More On How To Make A Living Writing

More On How To Make A Living Writing April 20, 2008

[A follow-up to this piece is here: How To Write Stories & Articles That Sell. A short while back I did a multi-post series on how to make a living writing; the first of that series, unsurprisingly enough, is How To Make A Living Writing.]

Yesterday I spoke before the large and active San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild. I’m sure I was fascinating. I distinctly remember gesturing a few times — and thinking one of those times, “Man, I have long arms. Look at ’em out there, waving around like jellyfish tentacles.”

A couple of other times I noticed I was up on my toes. So then I had to think, “What am I, Nijinsky? What’s up with the toe action?”

Anyway, after my talk many people came up to me, smiling.

“Back off,” I kept saying. “I don’t do warm and fuzzy.”

“But we love you!” they clamored.

“Fine. I take cash, okay?” I said. “But no checks. All of you: Stop trying to write me checks!”

But I jest.

I do take checks.

I think some of the people at the talk yesterday are going to come look at my blog today, and so I thought I would make a point here of listing a few random Big Deal Writing Points that yesterday I either forgot to say, or passed over too quickly because I was just then momentarily obsessed by stuff like my waving arms and dancing feet. So here are at least a few of those points:

Publishers and agents need you more than you need them. Writers tend to have this attitude that they’re weak and down below, and that book agents and publishers are high above them, and have all the power in the relationship. That’s exactly backwards. Book publishers and agents are useless without writers, and they know it. They need writers to do what they do; they have no income without writers. Go into your every interaction with a publisher or agent as if you, and not they, have the power. Then in your dealings with them you’ll present yourself with clarity and confidence — which, as a cologne, smells infinitely better than “Need.”

Exploit your relationships. “Exploit” isn’t really the right word (oh: and as a writer, always use the right word), but never fail to respectfully explore the possibilities inherent in every relationship you think could be of value to you in your career. A basic Fact Combo about people you should use to your advantage is that people like helping other people, and that few people actually ask other people to help them. That, combined with the truth that no one is above feeling flattered when another person shows respect for them and asks for their Expert Input, means that you should never be afraid to honestly ask someone who has shown any kind of interest in you at all to keep showing interest in you until they’re done (for now) being interested in you. You can go a long way down that road with a lot more people than you probably think — and in the end, you’ve got yourself a little network! It’s a beautiful thing; it’s a wonderful way to make friends and develop mentors. And you have  to have that; without a network, you’re talking to nobody. Be likeable, be humble, be appropriately responsive, be succinct — but do  be in the conversation.

Remember that the most valuable commodity anywhere in media is ideas. Ideas, ideas, ideas. In publishing, ideas are pure gold. Everything depends on The Idea. Books are sold to publishers every day on nothing but a title. The quickest way to become someone with whom others in the creative field of your choice want to be aligned is to be known as someone who consistently comes up with quality ideas. Think creatively! All the time! That’s how you make friends, influence people, and turn your brain into a cash cow.

Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. New writers are always worried that an agent, publisher or fellow author is going to steal their ideas. Don’t worry about that. They are going to steal your ideas, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Part of the cost of being a new writer is that people who are further up the food chain from you get to steal your ideas. Your attitude has to be, “Go ahead, take that idea. There’s a million more equally good ideas where that one came from.” Let ’em have your ideas. If you’re not pretty much an idea factory, you’re never going to make it anyway. The universe is full of ideas just waiting to be grasped and formulated. So what if someone takes one of yours? They’re likely to fail with it anyway, because no one can execute your idea like you can. Jerry Seinfeld has a great line, where he says, “So what if someone steals my material. What’s someone else going to do with my material?” If someone steals your material, be flattered, know you must be doing something right, and move on. (And, if you’re like me — not that you should be — be sure to take names. You’ll want them later.)

Rejection can’t mean anything to you emotionally. Your stuff is always going to get rejected for perfectly good reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of your work. Forget rejections; they mean nothing. Keep going; there’s always another venue, always a new place or person to submit to. If you let rejections effect (affect? oh–and always keep a good usage manual nearby) you emotionally, you’ll never make it. Of course every rejection will hurt a little — but feel that pang, give it its proper acknowledgment, and then lose it like the useless weight it is. Writing’s a weird business: You have to be sensitive enough to be open and vulnerable and creative — and yet be The Terminator when it comes to rejection. No problem. You can do that. Life hurts sometimes. So what? Remember to keep your eye on the prize, which is to be so successful writing that you never again have to get a real job. 

Well, that’s all I can think of just now; I have got to get some breakfast now, before I eat my coffee cup.

Thanks, all.


"I am sure someone is trying to keep straight face for when they see the ..."

The fundamentally toxic Christianity
"https://uploads.disquscdn.c...and Clippy cusses them out equally."

The fundamentally toxic Christianity
"You lost my interest as soon as you mentioned you were vegetarian (virtue signalling to ..."

A Christian grandmother nails the transgender ..."
"Sweden has a tradition of punishing those who speak out or publish papers on the ..."

A Christian grandmother nails the transgender ..."

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Well, if these people are coming to look at your blog, I suppose those of us who qualify as heathen commenters should hide in the corner until the n00bs are settled in, then come running out of the closets screaming and acting wild.

  • "nOObs"????

  • You make it sound easier! Appreciated how you relieved the fear and mystery surrounding publishers. Thank you for raising the confidence bar to keep putting our ideas on paper. I've got titles and chapter headings swimming in my head……if I could just land the manuscript it would be great.

  • Good stuff, John. I’ve lately been pondering on the role of actually doing – not just talking about – what we are passionate about (or feel called to). In this case, for years I talked about writing, read about writing, wished to be a writer, prayed to be a writer, did just about everything, except write!

    I have some catching up to do. But I’m writing.

  • arlywn

    scooch over in that corner brian. Can we have fuzzy pink hello kitties too?

    nifty thoughts there john, hopefully they shall be used wizely.

  • ::::whispering so as to not draw the attention of our blog master:::

    Help us. We are trapped here, lured in by John's wit and wisdom and we cannot escape. Free us…or risk becoming one of us.

  • Oh, Anita. You always go too far. You know we don't have a blog master. (Oh, wait: YOU know that I actually kind of DO!!)

  • ngomos

    wow thanks alot for the great ideas and encouragement.

  • John,

    Can you expand on your "idea factory" idea? Not as in can you make an idea factory bigger – but how does one become an idea factory without getting one's ideas from someone else? Is there such a thing as an original idea?

    This is what has plagued me my entire, too-brief paid career writing. The reason I chose journalism to work in is because it was easier to look around, ask “Why?”, and then write about that … rather than try to pull something brand new out of my brain.

  • Thanks. I am going to visit your blog again and read some more of your ideas.

  • Sam: You know, that's a really good question. And (wouldn't you know it), it's one about which I actually do have a thought or two. But it's too much to go into in these comments. Maybe I should do a whole post about it? Think anyone CARES that much?

  • Ngomos: Thanks for kind words. And thanks to you too, cbgrace.

    Arlywn: Stop getting high at school. Or at home. Or wherever you were when you posted your comments today…!

  • John,

    What, we have to BEG now? when you've been putting out priceless advise now for quite some time without a fee?

    I've paid good money for tips like yours and still didn't get it until you put it in "comma sense" terms.


  • John:

    N00bs = noobs = newbies = inexperienced players in online games, making a nuisance of themselves for the cool, 3L33T veterans.


  • John,

    Are you a member of the Christian Writers Guild? I am planning on joining in the fall when I have my move back to the East coast completed. What's your take on them.

    BTW – the arm part of your story had me rolling. Too funny. You sure you weren't a comedian in another life?

  • 2xvoice

    Well said. The best way to handle rejection is to seek it out, by writing and submitting. Eventually, it won't matter. Of course, you can blog to get around rejection, but ultimately it just gives you practice and confidence. Even in blogging, there's still those big fat, depressing 0's. O view, 0 comments. So there's no escape. Just write it.

    Victor Kulkosky

  • That's it. Exactly right. Thanks!

  • Dom: I'm not proud of it, but I've never belonged to any writer's group at all. So, no, I'm not a member of the Christian Writer's Guild. I thought I might join after I discovered their existence, but by then I was already so busy with work that I could never find the time to participate. I think they're a good idea, though.

    Actually, I have no idea if writer's groups are good for writers or not. I'm sure they're good for some, and not good for others, like anything else.

    I will say that sometimes I think people might be inclined to spend a little more energy than might be necessary or even healthy trying to write stuff OTHER people like. You lose your voice that way. I think it must be hard, when you're just starting out, to discern the difference between good input you should pay attention to, and bad input you should ignore. And it seems at writer's groups, EVERYONE gets to say what is and isn't working for your piece. So I could see how that might be a problem. On the other hand, input is GOOD, and surely being around others doing what you're doing is good.

    Anyway, sorry. I'm hardly in a position to talk about the relative values of a writer's group, Christian or not.

  • marley howards

    Thanks for the tips.. But i think it's easier said than done – especially the exploit part because that assumes that you already have connections. I should find a writer's guild first….

    But then everything that you pointed out makes sense and I appreciate you sharing it….

  • Marley: I should have been more clear, but the fact is that EVERYBODY either knows or has pretty immediate access to someone whom they can have reason to hope might be willing to in some way assist them in their career. There's someone at every level–and everyone knows someone at the next level up. You just have to … think, and explore, and read, and … e-mail people, and so on. Be helpful. Be humble. WORK. Quality people tend to want to be with, help and learn from quality people. Insist you belong, basically.

  • kathyholmes

    Loved the post! Hilarious and true and something to think about. I found your blog from the WordPress dashboard – something I rarely check out but your subject matter was, of course, compelling.

  • Adriana

    Risk … this is truly a risk for me. I've stumbled across this blog by "accident" … perhaps "Providence" would be a better word … and, of all things, am responding! John, your blog is intriguing, lively, and calls me to write. I work as a "ghost writer" in the medical field, better known as a medical transcriptionist … transcribing what docs say or mean to say. The thought of writing what the dear Lord has put on my own heart and mind makes my heart beat faster! Searching for the next step …

  • arlywn

    Cant think of a comeback… wow… I'm a little bit slow today. lol

  • maria

    Thanks! You write what some of us have been thinking, but have been afraid to say it….you helped me by putting it out here for me to see.

  • Monique White

    I moved to Los Angeles to write and haven't. I have found myself in a marketing career and I am content but my spirit is restless and unfed. I try to ignore my initial desires, plans but the wall of financial depletion that I constantly bump my head into is a constant reminder that I am outside of the road less traveled. I am straying away from a path that was paved for me and I must no matter how weak my legs feel, no matter how cold the climate may be, harsh the wind may blow, I must push through and make it to my destination.