What Makes You Write

This blog might meander more than most.  And be a bit longer, so be warned.  But people write for different reasons.  I belong to a writers’ group, Summit City Scribes, an eclectic mix of people whose main focus is to make our writing better.  After we discuss active and passive verbs, repetition, characterization, or pacing..etc., we might discuss a market for whatever was read.  The point is, we put writing first, marketing a dismal second.   I’ve gone to other groups that flip the two.  Selling is the major focus, and what to write that sells is the main discussion.  They talk about writing too, but it’s more about making the perfect product that will catch an editor’s eye.  And to be honest, I think more people sell in those groups than in ours.  Why?  Because they’re better writers?  No, because they’re more realistic.  They don’t just sit down and write whatever strikes their fancy.  They look at the market, study it, and write for a specific publisher.  They write smart.  Does that mean I wish our group would change?  No, because our group encourages writers, whether they’ll ever sell or not.  But if you want to sell, you should know the markets.  Study them and tailor your novel or short story or article to them.

I’ve said before in this blog that I never thought about writing until my husband enrolled me in a class called Writing For Fun and Profit.  My girls were still in diapers, and it was a gift from him (he babysat each week so that I could go), a time for me to get out of the house and away from being a Mommy.  The teacher liked one of my articles enough to encourage me to try to sell it.  She even suggested a market for it, Byline magazine.  So I sent it with a little note and didn’t expect much.  I got a letter a month later offering me $25 for it.  And I remember being thrilled and telling my husband, “I think I’ll write more.  This is easy.”  And I wrote and I wrote, and discovered that NOTHING about writing is easy.  I’d had beginner’s luck, and the rest of the process was tricky business.  But by then, I was hooked–an addict, so I wrote anyway.  Writing for some, like it was for me back then, (probably is even now), is an outlet–a spigot that offers release when too many thoughts and energies build up and gush forth on paper.  Only I couldn’t just stop at journaling or scribbling in a diary, I wanted to control those words and jostle them into stories.  And then I wanted those stories to be more powerful, and I began to take writing very seriously.

I’ve known people who read hundreds of romances, sit down and KNOW the rhythm and internal rules of romance enough, to whip off a forty, sixty, or eighty thousand word manuscript and sell it on the first, second, or third try.  I am not one of those people.  I’ve never thought of myself as a race horse or thoroughbred.  I’m more like a pack mule or a work horse–the tortoise instead of the hare.  I’m the type who dips my toes in the water, works my way up to my knees, then my shoulders before I take the plunge.  Some people dive right in.  They start by writing novels, gong to conferences, making connections.  I started with short stories, sold some to small anthologies and got paid in copies, before I sold to major magazines and anthologies.  Then I started thinking about novels.  And I had a unique knack for writing what no one wanted to buy.  “Sorry, cozies are a glutted market right now.  Good writing.  If you write something else, please keep us in mind.”  And did I take the hint?  Stop writing cozies?  No, not me.  I thought the pendulum would surely swing back, and then I’d be sitting on a treasure house of the stupid things.  See what I mean?  Marketing matters.  I was a slow learner.

A person joined our group once, came for a short while, and then quit coming because he told us, “I don’t want to waste my time writing unless I’m going to be paid big money for it.”  And we told him, “Good luck.”  If you think you’ll get rich by writing, I hope you ARE one of the lucky ones.  It still hasn’t happened for me and most of my friends.  I do have a friend, who writes romances for Harlequin, who’s selling like crazy.  But she’s also a marketing whiz, one of those rare writers who’s good at writing AND good at selling herself.  Another friend put her book on amazon and was at the right time with the right thing and sold lots of copies.  But the general rule?  It takes a lot of work and time to make a name for yourself.  The writers I know who write for money do nonfiction and are regular contributors to magazines, work for businesses, or write “how to” books, or teach classes on how to write.  They write fiction on the side.  I’d be living on the streets if I had to live off of my writing.  Right now, I’ve spent more money putting my stories online than I’ve made off of them.  My agency doesn’t pay for them, I do.  But when my agent sent out each novel, it took a year before I heard back from big publishers, all rejecting it, and my agent wasn’t interested in small publishers…and I got restless.  I wanted to try e-books.  I think of it as an investment.  Hopefully, someday, people will discover them and buy more of them.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  Many, many writers’ blogs say that it takes time to be an “overnight” sensation.  I can’t tell you.  It hasn’t happened to me yet.

Anyway, the good news is that Lauren just approved four more of my novellas that I can put online.  I love writing them.  I love urban fantasy.  I have all kinds of freedom to try new things.  I hope one or more of them strikes a chord with readers.  Once they’re up, then I need to start marketing them, because marketing IS a part of writing these days.  You need to blog.  You need to twitter.  I made an author’s Facebook page and joined Goodreads.  You should too.

I didn’t write this blog to discourage anyone.   I love writing, but a few people have asked me questions about marketing and selling, and a few new people have joined Scribes, and I can tell their expectations aren’t very realistic.  So I hope you guys are smarter than I was.  But if you’re not, I hope you enjoy every part of writing as much as I do.  And good luck to you.