Look, unrealistic expectations will kill your dreams

Here’s the thing. When I set out to make writing my source of income, I knew what I was getting into. I’d been married to someone who did contract work for a while cutting lumber and I have a dad who did that for a while, too, and who worked as a mason for some-odd years. I also had an uncle who had spent years working in construction, with all its seasonal variations and ups and downs.

Writing is like that.

Cash flow is a thing.

Income variability is a thing. A big thing. I mean, it’s real and it’s ugly sometimes. It means that the good years have to be averaged with the bad years and you have to live on the average income or less, not the income of the good years.

If you don’t, when the bad years come, you’ll go broke and you’ll have to go get a job doing something that will put money in the bank. When that happens, whether or not you can continue to produce good fiction at a pace that will get you writing full-time again becomes a thing. Maybe you won’t be able to juggle the new job and the writing. It was hard the first time, remember?

That’s what it’s like to be a writer. The income is all over the place. The few (and they are few!) who can turn writing into a regular, reliable source of income are miracle workers. You can’t let yourself be fooled by them into thinking that cash flow is going to be steady and that you’re trading the paycheck of a regular employee-type job for a regular paycheck from self-publishing fiction.

Unrealistic expectations will kill your dreams.

I know there are some productive people out there saying that you can make steady money with writing, but I’m just going to say this: they’re not the norm and they’re probably talking about a shorter time frame than most other writers are imagining. And they’re probably in a position that is going to change, but just hasn’t, yet. How long have they been at it? A one or two or even three year history isn’t enough time to know these things.

I’ve been writing full-time since 2012. I have seven years of history behind me as a self-published author earning a living with fiction, and I can tell you that the things I talk about above are true. I’ve had some bad years, all related to my own production issues, but someday I’m sure I’ll have bad years related to market changes too. All of those kinds of bad years come around eventually. I’ve also seen a lot of authors over the last couple of years, who seemed bulletproof, start to recognize that even they are going to have these bad years too. That’s how I know these things are true for writers other than me.

Sometimes it’s not the book. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. So many authors want to say that luck has nothing to do with success or failure, but it’s just not true. I’m not even sorry to say it. There is so much out of a person’s control in the world that it is absolutely foolish not to prepare for the effects of luck, good and bad. If you’re doing everything you can to make it, it’s okay to hope for luck to come along and help you out. It’s also okay to blame luck for the fact that you can’t seem to get anywhere, as long as you’re being honest with yourself about your skills and effort. (If you can’t be honest with yourself, then blaming luck is a crutch and it’s only going to hurt you, so try not to do that, okay?)

Then there’s the topic of what you write. You can write what you want and hope it works or you can write what other people tell you to write or you can study what readers seem to want and write that. If you choose anything other than writing what you want, you really have to decide if you’re actually fulfilling your dream or just making work for yourself on your way to fulfilling your dream.

I chose to write for myself. I don’t want to be a writer if I can’t write what I want. If you can’t make it full-time writing what you want, then you need a job. But you get to choose what the job is a lot of the time. I choose not to have it be writing. If I can’t make it full-time writing what I want at some point in the future, writing what I don’t want to write sure isn’t going to be the job I turn to to pay my bills.

At the end of that road is the death of a dream and I’m not taking it.

If you like writing so much that you want to write and you don’t care what you write, then you’re one of the lucky ones. :)

If it turns out not to be true, that’s when you’re going to be in trouble. Because you’re probably going to be stuck writing those things you don’t want to be writing, over and over and over again.

It’s a pretty simple choice, and a lot of authors really fuck it up: Do you want to write because you have stories to tell or do you want to write because you want to be self-employed and you happen to really like writing?

I’m the former, no doubt about it. I have stories to tell and which ones I tell matters to me. I have a little of the latter in me, in that I am happy to be self-employed, but honestly, if I’m not writing the stories I want to be writing, I do not like writing. Not even a little.

:)

Writing as work

For years I’ve avoided thinking of writing as work. I’ve even written a blog post about how writing is not a job, and after re-reading that, I stand behind what I said about it not being a job. However, I’ve also started to have a realization that for me, maybe doing everything I can to avoid thinking of my writing as work isn’t the right path for me.

I was raised to believe that my work had value. That no matter what job I had, the work I did was valuable. I hate jobs, no two ways around that, but I don’t hate work. I’ve never hated work, really. I can name only a few very specific instances where I might have hated it, if it’d gone on too long, and they all involved boring-as-hell work. Even then, I considered what I did valuable. Just boring.

But my hobbies, reading and writing? Not valuable at all. Time wasters. Time passers. Whatever you want to call it.

It occurred to me that by doing everything I can not to think of my writing as work, I’ve essentially told myself that it has little or no value, despite the fact that I’m living off the money it brings in.

Last night I decided it was time for an attitude adjustment. I can continue to hate jobs and I can continue to avoid having a job—even a self-imposed one—for the rest of my life. But what I can’t do is continue to not think of my writing as my work.

Work can be fun and awesome. I know this. Just because other people sometimes have issues when they think of writing as work doesn’t mean I do or have to. In fact, I’d say I don’t, because for me, work is about doing the best you can. You’re invested. It’s a commitment. It’s not “punch the clock, do as crap a job as you can get away with before punching the clock again” kind of thing. That isn’t my world view, and it never has been.

It’s perfectly okay to call my writing work.

If I want to change my ways when it comes to getting the writing done every day, every week, every year, then I have to think of my writing as valuable, as important, as something I need to do above all other things. Work has pretty much always fallen inside those lines for me. Work is valuable. Work needs to get done.

It’s time to start ascribing some real value to the writing I do.

Writing is my work. My work is my writing.

There. That wasn’t so hard an adjustment to make.

December has become my best sales month

I didn’t think December would make it, not with how quickly sales slowed down toward the end of the month, but it does now appear that December has become my best earning month to date for my self-publishing business (highest revenue and most units sold). The numbers are preliminary and do not include my international sales because I don’t know what they’ll come to once currency conversion happens.

If I had wanted to make this claim a few days ago, I could have, but I wanted it solid, with U.S. dollars. Now it is. :)

This is one reason I’m trying so hard to write more books in the coming year. I’m very close to a milestone earnings number and I would like to reach it within the next six months.

Currently, I earn a modest full-time living off sales of my fiction.

I want more. :D

 

KBoards needs a reality check

Of course, I’m too introverted to actually say that on KBoards. :D But it’s true.

The survivorship bias is huge on the boards, because no one wants to talk about what it means to earn a living writing, and yet not be one of the superstars. Some of that is because quite often any income that falls below HUGE is met with stuff like “if you want to be average that’s all well and good but I don’t want to be average so I have to do the things that will make me not average.” It’s a terrible paraphrase, but that’s the attitude I feel like predominates the talk when writer income gets mentioned.

From Wikipedia:

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in September 2014 that:

  • U.S. real (inflation adjusted) median household income was $51,939 in 2013
  • Real median household income averaged $50,781 from 1964-2013

I bolded this, because household income is not personal (per capita) income. It’s the income of everyone in the household. $51,939 yearly comes to $4,328.25 a month. This isn’t after-tax money. Oh, no. This is pre-tax.

From Census.gov:

Median household income (in 2014 dollars), 2010-2014: $53,482
Per capita income in past 12 months (in 2014 dollars), 2010-2014: $28,555

The per capita income is the one to look at: $28,555. That’s $2,379.58 in pre-tax money per month.

A new writer might want to make a lot more money than this in the longer term, but at the beginning of a career, to expect a whole lot more from a job that requires more skill than money to get started with seems kind of crazy.

And yet so many writers on KBoards are getting the idea that income like this, normal income for U.S. citizens, is failure.

Failure.

That’s why I titled this post the way I did. It’s just crazy to think of oneself as a failure because you aren’t a superstar.

This has been my public service announcement to all writers everywhere, especially to those just starting out.

Don’t quit when you’re just getting started because the income you’re earning is less than that of a superstar. Everybody can’t be a superstar. If that’s really your goal and you aren’t getting there, then quit, but if your goal is to just write and make a living, start with realistic expectations and go from there. Dreams are great. Pushing for more is great. But don’t feel like a failure because you’re average out of the gate. It can take time for most people to build up to better earnings in a career. This career path is no different.

Prioritizing an income producing series

It’s come to my attention after a bit of back of the napkin math this evening that I’ve been giving lip service to the idea of prioritizing my income producing series while I’ve been avoiding just that thing.

That back of the napkin math has shown me the error of my ways.

If I focus on writing only my income producing series instead of trying to fit in all the other series I have going (I have five!), I can earn more money with 1/3 of the writing in the next five months. Basically, I can earn more money with 3 new books than I can earn with 6, because of how significant the difference in earnings is between the books in the various series and because I would have fewer books released in my income producing series. (I realize this looks like I did my math wrong, but it has to do with the length of the books and how much I still need to write for each one. In the one scenario, it’s 80,000 words a month, in the other it’s 25,000–30,000 words a month. There were also some other books in there that I love writing but that just don’t earn.)

It was an eye opener for sure.

I have a lot of resistance to the notion of putting all my writing effort toward my one series, but I’ve come up with a mental shift that I think will make it work for me.

  • I’ll have deadlines for the books in the income producing series, but I won’t have deadlines for the other books.
  • I’ll always work on the books in the income producing series first every day, with an eye toward keeping myself on track to finish by my deadline (one book every two months).
  • If I am on track or ahead of pace, then I can devote leftover scheduled writing time to working on whatever book I want in those other series.
  • I’m going to start taking one to two days a week off the writing schedule, based on how I’m staying on pace to finish my latest book in my income producing series.
  • I won’t take off more days than that on a regular basis, even if I am getting ahead on those books. The extra writing time can go toward those books that don’t have deadlines.

The reason I’ve had misgivings about this in the past and the reason I continue to feel weird about it is that the only real way to know if I could earn more money with the books in the other series is if I could put out the books considerably faster than I’ve been putting them out. I would have to put off writing the books in the income producing series so I can devote more time to writing all these other books, but the risk associated with that is just too great. I kind of like having enough money to pay my bills. :D

If I continue to make progress on sticking to my schedule, I should be writing more than enough words to meet my deadlines for the income producing books and get some of the other books written and start having a few days a week off if that’s what I want. (Today was a rest day because I haven’t been feeling well since yesterday, so no guilt for not writing.)

Reasons matter: a rambling essay

I’ve decided many times over that a schedule is a bad idea for me. It occurred to me today that my reason for this isn’t exactly rational: A schedule puts me in a position of having to consciously face the fact that I’m choosing not to do something I’ve already decided I need to do, something I know I need to do.

I’m undisciplined when it comes to work (tbh, I’m undisciplined about most everything in my life). Deadlines don’t help. I still don’t usually become inspired to work until the very last moment and only the most serious of consequences is enough to get me going soon enough that I’m not absolutely scrambling at the last moment to get done on time.

This makes me ill suited to the career I’ve picked for myself, I know. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it because I love earning my living by writing fiction.

I’ve tried to come up with some kind of system that doesn’t hang on goals but that’s just a mind-bending exercise in futility. You can’t have a system without goals of some kind. It’s impossible. I’ve tried to come up with a system that relies on me aiming at a targeted word count, but I keep coming back to the fact that I put it off until the end of the day and I just can’t get enough done in the time I end up with. I decided I would write until lunch every day; then I watched myself not start writing until lunch and wow, I sure produced a lot of words getting started ten minutes before I was supposed to quit (sarcasm alert!).

I’ve tried relying on my love of writing to keep me going without goals but my natural tendencies toward procrastination make that a terrible idea; I’ve failed miserably to get any appreciable amount of writing done at all without them.

But then when I set goals and I fail to meet them, I feel bad. I mean, really bad.

Setting goals based on things out of your control is never a good idea. And I can’t control my word counts. I can’t know how well the writing is going to go for any particular scene, book, day, hour, or month. Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes, I delete more than I write.

It’s hard to remember that word counts are out of my control. Sure, I remember right now, but will I remember tomorrow or next week when my deadline is closing in on me? Probably not.

A word count quota is the kind of goal that feels completely rational and within my control, until I have a bad day and manage 200 words in four hours because I had to delete a ton of work and couldn’t get moving on what was left. Then I feel like I’ve failed at something that should have been easy, and even though I know rationally that this is silly, the irrational parts of me (and there are a lot of those!) do not care. In the least.

There’s only one path left for me and the only reason I have for not taking it is because I see it as a failure.

If I loved writing, wouldn’t I want to do it all the time?

I feel dumb writing that out because I’ve known for a long time that working to your passions doesn’t mean you’ll never have to make yourself work again.

I love writing. I love having written. I love publishing my books. When I’m in the mood. Sadly, I’m not in the mood as often as I should be. In fact, I’m not in the mood a whole hell of a lot of the time because I tend toward moodiness as a general rule. And yet, if anyone cares to know, writing fiction is the one thing I’ve loved almost my entire life and it irks me that there’s someone out there that’s going to read this and say: “Well, she just doesn’t love it enough or she wouldn’t have to make herself do it.”

I need a schedule and I know it. Even if I can’t stick with the schedule most of the time and even if I choose on more days than not to skip writing, at least I’ll have some framework to keep me aimed in the right direction.

A system is made up of goals and habits, and habits can form around schedules more easily than they can form around random events that occur throughout the day.

So here’s the challenge. I’m going to make a schedule. Every day will be a challenge to stick to it. I’ll probably fail more often than I succeed. Maybe if I’m lucky some good habits will develop around the times I’m supposed to be writing that will make it work over the long-term even if I have a lot of short-term failures. If not, well, how’s it any worse than what I’ve already got going on?

No more searching for the best system, no more word count quotas or goal-setting, no more excuses. It’s time to move on from all that and settle in. The remainder of 2015 is going to be the year of the schedule.

The only requirement for myself is that if I choose not to write during the times I’m supposed to write, I have to admit that to myself. It’s a choice and I need to be responsible for it.

I won’t stop myself from writing outside the scheduled times, but if I don’t write when I’m scheduled to write and end up not writing as much as I should, I want to end the day knowing I had an obligation to myself and that I chose not to meet it.

I can’t keep avoiding the one system that is guaranteed to give me the opportunity to write more just because I’ll have to face how often I choose to fail.

Daily Writing Streak—The End

Oops … if I have a 100 word minimum, I broke my streak yesterday. However, I did write. Only I wrote 58 words, not 100.

Then today, I just haven’t done it. The change in routine with the school year ending is throwing me off, but really, I just didn’t want to write. Sigh.

This just isn’t working.

I should clarify. My new routine is working quite well. I’m exercising. I’m no longer snacking between meals. I’m not feeling as fatigued as I was. So that’s great. I’m just not writing during the times I have set aside for writing. That’s … problematic.

As for the money thing, well, that’s easy. Apparently money has no motivational power over me at all. I mean, maybe if I was starving or something, but since I’m not… Yeah.

I just don’t understand why I keep trying the same things over and over, except … I kind of do. I forget. I forget why it didn’t work, or I think something’s different this time so I won’t have the same outcome—but then I do. And I shouldn’t be surprised, but I always am.

I don’t know how to overcome that. I don’t know how to make myself remember that I’ve tried the “hours thing” before and couldn’t get it to work for me. Although basing my writing goals around the time I spend writing seems rational and doable, when I put it into action, I end up feeling like I’m trapped, and I avoid writing as if I hate it. As if—ah…

I think I get it now. As if it’s a job.

I just can’t keep doing this to myself. I know better. Treating writing as a job in the sense that most people think of “job” just doesn’t work for me.

I have to take the time scheduling off the table, completely, forever, else I’m just going to try this again in a few months and have this happen all over again.

I sincerely hope this is the last “schedule” post I ever write.

Here’s my plan for the rest of the year: enjoy my writing life and give myself a break.

This doesn’t mean I can’t have goals and dreams and continue attempting to improve as a writer. I will write—I don’t doubt that. I will try to reach a weekly word count goal, and I will continue to try to write every day, because that’s what I do.

Frankly, I don’t have a choice if I want to keep earning a living with my writing. But that doesn’t mean I should spend so much time driving myself crazy with perfectionism—not with the writing itself (I seem to have that under control), but with how much writing I do and how often, because I’m never satisfied. It’s never enough. It will never be enough for the perfectionist in me.

So here’s how much I’d like to write each week—a realistic number that’s going to get me to the number of books I would like to publish each year. 13,535. It’s not my lowest recorded word count for a week and it’s not my highest, so it’s realistic for me. It’s a modest number, and if I don’t make it each week, so be it.

I’d like to do this in conjunction with continuing to write on multiple stories each day, because that’s working for me, and it’s refreshing to be able to switch stories when things get all tangled up in my head. The breaks always seem to do me good.

But it’s just something to keep me focused.

And that’s it.

I will still probably have days where I’ll want to challenge myself—because it can be fun to do that sometimes, but my days will be devoted to enjoying the writing life as much as possible and learning how to let go of the perfectionistic ideals of what my writing life should be like.

My fiction writing is not a job

“Lucky number 13, anyone? 6,000 words. That’s what I’m going for. I’ve decided if I’m going to break my record, I’m going to do it in 1,000 word increments.”

I was going to call this b-log “Break my daily word count record—attempt #13” but then I had a realization. And then, immediately on the heels of the first, I had another.

There’s more than one way to get to the same finish line. My finish line is, ideally, one million words of fiction in 2014. Things are going to have to change if I’m actually going to make that happen.

But back to the realizations.

As I was getting ready to write down my plans for another attempt at a word count record, I recalled that I’m supposed to be more concerned with consistency, because everyone knows that consistency will get you there faster. So why was I again chasing the ever-elusive too-high-to-repeat-regularly word counts?

And that was when I had my second realization. I haven’t actually thought through the comparison of consistency and irregular-but-awesome word counts, and I should. Before I assume one is better than the other, I need to do some math.

If I want to write one million words in 2014, I’ve got to write about 926,262 words more than I have right now, because yeah, I’m way behind. But let’s pretend it’s feasible that I’m gonna catch up. Here’s what I’d need to do that. :D

I would need about 25,730 words every week until the end of the year.

Now, if I were to concentrate on being consistent, I’d need about 3,676 words every day until the end of the year.

If I were to concentrate on hitting a few big days a week, I’d need 8,577 words three days a week. I wouldn’t have to write another word those other 4 days.

If I were to concentrate on being consistent but counting on a few big days each week, I could catch up with less than 2,800 words most days, with 2 big days of 6,000.

And, now that I’ve done the math, it occurs to me that I’m concentrating on THE WRONG THINGS, as usual. I enjoy writing and setting out to create these kinds of quotas is a sure-fire way to turn the writing process into a mindless job.

Hit a number, woo-hoo, you’re done for the day. Didn’t hit a number, boo-hoo, you didn’t do your job.

Every job I’ve ever had, I hated. I don’t hate writing. :D

I want writing to be important to me—to stay important, but I don’t want writing to be a job. I’m creating assets, and creating assets for myself is not a job, not for me, and I don’t want to treat it as if it were. I don’t write under someone else’s direction, and no one pays me for writing. I write what I want, when I want. I’m creating assets, for myself, to exploit. Exploiting those assets could certainly be a job, but the writing is not a job.

This distinction is important for me, because I don’t want a job. I don’t ever want another job if I can help it.

However, I love the idea of creating assets and then leveraging them, exploiting them, generating income with them. Makes me feel good. :D