My Writing Job

I'm not sure that it's possible to write a novel if you don't treat it like a job.  Whether you're paid for your work or not, completing a novel takes a combination of showing up regularly, putting in long hours and doing the work.

Let's be honest, there are days when just opening the manuscript feels like a monumental task.  Days we'd rather be with our loved ones, binge watching Veronica Mars, or playing Candy Crush.  There are days when I sometimes think I'd rather pull my hair out one strand at a time than open the manuscript and start writing.

But there are other, more elusive days,where magic happens.  Those are the days when you craft the perfect sentence, discover a character's secret or fall in love with a scene. One good writing day can sustain me for a long, long time, keeping me coming back to the manuscript in search of that next fix.  But even those days aren't always enough.  As someone who tried to write a book dozens of time without success for nearly two decades, there were a lot of stops and starts before I actually finished one.  Six years later, I've written five.

What was the difference?  I treated it like a job. 
At work with the Muses in Colorado

Here are some things that worked for me:

1.  Create a Schedule:  For my first book, I committed to write at least three hours every weekend.  This was a manageable goal, and allowed me to work at my own pace, since I didn't have any particular word count goal.  The primary thing was that I showed up for the job, whether I felt like it or not.

2.  Set Goals:  While I do use word count goals to help me get through a draft, the kind of goals that work best for me have a reward aspect to them.  For my first book, I signed up for a manuscript critique. Knowing that I would get professional feedback on my work spurred me to finish.  Now, I set deadlines with my critique group, and treat myself to something when I finish a draft.  One caveat, make sure your goals are realistic and within your control.

3.  Network with Colleagues:  Writing is such a solitary thing, and even the most supportive family and friends will start to tune you out when you start talking about characters and plot arcs and themes for the six hundredth time.  Other writers get it.  They get you. Meeting the Muses changed the way I looked at my writing. Having people to set goals with, to be accountable to, and to talk to about my goals made everything seem real and possible. If you don't know any other writers, try Twitter, the BlueBoards or a writing conference.  As with any job, you never know where networking will lead you.  Opportunity won't come find you in your office if it doesn't know you're there.

4.  Study your Craft:  The thing about writing as a vocation is that there's always room for improvement.  Rather than bemoan the fact that your work will never be perfect, embrace the opportunity to hone and develop you skills with each new project.  I don't think I'd want a job that didn't allow for personal growth.  One of the things I love about writing is that I'm constantly learning something new.

5.  Find a Mentor:  A great mentor can help you navigate the world of writing and publishing. It's not easy to find a mentor, but they are out there.  My writing mentors are other writers (see networking) and eventually my agent and editors.

6.  Never Give Up: If you want to do this, you have to keep going, even when you don't feel like it.  You can do this, and the only thing that can really stop you is you.  If you keep coming back to it, finish that manuscript, revise it, and then write another one, you can get there.  If you stop, you definitely won't.

7.  Take Time to Recharge:  Like any job, burn out can happen if you don't take time off to recharge.  Give yourself a break.  A change of pace and scenery does wonders for your soul. 

8.  Know Your Market:  Take time to read widely in your genre.  Know your market and how your work fits into it. Write smart.  I'm not suggesting you write to trends, but you should be aware of trends and be able to distinguish your own work from the work of other authors.

9.  Have Fun: I'm a huge believer that your odds of success increase in direct proportion to how much you enjoy your work.  Write what you love and the rest will follow.


If we all (meaning me) devoted the same care, pride and ethic to our writing that we (I) devote to our day jobs - imagine. I have heard this before, Talia, but not as concisely and well written as this. Thank you.

awesome tips! love the 3+ hours on a weekend. that's a manageable goal I can wrap my brain around.

I agree - you have to treat your work like a job...even you are not initially paid for this work. Good reminder!

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