL writer, so as not to burst you bubble.

Margo Dill said...

Congrats on your Chicken Soup for the Soul success! :) I am in awe of all you Chicken Soup essay writers. It is NOT easy to do, in spite of what some people think. :)

Everything you are saying about people is true, but I think a lot of professions deal with this. For exampmle, a doctor: WOW! you are a doctor--what do you live in a mansion?
I feel like the doctor is thinking: uh, maybe, but do you know my student loan bill OR do you realize I have lost patients? Or do you know the hours I keep? etc etc etc

Teachers and the summer! No one would be a teacher if it wasn't for the summer off. Talk about a hard job AND the summer is not really "off".

I better stop--I'm on a roll. ;)

Crystal Otto said...

Love this post - thanks so much Sioux!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Omigosh, the stuff people say when they find out I'm a writer. The #1 thing is, "I've always wanted to write a book, I just haven't had the time. One of these days!" And my response is always the same: "Go for it." Most won't. Once they get started they realize that writing is work. Fun, fulfilling, and something to be passionate about, but work nonetheless. Like any other work, you don't "find the time." You make the time. You schedule the time and then you sit your ass down and you do it. Writing a novel is time consuming. Parts of the process are delightful and fun (plotting character arcs, for instance) and other parts are boring as hell (reading through the book for the 100th time to be sure every comma is in the right place). The other part about writing is the publishing part. The writing takes up about a quarter of your time. The other 75% is spent marketing and feeling angsty. GAK.

To clarify something you said, yes, I am writing full time right now, but that is mostly circumstantial (as in, I'm a lucky duck at the moment). I don't know that I'll continue to do that in the future. Unless you're a marketing star (I am so NOT a marketing star) OR one of the big names, there isn't really much money in it. Most of the authors I know, even the ones working it full time, have jobs on the side to help pay the rent. It's a tough, tough business.

The moral of the story is: Write because you love to write. Write because you have something to share that you believe will enrich those who read it. Write because you'll implode if you don't. Write because it makes you happy. Do all that, and you're a writer. (And screw anyone who says you aren't...they're usually people who aren't writers themselves and have no clue what goes into the process.)

Sioux said...

Val--I've heard that patronizing tone from people before.

Margo--I know you know that "summer"--for a teacher--is just June and July, since almost all schools go back at the beginning of August.

You're right. We see doctors (and celebrities and other privileged people) and see only the perks and none of the negatives.

Crystal--Thanks. And you're welcome.

Lisa--For sure. We have to love it. Otherwise, how could we put up with all the rejection?

Cathy C. Hall said...

Uh...well, I was going to say that I can fit writing AND vegging in front of the TV for hours but Lisa's fired me up. So I guess I'll cut down my nap and put in an extra twenty minutes on that writing thing.

Is that enough to call yourself a writer, Sioux??? :-)

Hoang said...

I always chuckle when people, usually the younger generation, says they are a writer and boast about their latest published book. It turns out that they merely self-published their book. In my mind, all they did was print a book. I know people will argue about this and defend self publishing to protect their egos but sorry folks, if you self printed your book, you're not published. Stop pretending you're a published author.

By their logic, the minute you write the same thing down on two different pieces of paper, you're a published author.

No one wants to do the hard work it takes to become a good author, a published author anymore. So they run off, print a book, get the ego boost of calling themselves a published author and then store boxes of their masterpiece in the garage for all eternity.

Start at the bottom, work on poems, short stories, flash fiction. Get those published in various magazines, both in print and online. Work on your craft. Then go to longer novellas, keep working. And then try a few novels. A good agents wants to see a track record of an author getting legitimately published, a writer willing to do the hard work. That's what separates the good writers from the wannabes.

I know this will trigger people and they can't wait to tell me their own story about how they are different or how their friend made a million self publishing, and blah blah blah. I'm using generalities here, there are exceptions to most everything. I know of one man who jumped out of a four story building and lived but I certainly wouldn't recommend it. Get it? So don't tell me your jump story.

Crack open those grammar books, put pen to paper, start at the bottom, hone your craft, work. And above all: Love your work!

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