Reading Ilsa’s post yesterday got me thinking about my own path to a writing career, and how those rules she mentioned have worked in my life.
How? In a word, well.
I’d actually never seen them laid out that way before—despite the fact that when I was a young teen, Robert Heinlein was probably my favorite author. I remember devouring everything of his I could get my hands on…but I digress.
I’ve never made it a secret that I knew at the age of 10 that I was going to be, not only a writer, but, specifically, a novelist. Yep, I wanted to write books, and that’s all I wanted to write. Unfortunately, it took me a little while to get there because I—quite honestly—didn’t follow Mr. Heinlein’s rules (and Ilsa’s critical additional sixth rule).
A writer must write? Well, yeah, I did that…sporadically. And by “sporadically” I mean that there were probably whole years when I barely put word to paper (actual or digital.)
Finish what I write? Eh…eh…
Refrain from rewriting? That was easy since I wasn’t writing much in the first place, so…CHECK!
Put work on the market and keep it there? Decidedly, no check.
Start working on something else. Now that wasn’t a problem. I probably wrote hundreds of first pages to different “novels.” CHECK again!
You can see where this was going, though. There was no way I was going to come close to having a writing career at that pace. The ten year old in me finally forced his way into the front of my brain and yelled, “This is unacceptable!”
He was right. I had to get serious or give up, only I knew that giving up was not an option.
At the point of this realization, I had a stressful full-time job (executive producer at E! Entertainment Television in the graphics department), so time was an issue. The only way I was going to be able to make it work was discipline. To finish a novel, I knew I needed to write everyday, which meant I needed to carve out time wherever I could. I looked at my life and made two choices. One, I moved close enough to where I worked so I could walk everyday. This meant I didn’t have to leave home until fifteen minutes before I had to be at the office. Plus the stress of driving in traffic? Eliminated! (This, of course, has made me a rare breed in Los Angeles.)
My other choice was in the time I would carve out to work. The best time for me, when my mind would be the freshest, turned out to be first thing in the morning. I adjusted my schedule and began getting up every day at 5 a.m. I didn’t like it at first, but if I was going to achieve that goal ten year old me was demanding I do I had no choice. I would write for at least two hours, then head to the office, and, on nights when I had nothing else I needed to do, I would write for one or two more hours. Three years into this experiment I had three novels done, the second of which ended up selling, and becoming my first release, THE CLEANER. I didn’t stop this schedule, though. I kept it up and wrote the two additional novels I was under contract to deliver. One was THE DECEIVED, which won the Barry Award for Best Thriller of 2008.
I would have achieved none of this without being discipline and (unconsciously) following Heinlein and Ilsa’s guidelines. No books, no publish contract, no award winning novel.
I wrote, I finish, I did rewrite but only after I’d finish a draft (I wouldn’t send out anything I wasn’t happy with whether under contract or not), I put manuscripts in the market and kept them there (receiving nearly 100 rejections on each of those first three novels before finally catching on), and I always started working on something else as soon as one project was done. (By the way, in my mind that last part cannot be overstated.)
Let me tell you somewhere else being discipline and sticking to those guidelines has taken me—since the fall of 2008 I have been able to write full time. That’s even more surprising, I think, given weird convulsions the industry has taken since then (something we will discuss later). Once again writing discipline has played in my favor, and helped me find ways to use my talents to keep from returning to an office job.
Discipline did not stop once I was writing full time. In fact, it’s probably even a bigger part of my life than it was before. Instead of sitting at my laptop for a couple hours a day like I did when I worked at E!, I now write for 6 to 8 hours a day (sometimes more), five, and often, seven days a week. I don’t take months off. In fact, I will only occasionally take a week or a day. Even if I go “on vacation,” I will usually spend some of it working.
What has this gained me? Last year I wrote four novels from scratch. I heavily rewrote three other novels I’d finished drafts on in previous years, and I wrote two short stories. Yeah, that’s a lot, but two things are in play here. One, I naturally write pretty fast. Two—perhaps even more significant—I stick to my schedule, am very discipline and follow the guidelines. Plans for this year: 5 to 6 novels from scratch (and I don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean shoddy stuff, quality is very important to me), and 4 to 5 short stories. I do have two other novels I might go back and rewrite, but each will take some pretty extensive work and I’m not sure I’m mentally ready for that, so they’re not on my list.
I’m not saying any of this to brag or get people to look at me sideways and think I’m a freak. The only reaction I want is for you to see that discipline is a critical part of being a successful writer.
So am I working on the next thing? You bet I am. Just started it yesterday. I also know which project I’ll move onto after that, and the one after that. At most, I’ll take a day or two off between them, maybe a long weekend, because writing is my job, my career. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and the one that I do better than anything else. This is my life, and to continue it I need to be discipline, and I need to write…Every. Single. Day.
I’m so excited to be part of ADR3NALIN3, and glad you’re along for the ride, too! It’s going to be a lot of fun!
Hey, if you haven’t checked out any of my work, you might be interested in my tween novel HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE. It was a ton of fun to write, and I’ll probably be talking more about it in the future. Here are some links:
Mr. Trouble Trade Paperback
Mr. Trouble Kindle
Mr. Trouble Nook
More info at my website: BrettBattles.com