Archive for September 2016

Writing Full-Time versus a Day Job

The Rambling Writer quits teaching—well, almost…

I knew from an early age that I would be a writer. I wrote my first (illustrated) science fiction story at six, and when my Grandma Sara played the card game “Authors” with me, I vowed to be a Real Author like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. So I understand and celebrate the undeniable passion to write. But how do we pursue the dream?

We’ve all heard the standard advice to aspiring novelists: “Don’t quit your day job.” And the advice from life coaches: “Commit fully to your dream; if you build it, they will come.” So if your dream is to be a successfully-published novelist, which advice do you follow? From what I’ve seen, the answer seems to be “either” or “both.” And it depends on how you define “successful.” One size does not fit all.

First, think about your dream. What does “successful” mean to you? Will you write and publish the Great American Novel to critical acclaim, and not worry if it doesn’t earn you huge royalties? Do you “want to be a paperback writer” who makes a living writing genre fiction with a reliable reader/fan base? Would you be happy self-publishing ebooks online and finding a modest number of readers willing to pay 99 cents a pop? Or do you envision writing the next blockbuster bestseller that goes viral with huge sales and a movie deal, enabling you to retire on your earnings?

Your dream, of course, may evolve as you write and mature and write some more. But it’s probably wise to start out with a realistic grasp of the challenges involved in achieving your particular version of being a working novelist.

From Randy Ingermanson on his blogsite Advanced Fiction Writing:

“A very few writers do stupendously well, earning millions of dollars per year. The top 1000 novelists make quite a good living at fiction writing. Everyone else struggles. They have a day job or a working spouse or an inheritance or they live in poverty.

“There is no way to change that, because the market for fiction is a free market, and free markets reward only the top performers extremely well. There are fields where you can earn excellent money for mediocre performance. Fiction writing is not one of them.”

Of course, the publishing scene is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to predict what conditions are going to be for novelists in 5 or 10 years, and a lot of writers are indie publishing these days, finding readers online and usually selling their novels for low prices. With minimal costs if they don’t pay for editing or cover design, many are happy making even modest amounts of money, or simply getting readers to enjoy and respond to their writing they might even be giving away for free. But for those determined to make a living with this indie approach, there’s a lot of dedication, discipline, and work involved—not to mention investment of dollars in editing and cover-design services, etc., to produce professional, quality books. They must promote their books and find readers, with a lot of competition. If you want to make money, you’ll need to be a go-getter with a business plan.

Mindy Klasky, bestselling novelist and Book View Café member, has just published a terrific guide to managing the business of writing: The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts. Check it out, especially if you’re going the indie route.

More statistics from The Guardian:

“Figures show the vast majority of authors, both traditionally and self-published, are struggling to make a living from their work. The publishing industry has never been so sharply divided. In the week when the erotica writer Sylvia Day signed a staggering eight-figure two-book deal with St Martin’s Press, a survey reveals that 54% of traditionally-published authors and almost 80% of go-it-alone writers are making less than $1,000 (£600) a year.

“More than 9,000 writers, from aspiring authors to seasoned pros, took part in the2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, presented at this week’s Digital Book World conference. The survey divided the 9,210 respondents into four camps: aspiring, self-published only, traditionally-published only, and hybrid (both self-published and traditionally-published). More than 65% of those who filled out the survey described themselves as aspiring authors, with 18% self-published, 8% traditionally-published and 6% saying they were pursuing hybrid careers.

“Just over 77% of self-published writers make $1,000 or less a year, according to the survey, with a startlingly high 53.9% of traditionally-published authors, and 43.6% of hybrid authors, reporting their earnings are below the same threshold. A tiny proportion – 0.7% of self-published writers, 1.3% of traditionally-published, and 5.7% of hybrid writers – reported making more than $100,000 a year from their writing. The profile of the typical author in the sample was ‘a commercial fiction writer who might also write non-fiction and who had a project in the works that might soon be ready to publish,’ according to the report.”

The huge gap between the splashy big publishing deals and the majority of small advances or indie earnings seems to reflect the growing gap in our society between the “haves” and “have nots,” but that’s a topic for another day. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the devaluing of books, perhaps related to the ease of digital and indie publishing, with accompanying reader expectation of low prices (and perhaps low quality control), so that issue might also be factored into your consideration of your dream route to becoming a novelist.

If you decide to commit to making a living as a writer, with no day job, be prepared for the pressure to write quickly. Most professional novelists must write and publish multiple novels every year. In genre fiction, you might be funneled toward formula plots and characters in order to keep up the output, which is fine as long as you’re happy with those projects and the profits. Do be aware that book contracts or freelance writing usually don’t come with a safety net of benefits, and certainly not a steady paycheck. In the case of a major illness, accident, or other disaster, the dream could become a nightmare of frantically searching for extra freelance work, begging, or borrowing. (I know; I’ve been there, and have seen other authors hit the wall.)

So, if you take the advice to get a day job (or maybe two, these days), you’ll have more job security, and usually you can pay the rent. The downsides?

Your job will be top priority, in order to pay the bills, and you might not have the energy and focus to write during your off hours. Your family might unreasonably expect you to spend time with them! And you would be locked into a work schedule that would rarely allow flexibility to travel for inspiration and research.

In my own case (after some years living on minimal book advances and/or “collecting writing material” by traveling, teaching scuba, and taking other odd jobs), I finished an advanced degree in English/Creative Writing and followed the common advice of taking a teaching job to support my writing. The problem with that tactic is that teaching—especially teaching creative writing, which I’ve done for 15+ years now—sucks up a lot of creative juices and emotional energy, and I found that I wasn’t doing a lot of my own writing. In academia, most professors/instructors are writing shorter pieces, because it’s hard to find enough focus and down time to conceptualize and complete a complex novel. Most academics don’t expect to make much money publishing their pieces in university or literary presses; it’s more a matter of “publish or perish” within the system that pays their wages. I’m somewhat of an odd duck in that environment, writing commercial novels.

What I think the ideal writer’s job would be is a physical, perhaps even monotonously routine job that would provide exercise and space for thinking out plots and characters. Then go home and write! I’m thinking a walking mail-delivery route might be perfect. For your health and sanity, try to avoid the all-too-common jobs that would have you sitting at a computer for eight hours a day, then expecting to come home and sit at a computer writing your opus. You’re in this for the long haul, so please take care of your body’s needs as well as your creative mind. I know that Kevin Anderson, a fledgling author along with me back in the Jurassic Period and now a wildly successful bestseller, maintains mind/body balance by dictating his novels while he’s out hiking.

As for quitting my own day job: Through a combination of factors—enough retirement funds in the bank, a terrific husband to share the load, and enough money coming in from my books and part-time editing–I’m phasing out teaching to focus on my own writing. My new novel-in-progress is underway.

There are so many creative options for following your dream. So take a breath, visualize and plan, then go forth and write!

sarahawaiibiggestAuthor’s Bio: Sara Stamey returned to hometown Bellingham, WA, after treasure hunting and teaching scuba in the Caribbean; backpacking Greece, South America, and New Zealand; operating a nuclear reactor; and owning a farm in Chile. Just retired from teaching creative writing at WWU, she offers independent editing services. Her novel THE ARIADNE CONNECTION won the Cygnus Speculative Fiction Award; ISLANDS won Chanticleer’s Paranormal Suspense and the Hollywood Book Festival Genre Award. “A stomping, vivid ride.”(Statesman Journal)

See and her Rambling Writer blog at

Managing Relationships with Family while Writing About Them

by Laurel Leigh 

What should come first? Publishing your memoir or preserving family relationships? Sometimes writers feel they have to choose—on occasion, they do. We’ve all heard stories about what happened when the family flipped out over a memoir someone published.

I am a rather reluctant memoirist. Frankly, it never occurred to me that I would at some point write memoir. That changed exactly on Tuesday, December 19, 2006, about ten o’clock in the morning, when my youngest sister called me from Idaho to say that the two-year-old son of our nephew’s girlfriend had been killed, and that the police believed that our nephew had done it. A few days later, our 21-year-old nephew was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

I was working on a fiction piece at the time, and over the next weeks I kept trying to write fiction, and the scene would turn into what was happening with my nephew, Anthony. After a couple months, I put the fiction down and worked on the memoir.

I didn’t tell anyone what I was writing about. For months, I couldn’t bring myself to even talk to anyone outside of our family about what was going on. My family was sending e-mails and making phone calls back and forth, and I would save all the e-mails to use in my project. It started to really affect me, because I was spying on my family. We would have a very personal conversation, and then I would go write about it that night. I began to feel very splintered, very two-faced, betraying my family by sneaking around behind their backs to write about them. I would sort of lie to myself and pretend that I didn’t intend to publish this story, that I was just writing it as therapy. But that was a lie, and I knew it was a lie.

What I was during this time was a first-time memoirist who lacked the coping skills for being a memoirist. When I write short stories, I often take kernels of memories from my life and use them as the basis for a story—but I push and pull those memories any way I want, and mix up different memories and people with made-up stuff and made-up people to come up with plot lines that often don’t come close to resembling what actually happened. But with this essay that I wasn’t admitting was a memoir, I couldn’t change any of the outcomes. I couldn’t write the baby back to life. I couldn’t write my nephew out of jail. I couldn’t write myself or my family back to any degree of normalcy.

The case dragged on for more than a year until my nephew accepted a plea deal. Afterward, with him now in prison, we had a family meeting in Idaho. It was time to tell my family about the memoir. I was afraid that they were going to hate me for sneaking around behind them to write about them. I was prepared to quit the project and not work on it anymore. I was trying to apologize at the same time I was explaining what I’d been writing about. I was scared that this might be the last time I would see my family, because they wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore. I told them about the manuscript, and they were like, “Oh, of course you’ve been writing about this. That’s what you do.”

After everything I had built up in my mind, it was this bizarrely anticlimactic moment, where not only were they not angry with me, they weren’t even surprised, and they were even casual about it. I kept telling them that I’d been saving their e-mails and writing down stuff they did and said in private, and they were like, “Okay.”

“We don’t need to look good in the story,” they said. “Just tell the truth, and maybe someone can learn from it.”

Not every family will react as mine did. It’s only this one experience I can tell you about. However, as my family placed their unconditional trust in me, I began to realize that it was my responsibility to take the highest level of care in writing about their private lives. I started to think about the spectrum of exploitation. Yes, I’m exploiting my family by writing about them. I’ve now been paid to do so. Yes, I have their approval to do so. Yes, I’m revealing facts about their private lives in order to tell our nephew’s story fully. But I can also decide as carefully as I can when something is an indecent violation of privacy. That for me has become a guideline to apply in deciding what to include and leave out of any memoir piece I write. That, I think, is the basis for establishing and preserving the integrity of a memoir project.

Of course I don’t presume that every family will support a memoir. Regardless of their stance, I do think that as a memoirist you have a responsibility to let your love and respect for other people guide your choices. That doesn’t mean you shirk away from hard truths, but it does mean you assess as best you can and with the best side of yourself what you’re going to reveal about other people’s lives. If you do that, even though maybe not everyone will be pleased with your final result, you can, I think, begin to sleep at night. 

Here are some questions I have found useful to ask and answer as I write memoir:

Write down the word “memoir.” What are three emotions that you associate with your memoir? 

Now write down the word “family.” What are three emotions that you associate with your family?

Was there any overlap in the emotions you listed?

What type of memoir are you writing? A personal memoir, in which you are the central figure? A family memoir, in which members of your family feature significantly? A mix? Friends? How far outside your circle of close family and friends does your memoir extend?

Write down the names of one or two people who factor heavily in your memoir. Now write down the first emotion that comes to mind when you think about that person.

Do you feel angst or even anger toward anyone about whom you are writing? Why? Is your anger creeping into the text to the degree that it obscures the credibility of the narration? How can you adjust for that tendency to yield a text with a less judgmental tone?

If you haven’t told them already, how do you want your family and/or friends to react to learning that you’re writing a memoir in which they feature. How do you think they will react?

Have you told anyone in your family that you’re writing a memoir and what it is about? If you haven’t told them, do you plan to and when?

Are their certain family members that you don’t care what they think, and are there family members whose opinions matter more to you?

Try to winnow down who in your family might be affected by this memoir and why. Who are you actually writing about? Aside from anyone on your list, who else in the family might care for other reasons, such as feeling family privacy might be violated or the family embarrassed by your topic?

Do you think everyone in your family will want to read your memoir? Do you think some people in your family won’t want to read your memoir? Do you want anyone in your family to read your memoir?

Who in your family will give you formal permissions to write about them. Who won’t? How will that affect what you include? (Expect a publisher to have permissions guidelines that will also affect what they agree to publish.)

This is a compound question. What particular parts of your memoir are you worried about having your family read. Why? Have you done your best to give an honest representation of the facts? Are you ready to show your material to your family? Why or why not?

Who do you think this memoir belongs to? Is it feasible to enlist your family in revising your memoir to more fully represent its truths? What compromises are you and they willing to make?

What is more important to you? Your relationship with your family or your relationship with your memoir? Which would you choose if you had to choose?

Of course, the answers to these questions will be different for each writer and for each project. I certainly don’t presume to have all the answers, but I think it’s important to keep asking the questions.

laurel_leigh-014Author’s Bio:  Laurel Leigh, M.F.A., is an award-winning writer and editor and the author of the blog Dear Writers. Her short memoir about her nephew was published in The Sun
(Issue #463, July 2014, “We Should Do Something”). Another excerpt of the story was published in Clover, A Literary Rag (Issue #10, Winter 2015, “Nursey”) and has received a Pushcart Nomination.

Before the Edit

by Virginia Herrick                                         

For authors, editing pays. It pays in getting your message across, in the capacity to capture your readers’ attention, and in efficiency, time, and money. An unedited manuscript is generally something only a mother could love. And, yep, in this case you, Author Dearest, are “Mom.”

So … what is editing? Many writers when they first approach an editor may not be certain about what kind of help they need. Editing is not a monolithic unit of work, like attaching widgets on an assembly line. Write … edit … cover art … SPROING! Out comes a book! Uh … no.

In fact, about the only time you aren’t editing is that first flush of creative outpouring (or jaw-clenching determination, if the muse does not smile). After that, you’re editing. The first edits, of course, are the author’s own. Otherwise known as the “second (or third, or fourth, or …) draft.”

Dos and Don’ts of writing the first draft of your novel

Do … keep writing. Crafting and re-crafting that gorgeous first chapter is well worthwhile … after you’ve finished the first draft of your book.

Don’t … wordsmith a lot. Later, you can fix your grammar and punctuation, or ponder just the right simile. For now, get the story down.

Do … spend time getting to know your characters, even if it means writing something you know doesn’t belong in the book.

Don’t … agonize over that scene that just isn’t working. Skip it. Make a note to yourself about the plot points that need to be accomplished and move on.

In nonfiction, with obvious exceptions, the same applies. Make your outline, sure. But relax if you need to write things as you get the information and interviews, and organize later.

Now, say you’ve finished that first draft … and it’s full of pedestrian writing, disjointed storytelling, head-hopping and stream-of-consciousness reflections on irrelevant background material … Celebrate! A first draft is a massive achievement!

And … welcome to editing. Read over your manuscript, noting problem areas and tweaking language as you go. Fix everything you possibly can before you look for an editor. The better your manuscript, the less expensive the professional edit! Fix that scene you skipped, make sure your character’s motivations and development are coherent, and polish, polish, polish the dialogue. For nonfiction authors, the focus will be organizing your material, improving your narrative voice, and making sure you have all the information you need, no more, and in the right order!

Next step is a beta read. The more volunteers you have, the better. This is the place for your mom, your best friend, that guy down the street who will read anything as long as it’s (Fill In Your Genre Here), members of your writers group who owe you favors, etc. Take their responses, fix the ones that make your book better, ignore the rest, and repeat as needed. NOW you’re ready for The Editor!


vhAbout Virginia

Virginia has been making up stories for fun since she was a skinny, shy kid with straight hair down to her waist. She’s now less shy, less skinny, and has shorter hair. However, she still loves fantasy novels, other novels, other books, the beach, the woods, animals, birds of prey, and thinking, writing, and talking about how to make the world better.

Most of her waking hours, Virginia is reading and writing: emails, blog posts, news, social media, magazine articles, book reviews, and – oh, yeah! – stories! Often when she’s reading and writing, she has a dog at her feet and a cat cruising back and forth between her and her monitor and/or book. This is not convenient. It is not efficient. But it is the way she rolls.

She has been a babysitter, secretary, hair stylist, pet groomer, lobbyist, newspaper reporter, and newspaper editor. Now she edits and reviews books and short stories, and writes poems, short stories and as-yet-unpublished novels. (Stay tuned!) Several years ago, Virginia fostered more than fifty cats and kittens over a period of three summers and is very proud that she only kept one! Her two mostly-grown kids help around the house without being asked. It’s weird.

A member of the Bellingham Friends (Quaker) Meeting in Washington state, Virginia lives with her sometime-sailor husband, Mark, cats named Sinbad and Mercury, and a miniature schnauzer named Espy. She would foster more kittens, but Mercury says no. Sinbad and Espy would totally be cool with it.


by Rob Slater

Balance. When I hear that word I can’t help picturing the scene in The Highlander where Connor MacLeod is standing in a boat balancing a log with heavy rocks tied on each end as Ramirez (Sean Connery) rows out to the middle of a loch. B… A… L… A… N… C… E… Inevitably MacLeod gets dunked and realizes he cannot drown. And the Spaniard in his Scottish brogue says, “You’re immortal.” MacLeod tells Ramirez, “I hate you.” With his bearded smirk, Ramirez says, “That’s a perfect place to start.” Balance.

Creation is like that. It is hard. We hate it at times. Often it overtakes our lives. I am a passionate creator. I have trouble focusing. And then I don’t. My current quest is to find balance between my life and my writing. Because as much as I love it, my life is not writing. I have a family–a big family–and a day job teaching a wonderfully eclectic classes at Windward High School. Balance.

My twelve year old recently told me, “All you do is write.” What I think she meant is that I’m not taking time to do things with her that she wants. How do I do that? I can’t give up on the creating, but I also can’t turn my back on family and friends. Balance.

Limit writing time. Sit down and do it. Easier said than done. I bet you want steps. How about five?

  1. Set a goal. What do I want to accomplish that I can measure?
  2. Cut something out of your life so you can use that time to create.
  3. Create a space, Room of One Zone, that is conducive to creation.
  4. Tell your family, friends and future fans when you are going to be there in your Room of One Zone.
  5. Put those times in your calendar.
  6. Respect the time, energy and process you put in above and get your butt in the seat and create.

What do you want to do? Write a novel? Publish a novel? Or be an author [not just a writer]? That’s your goal. Step 1. My goal is to write and publish enough books over the next five years to work half-time at my day job, probably 11 books. I have 2.75 now. That means two finished novels a year, nearly double the current output. How do I do that?

Step 2. Cut something out of my life. Television’s been gone since Deep Space 9. We watch DVDs and streamed movies, but more of a special occasion (like the glass of wine I’m having while writing this. On the weekends and then only one or two.). I cut back playing music. That hurt, but I still pick up my guitar regularly. Doing local theatre. I was ready for a break. Probably will do more someday, but don’t miss it much. What else can give that doesn’t negatively impact family and friends?

The day job. Income and hours. This year I took a 15% pay cut to get more hours to write. This really hurts. I can’t do some of the other fun things I like, because I can’t afford them. At least not until the writing I’m writing gets finished and starts selling. I can hear you. “But, Rob, you’re a successful, award-winning novelist with three novels and a story collection. Aren’t you making bank?” Sadly, no. I sell something nearly everyday somewhere in the world. But income fluctuates from $60 to $600 a month, usually closer to the lower end. Hollywood agents aren’t calling me to negotiate options on my movie-ready debut. I’m making more money as a writer than I made as an actor or musician. CERTAINLY more than as a poet, but it’s not like I can ‘afford’ to take a 15% pay cut. Balance.

Step 3. Set up a Room of One Zone–The Writing Zone Room–WZR. I fancy myself someone who can write anywhere. To be fair, I’ve produced half a million words in the last four years without a “place” that I write. You know what? I’m going to set up a distraction free writing space.

I’m doing Steps 4 and 5, but only half vast (Say it out loud.) effort. Writing’s in the calendar. Step 6? Do I respect it? No. Sigh. If I don’t no one else will. Balance.

So what am I going to do? Keep at it. What have I learned as an Indie Author? Perseverance.

What happens when I don’t hit my goal? Reset it. Adjust it. Balance.

Author’s Bio:

ROB SLATERGrowing up in the Pacific Northwest [Hoquiam], Rob wanted to be an astronaut or a rock star. At 42, he gave up those dreams to become a science fiction and fantasy writer, where he can pretend to be both.

Like his characters, he speaks in lines from 80s movies, drinks Mountain Dew and eats pizza. He loves music as a listener, a zealous fan, a guitar player, and a singer/songwriter.

Follow him at his personal blog,, or the Deserted Lands website, Feel free to email him at or find him on most social media as robertlslater or Robert L. Slater.